Captain America: The First Avenger

Certificate: PG-13
Running Time: 124 mins
Director: Joe Johnston
Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones
Genre: Superhero, Action, Comic Book
Country: USA

There was a time pre-Avengers masterplan when Marvel were touting around a Captain America movie starring Brad Pitt.  There was a Bush in the White House, International relations were as low as a PSA on domestic violence from Chris Brown and maybe there was one eye on the International Box Office potential.  Leap forward to 2011 and we’ve Chris Evans (Fantastic Four) behind the capital ‘A’, Hugo Weaving (Matrix, Lord of the Rings) as Red Skull and Dominic Cooper (Mama Mia) as Papa Stark.

Joe Johnston (The Wolfman) raised a few eyebrows when he was given the keys to The First Avenger.  With titles like Jurassic Park III, Jumanji and having been brought on-board to get the Benicio Del Toro werewolf flick back on track it’s not unfair to say that there’s nothing overly spectacular about his oeuvre.  Arguably, though, you don’t need an auteur for Cappie.  With Christopher Markus[1] punching out the action on his typer all you really require is someone that can structure a good set-piece.  JJ knows how to do this.  Both writer and director take a handful of pages from the comic book.  Johnston’s colour palette and use of period cinematic techniques do a wonderful job of stitching the audience not just into the fabric of the film but into the era of the film.

I like what Markus has done with the script.  He’s pulled together and incredibly faithful piece of cinema, but as we’ve seen before it’s not without a few issues.  The first being Howard Stark.  At somewhere between his late-twenties and early-thirties in 1945 it would make him deep into his nineties by the time his son takes on Obadiah Stane (his supposed peer) who is, of course, not hitting triple figures.  In order to bring Iron Man into the modern age, Favreau and co have pushed him into the Afghan/Iraq conflict era.  This, obviously, can’t occur for Howard Stark and Captain America as his origin story is so intrinsically wrapped up in the era.  You could argue, well why not just not have it be Howard Stark?  And yes, that’s a solution but it doesn’t do anything for the lovely interconnected narrative Markus, Feige, Russo (x2) et all are constructing[2].  Given the options available, there’s little choice but to ignore the problematic “birthday candle paradigm[3]” that is Stark Senior's age vs. the current Marvel timeline.  There are a few other issues narratively, but they are largely small cause and effect problems that, when caught up in the action, rarely seem enough to pick over.

Chris Evans makes a damn good Captain America.  The CGI weedy-Rogers is fun to watch, almost enthralling in the opening act, but when Steve bulks up, and Chris bulks up –that’s when you suddenly realise how good a piece of casting he is.  Evans has the classic look of the era.  He has a rhythm to his delivery that is honest, believable and as authentic as any of the visual motifs used to embed the audience.  His physical prowess on screen in remarkable.  Even in scenes with veteran performers like Tommy Lee Jones or Stanley Tucci you’re drawn to him and he owns every action sequence with a ferocity that was missing from the Albert Pyun film, [review here].

Red Skull, as a child, was an incredibly menacing villain.  He had a way to strike fear into you simply by being.  Hugo Weaving is a wonderful actor but there’s a lot of baggage that comes with him cinematically –as he more often than not has one speaking pitch.  There were quite a few moments that felt like he was lapsing into Agent Smith with a particularly nasty sunburn and as such jarred when it should have frightened.

There is some really nice supporting work going on around Cappie.  Tommy Lee Jones lends his face to Col. Phillips serving up his best authoritarian patriarch ala Men in Black and The Fugitive, while Stanley Tucci’s scientist is cuddly, caring and ever so slightly John Hurt in Hellboy.  The star (capital S thank you very much) is Toby Jones.  He’s a remarkable actor.  He’s one that always gives 100%[4] and can make the most emotive performance out of the least amount of lines.  In Captain America he’s wonderfully villainous.  The brains behind Hydra, and has more menace as Weaving’s Red Skull.

The issue with Captain America: The First Avenger is that it doesn’t stray from the genre expectations… at all.  It’s faithfulness to the core text is wonderful, and is an excellent jumping off point but the difference between Joe Johnston (as director) and Anthony & Joe Russo (for instance) is their ability to coax out thematic parallels that exist within the narrative and extrapolate on them in a way that is original and yet in keeping with the tone of the source material.  For the most part, The First Avenger felt more of a necessary journey than anything else.  We needed to get Cappie from World War 2 to the modern age with enough time for him to re-calibrate and step up to be included in Avengers.  He’s done that, and though the journey was entertaining, it was far from remarkable.












[1] His work has impressed enough for him to be script-man for Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War – Pts. I & II not to mention a writer and creator credit for Agent Carter.
[2] Howard Stark is involved in the creation of the super soldier serum that turns weakling Steve Rogers into Captain America.  Bruce Banner, while investigating the gamma radiation associated to the super soldier programme, becomes the Incredible Hulk.  Tony Stark continues his father’s research that allows him to become Iron Man, etc, etc.
[3] Coined it.
[4] Dear Reality TV, you can ONLY give 100%!

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