D: Joe Johnston. DP: Shelly Johnson. W: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. (Based on the Marvel comic books by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby.) Starring: Chris Evans/Huge Weaving/Tommy Lee Jones/Stanley Tucci/Dominic Cooper/Hayley Atwell/Toby Jones/Sebastian Stan/Neal McDonough/Derek Luke/Kenneth Choi/JJ Field.
As summer slowly winds down, the last of the comic book films makes it onscreen. Summer audiences have already seen my favorite, X-Men: First Class, Thor, and the disastrous Green Lantern, which I chose to pass on seeing. Already set for release next summer are The Amazing Spider-man (a remake so laughable it is sad) and The Avengers, which is nicely set up by the end of this last film, Captain America:The First Avenger.
Captain America immediately has a leg up on other franchises as it is not set in modern day. The period setting, in this case the heat of World War II in 1942, gives the “superhero” premise some release from having to attempt to fit the plot into a modern landscape. Rather the “superhero” element of it all is rooted in patriotism and the scientific progress made during the war. A plausible context for CGI scrawny Chris Evans’ desire to join the army despite his repeated ineligibility and turn his character, Steve Rogers, into the genetically improved Captain America. This is not Evans’ first comic-book character he has brought to screen. He previously played Johnny Storm or Human Torch in 2005’s Fantastic Four and 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. However, this is definitely the better role and film. So although the project doesn’t seem like much of a challenge for Evans, he gives a decency and shine to Steve that gives the whole project the human strain it needs.
Amidst all the changes Evans undergoes, he is shepherded by a charming Stanley Tucci as a German scientist and then managed by a gruff Colonel played by Tommy Lee Jones. Dominic Cooper makes a delightful turn as Daddy Stark, the aviator and brilliant engineer whose son ends up as Iron Man. His friend and eventual fellow soldier, Bucky, is amply played by Sebastian Stan. Evans and Stan have a nice camaraderie and thankfully no obligatory romantic interest character shows up. Rather Brit Peggy (Hayley Atwell) works with Evans since the beginning and whatever romance is there can be read more as new found stud Evans realizing how his chances might have changed. Atwell is charming and beautiful and her character thankfully makes sense as her unit is so specific a woman’s presence is plausible.
The only elements that truly identify the film as a “superhero” one is the outfit Evans must don for his beginning charades as a symbol for wartime bond buying. Once again the setting allows details like this to be taken in stride and actually given more meaning. Another element would be Hugo Weaving’s performance as Joann Schmidt or Red Skull, a German military man who takes his own science to the next level during the war. This is also not Weaving’s first involvement with a comic-book adaptation. He previously starred in 2006’s memorable V for Vendetta based on a graphic novel. Weaving does wonders with neuroses here and adds weight to the crazy he must contend with for his character. Unfortunately, it is only his look that really ruins the mood. Also, one can only wonder that Evans never has any medical or mental side effects from his new situation? Once again, the “superhero” element takes over.
Overall, Captain America ends the summer on a nigh note. From start to finish it is enjoyable, with enough action and drama to hold up its wartime setting. The true test for most audiences will be to see how memorable a character Captain America actually is. Having not been very present these last few years or successful with its previous incarnations, we shall see how this all plays into the new Avengers film next year. A film which I do hope knocks all the rest of this genre out of the water. But one can only hope.