Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) (Hail to the King?)

captain america

(SPOILERS AHEAD)

“Don’t Win The War ‘Til I Get There”

‘Captain America’ brings a good old World War II feel to the Marvel Universe. The previous film was ‘Tho’r, a fantasy about gods on other planets. ‘Captain America’ brings things down to earth, albeit with some effects from the world of Thor. It’s a film of two halves, united by the excellent casting of Chris Evans as Steve Rogers. The first half, the better half, follows Rogers’ journey to becoming Captain America. The second half never really finds its feet, blundering from one scene to another.

Another Marvel Universe character, another actor who is perfect for the role. Evans shakes off all memories of Human Torch by nailing the role of Rogers/Captain America. A weak, weedy, asthmatic man, Rogers wants to join the army to fight the Nazis. He’s lied on application forms to try and sneak his way into the army, to no avail. His best friend, James ‘Bucky’ Barnes, has already signed up. Rogers’ ‘never give up attitude’ shines through when he admonishes a loudmouth in a cinema. Outside in an alley, the loudmouth punches Rogers again and again, but he keeps getting back up. ‘I can do this all night,’ he gasps. Obviously, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. He’s a humble fellow who has the heart of a lion…but the body of a mouse.

Rogers enrols in a ‘super-soldier’ programme. He fails all the physical tests, but when Colonel Chester Phillips (played with aplomb by Tommy Lee Jones) throws a grenade (a dummy one) into the star-jumping candidates, they all run away, apart from Rogers.  He jumps on the grenade. In Erskine’s words, “weak men know the value of strength.” After Rogers is injected with the serum and becomes Captain America, perhaps the most entertaining part of the film follows. Captain America is not used as a soldier, but as propaganda to raise bonds for the war. It’s a funny, entertaining montage that throws a few comic books references at the screen (the first comic book, for example). He repeatedly knocks out Hitler whilst beautiful ladies dance behind him. Captain America becomes more confident, doing his duty for his country…until he finds out that Bucky is trapped, along with other soldiers, by the evil Hydra.

“You are failing!”

Hydra, led by Johann Schimdt/The Red Skull, are the super-secret division of the Nazis. They search for objects of Teutonic and Norse mythology, and at the beginning of the film, Schmidt finds the Tesseract, one of Odin’s treasures. It has unlimited power, but we don’t learn anything more about it than that…(and we don’t when it’s used in The Avengers, either…).

Tesseract, tesseract, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?
Tesseract, tesseract, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?

When Captain America saves Bucky and co from Hydra, the film descends into nothing more than a series of battle montages. It’s like the montages of Captain knocking out Hitler, but without entertainment. It’s as if the screenwriters lost interest and wrote similar action scene after similar action scene. Captain America invades a Hydra base, then another, along with a ragtag team of barely scripted soldiers. The plot comes to a halt, and doesn’t progress until the screenwriters thought ‘Oh, we’d better wrap this up!’ Suddenly, the location of Hydra’s super-secret base is found, where Red Skull and the Tesseract are hidden. Then Captain America and The Red Skull come to blows…

“I had him on the ropes”

Another Marvel Universe film, another good actor wasted in the villain role. Well, to be fair, Hugo Weaving fares better than most. He’s given a decent amount of screen time, and his motivations are clearer than most Marvel Universe villains. Like Obidiah Stane in Iron Man and Loki in Thor, The Red Skull is the mirror image of the superhero. He injected himself with the super soldier serum, but it burned his flesh and turned him red. So in theory, it is two equals fighting in the climactic battle. But The Red Skull isn’t written anywhere near as well as Rogers. He’s vaguely interesting at points, but comes off as a Hitler wannabe most of the time. Once again, the hero vacuums the screen time. Thus, two equals are not fighting in the last fight. The Red Skull stands no chance, because we are given no reason to believe he has one.

That is not to say other cast members are wasted, however. Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter was the most interesting Marvel Universe female up to that point. There’s definite chemistry between her and Rogers, and she is far more memorable than the main villain. Tommy Lee Jones is given the best one liners (“He’s making me cry!” he utters at one point). Dominic Cooper takes on the role of Howard Stark with ease. But it’s Chris Evans’ film, for better and for worse.

VERDICT: 6/10. It loses track of what it wants to be when Captain America decides to fight Hydra/the Nazis. But Chris Evans is very, very likeable in the role. And the first half is pure entertainment.

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4 thoughts on “Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) (Hail to the King?)

  1. John Charet April 27, 2016 / 9:48 pm

    With the exception of Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Blade and Blade II, Ant-Man and the just released Deadpool, I have never been too big on the Marvel film adaptations. This is not to say they are bad, (in fact some of them are very entertaining), the factor that plays a major role here is the type of director they get. That is who I look for. I mean Sam Raimi directed the original Spider-Man trilogy, Guillermo del Toro directed the first Blade sequel, Ant-Man and Deadpool were very good, yet would have been even better had Edgar Wright and Paul Verhoeven directed them respectively. As for Captain America: The First Avenger, it was okay. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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