Sunday, January 5, 2014

#1,238. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Directed By: Joe Johnston

Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell

Tag line: "When patriots become heroes"

Trivia: Chris Evans declined the role three times before accepting the part

As the final stand-alone film before their mega-project, aka 2012’s The Avengers, Marvel trotted out Captain America (who, despite being last in the cycle, is referred to as “The First Avenger”). Created in 1941 by writer / editor Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby, Captain America was, first and foremost, a patriotic hero who single-handedly took on Adolph Hitler and his Nazi army. It’s to Marvel’s credit that they’ve taken what was essentially an antiquated character and breathed new life into him, updating Captain America for a modern audience while, at the same time, maintaining the character’s inherent goodness, and reminding us why he’s a vital member of “The Avengers Initiative”.

It’s 1942, and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has tried several times to enlist in the U.S. Army so he can do his part against the Nazis. Unfortunately, he’s an asthmatic weakling, and has been classified 4-F, but his determination impresses Dr. Abraham Erskine (Staley Tucci), a scientist who’s developed a serum that, if successful, will turn an ordinary man into a “super-solder”. Rogers becomes Dr. Erskine’s first test subject, and is soon transformed into a perfect physical specimen, with heightened senses and a strength he never imagined possible. 

Adapting the alter-ego of Captain America, Rogers, instead of joining the fight, is recruited into the USO to help raise money for war bonds. It’s while touring Europe that he finally gets a chance to show what he’s made of, initiating a rescue operation to save his friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and other members of the “Howling Commandos”, who’ve been taken prisoner by Hydra, an elite division of the Nazi army headed up by Johann Schimdt (Hugo Weaving). An expert of the occult, Schimdt, aka The Red Skull, has been working on a top-secret weapon built around the Tesseract, a powerful relic that originally belonged to the Norse Gods. As a result of his bravery, Rogers joins Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and his second-in-command, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) in their attempt to destroy all of Hydra’s manufacturing plants. But can they stop Schmidt in time to prevent Hydra from taking over the world?

By the time they made Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel had the formula for kick-ass superhero movies down pat. The first ingredient, of course, is plenty of action. Following an exciting chase through the streets of New York, where Rogers tracks down a Hydra assassin who’s just shot Dr. Erskine, the film gives us a number of tense WWII-era battles, the best being Captain America’s rescue of the “Howling Commandos” (which features both standard weaponry and a few items powered by the Tesseract). Even with its 1940s setting, Captain America follows the Marvel tradition of relying on the most advanced technology to aid its hero, which in this film is provided by Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), the father of Iron Man’s Tony Stark. It’s Stark who creates Captain America’s patented shield, a piece of protective gear that, when necessary, can also be a pretty nifty weapon.

More than anything, though, Captain America: The First Avenger gives us a truly inspiring hero. As portrayed by Chris Evans, Captain America is a strong-willed, morally upright individual, a man determined to use his skills to fight evil, wherever it may be. He may not possess the technology of Iron Man, the strength of Thor, or the raw power of The Incredible Hulk, but what Captain America does have is a personality that makes him the perfect leader, the kind of man who can take charge in any situation. With this last piece of the puzzle in place, Marvel was ready to tackle their most elaborate movie, 2012’s The Avengers, bringing several of its mightiest heroes together to fight as a single unit.

And cinematic super heroes would never be the same again.


Anthony Lee Collins said...

I saw this and Thor back to back, and I thought that they were really setting up two big, blond, earnest, humorless hunks of beef for Robert Downey Jr. to riff on in The Avengers, which turned out to be pretty much the case.

I did't see the second Thor movie, but I am interested in Cap's second movie, since it looks like they're going to take his idealism and heroism and pit it more against the reality of what goes on these days. The Avengers did some of this, but it looks like they're taking it further, and that's interesting.

And I really like Chris Evans. I remember seeing him in the two FF movies and thinking that he was a lot better than everything that was going on around him.

Jeff Hammer said...

The first half of this film reminded me too much of Spider-Man.