Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Rated: M
Director : Joe Johnston
Starring : Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving and Stanley Tucci
Running Time : 124 minutes
Release Date : 28th July 2011

Captain America always seemed like a comic-book hero too silly to adapt because basically, it’s a guy dressed as the American flag with a shield that has a big star mark on it.  However, they actually pull it off in this movie.

In 1942 New York, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is rejected from World War II military duty due to various health and physical issues.  Having overheard Steve’s conversation about wanting to help in the war, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) allows Steve to enlist.

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Steve is recruited as part of a ‘super-solider’ experiment under Erskine and British agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).  In the experiment, Steve is injected with a special serum that makes him taller and muscular.  At first, he is dubbed as Captain America by his campaign for more war bonds, but Steve learns that his soldier-buddy’s unit lost in battle against Nazi officer Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving).   Schmidt’s plan is to unleash world domination with the help of special cubes that possess ultimate powers.  Steve mounts a solo mission to rescue the unit.


What could have been just another fun, is-what-it-is comic book adaptation, Captain America: The First Avenger is directed by Joe Johnston who, prior to directing, was the effects artist behind Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Johnston is obviously a class act at action.  There is a lot of that old-fashion, Indiana-Jones-vibe in the movie as it takes place in World War II era of the 1940s, which is recreated with dazzlingly computer-imagery in eye-candy results.  The era has also been heightened with some flashy, 40’s military technology.

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Johnston handles the action with plenty of detail and exhilaration without fast, impressionistic editing to avoid confusion.  The special effects are first rate, especially when they shrink Chris Evans into a short and lean physique in the earlier part of the film.  Johnston’s also directs the military subtext with plenty of pulp-influence.

But the surprising thing about Captain America is that it’s a superhero film that assumes you are smart.  The first time Steve becomes Captain America is only at the first hour mark.  While the film does takes it time, it’s used very well to establish these characters and their relationships which you don’t see very often in these kinds of films.  However, Captain America would not be without its sense of humour.

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There is a tone of humour which is character-driven by people like Tommy Lee Jones who brings his usual dry-wit as the military colonel of the recruitment camp.  Jones has some of the funniest lines like “We’re going to escort Adolf Hitler to the gates of hell”.  One of my favourite lines was when Steve realises that one of the experiment’s side effects is increased metabolism which makes him incapable of getting drunk.

Chris Evans can now say, “To hell with Fantastic Four”.  Always seeming like a cocky and comical actor from Cellular, Evans does a decent job when it comes to playing serious.  He delivers the audience a sense of Steve’s experience when he transforms from weak young man to a strong, beefy action hero.  Even when Steve is short and skinny, Evans’ performance makes you believe in his determination to want to go to war.  Hugo Weaving is a very menacing-looking villain, with or without his face.

I think Captain America is going to bother some people for having a hero and a villain who don’t share a lot of action scenes together.  Most of the action consists of Captain America leading the American troops through various organisations operating Schmidt’s weapons, but the filmmakers make up for it with a lot of action and humour.

The one thing that I think effects the movie in a negative way is while I loved the main story set in the 1940s, the beginning and end is book-ended by a back-story set in the present day which is just leading to a cliff-hanger for next year’s The Avengers, where Captain America will be teamed with Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk and many other Marvel comics superheroes.  The reason that bothered me was because the main story is well-directed with great action, laughs, likeable characters and an interesting ending.  That cliff-hanger seemed like an arbitrary epilogue after what could have been the moving ending to a bold superhero film.

Still, Captain America: The First Avenger is a genuinely-crafted and joyful superhero movie with high action and characters with lots of heart and humour.

4.5/5 stars

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