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Written by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the character by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

Directed by: Joe Johnston

Starring: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci, Dominic Cooper, Sebastian Stan, Toby Jones

Let me begin by saying that I was skeptical when I walked into the theatre to see Captain America: The First Avenger. I had not
abandoned hope, in fact I wanted to be impressed but my expectations were low. I had not enjoyed this summer’s earlier Marvel blockbuster Thor (2011), and furthermore I couldn’t shake the feeling that Captain America is barely a relevant cultural figure in 2011. I am pleased to say that I was completely shocked by how good this movie is.

America is not the rising, dynamic world power it was in the 1940s when Captain America was created. The muscular, strong-willed symbol of freedom and youth is not a particularly apt personification of that country nowadays. Perhaps I’m not being objective enough, but it still stands thy Captain America represents a romantic idealism that does not hold true in the way it once seemed to.

The writers of this film are clearly aware that they’re on shaky ground and seem to actively avoided making the non-canon, Iraq war propaganda piece that I was afraid of seeing, and instead craft slyly satirical period piece full of nods to the adventure films of a by-gone era, an aesthetic which is only enhanced in the hands of director Joe Johnston, best known for The Rocketeer (1991).

As Captain America begins, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a 90lb dweeb from Manhattan who is constantly bullied and has no luck with the ladies. All Rogers wants is to join the army so he can fight against the biggest bullies of them all, the Nazis. His diminutive frame and laundry list of defects and disorders prevent him from ever being drafted, no matter how many times he tries under false identities. Rogers is spotted at one of his examinations by medical researcher and German expat Abraham Erskine (played by the infrequent and always delightful Stanley Tucci) who thinks Rogers’ innate bravery and determination make him the perfect candidate to test his new super-soldier serum. Rogers agrees to take part in Erskine’s medical experiment, because its the only way he has any chance of going to war. Erskine pumps Rogers full of his serum and rather immediately the kid goes from 90lb wimp to hulking superhuman, rippling with muscles and charm. Very quickly Rogers is turned into Captain America: The Star Spangled Man, the red-white-and-blue clad, singing, dancing, Hitler-punching symbol of American strength and virtue. What follows is a short section during which time Captain America is sent from city to city wearing a silly outfit (the original, pre-Marvel Captain America suit and sheild) doing propagandistic stage performances,and Johnston utilizes this to poke holes in the image of Captain America as a washed-up symbol of a long-gone America. Eventually Rogers wants to use his strength and power for something more valuable and abandons his post as a dancing monkey and starts searching for the Nazis who kidnapped his best friend and idol, Bucky (Sebastian Stan). Rogers’ search for Bucky leads him to uncover a plot by evil organization HYDRA , spearheaded by the ultra evil Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), a Nazi officer who is less interested in the rise of the Aryan race and more interested in world domination. The rest of the film, then, follows the race between Red Skull, who wants to destroy every major American city with his super-weapon, and Captain America who would never allow that to happen.

This film is far better than I had expected, as it aptly weaves real human emotion into the silliness of comic-book action. Time is taken to develop the pluck of Rogers long before he ever becomes a super soldier, and the relationship between him and Erskine is touching and tangible. Hugo Weaving steals the show as Red Skull, seemingly borrowing the unique cadence of Werner Herzog’s German-steeped English for his portrayal of this eccentric Nazi maniac.I really enjoyed the extended presence of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), who we saw in Iron Man (2009) but who lends a sense of cohesion and continuity to this Marvel Universe. Johnston took a number of steps that without which, the film would have failed, especially in allowing enough time for an emotional foundation to be built, including a female love interest who can stand her own, and playing with the absurdity and silliness inherent in this tye of story. Much like Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the Nazis in this film are just a little cartoonish; Red Skull’s giant aircraft is carrying bombs, hand-labeled “Chicago” or “New York” to mark their destination. The action sequences are very well paced and have the slightly off-kilter melodrama of early, war-era action stories. Also worth noting is the quality of the special effects which are used here as they are intended to be used: to make the impossible possible and to deceive, instead of being ostentatious and pushy displays. A technique is used to make Chris Evans appear shorter and thinner that, for the most part works perfectly, but at the moments when it doesn’t it looks very unsettling and makes Rodgers look more like Dobby the House Elf than a scrawny kid.

Captain America: The first Avenger impressed me, it is closer in spirit to Iron Man  than the mostly-abysmal Thor and it manages to feel accessible to anyone with only a casual interest in comic books, but is suitably stuffed with hidden tid-bits for the Marvel devotee. I really liked this film for attempting something slightly different than other recent super hero films; it is set in the 1940s and takes its patient time to establish a little atmosphere and character. Captain America does not reach the heights of something like The Dark Knight (2009) as far as depth or complexity, but it is still as finely crafted and entertaining as a super hero film should be.

Note: Since I wrote my review of Super 8, I have seen Thor and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. I will probably not review Thor, I have little to say, but I am hoping to do watch and review the entire Harry Potter film series in the near future. (I make no promises)