Monday, 16 December 2013

Film Review #58

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Director: Joe Johnston Starring: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci, Kenneth Choi, Toby Jones

Certificate: 12 Running Time: 124 Minutes

Tagline: "When Patriots Become Heroes"

Back before Marvel got bitten by the big-budget movie bug which has surely swelled their coffers considerably, there was only one of their many characters I'd seen in 'live action' form and that was Captain America. Back when I was a young whipper-snapper I accidentally discovered a film bearing his name on TV. It was released in 1990 and starred Matt Salinger as our hero but I don't really remember much about it now except that I enjoyed it. I'm sure it would make me laugh a great deal today and make me wonder what on earth I ever saw in it - a quick investigation reveals that it was absolutely slated, even back then - but it did at least introduce the character to me which meant I was more interested than usual when I heard about the impending arrival of this shiny and expensive 'reboot' (chortle).

Being the first Captain America film of recent times, this is of course an origin story, so when we first meet Captain Rogers (Evans) he's not actually a captain at all. It's 1942 and he's instead a meek, weedy, sickly young man whose repeated attempts to enlist in the army to fight in World War II have all met with failure due to his unsuitable stature and various ailments. However, while attending a Stark Industries exhibition with his best friend, Sgt. James "Bucky" Barnes (Stan), his determination to contribute to the war effort impresses Dr. Abraham Erskine (Tucci) who allows him to enlist and, after showing intuition and bravery during his training with the sceptical Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), he's recruited into the Scientific Strategic Reserve program with the intention of turning him into a 'super soldier'.

The dramatic experiment, overseen by Howard Stark (Cooper) is of course an immediate success. Despite his newly-bulked up form initially being used to drum up support at home and raise the spirits of the beleaguered American troops overseas, Rogers is soon in action himself when Nazi officer Johann Schmidt (a.k.a. Red Skull - Weaving) discovers/steals the glowy Tesseract device. Using this he begins building and stockpiling weapons for use by HYDRA, the Nazi's deep science division which he heads along with his chief scientist, Dr. Zola (Toby Jones). First, Rogers takes it upon himself to single-handedly infiltrate one of HYDRA's bases to rescue a load of POW's before assembling a team (including Bucky) to try and take down all the other bases before Schmidt can execute his dastardly plan. So yes, it's the same kind of basic premise as usual, but there are two big differences here.

Firstly, the setting - World War II, decades before the other Marvel heroes have even been born; and secondly, the Cap, mighty as he may be, is not actually a superhero at all - the serum used on him merely pushes all his attributes to the highest levels possible for a human. He can still be hurt and he can still be killed so he can't be quite as reckless as his future friends! It's business as usual as far as the action is concerned though, with the differences having little bearing on its scale. From a newly-empowered Rogers' bare-foot chase through New York to zip-lining onto a speeding train right up to the full-on exploding factory war zone, the action scenes are all superbly shot and feature fantastic effects too. The most impressive effect of all, however, is reserved for Rogers himself, specifically his appearance before his 'transformation'. For this, in addition to using a body double, Evans' considerable bulk was digitally shrunk down and the result is mighty convincing.

Evans has of course previously appeared for Marvel in the Fantastic Four films and, while he's not like Downey Jr. is to Iron Man, his portrayal of Captain America is decent enough here too. Tommy Lee Jones is perfectly cast as the gruff Colonel though, and makes great use of his screen time, as does Weaving who has a lot of fun as Schmidt. I can't fail to mention the lovely Hayley Atwell either, who, as foxy British agent, Peggy Carter, predictably ends up 'involved' with Cap. It all makes for a slightly unusual and more straightfoward entry in the Marvel series, and probably the most realistic one too, if that word can be used for this kind of film. The period setting is enjoyable, though, and the comparative absence of 'super-powers' just make it stand out more for me. Captain America will probably go on to be one of the less appreciated films in what I'm sure will be a long series, but it's also satisfying and great fun.

RKS Score: 8/10


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