|Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse|
After the undeniable and surprising success of Thor and X-Men First Class, the final Marvel movie of the summer is finally here. It’s also the last pre-Avengers film. No pressure, then.
It’s 1942 and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is desperate to enlist. Unfortunately his bravery and essential goodness are at odds with his weak and tiny body. He’s selected for a top secret military experiment to give him the physique to match his spirit. But will it be enough to combat the dastardly Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), who is harnessing the power of the gods to bring destruction to the world?
Captain America aims squarely for that old fashioned, boy’s own kind of comic book movie. There’s none of X-Men’s political consciousness, nor much of Thor’s winking sense of humour (though it does have some very funny moments, possibly courtesy of Joss Whedon, who reportedly gave the script a re-write). What director Joe Johnston delivers is the essence, the beating heart of the character. Captain America is not complex, he’s just heroic. Steve doesn’t question the gift that he is given. He’s desperate for the chance to take on the villains and looks for ways to get into the fight. In the classic Marvel tradition, his character arc is that of the bullied kid who can finally stand tall.
In its depiction of 1940s New York and London, Captain America is very much a comic book come to life. Then there are the laboratories, complete with fluctuating dials and ominous levers. One even has an elaborate self-destruct sequence. When you settle in, the first hour is a steady build of character and plot. It’s made up of very familiar elements but is no less enjoyable for it.
The film stumbles a bit as it moves into its second hour. Perhaps aware that the film has been a little light on the action, Johnston tries to cram as much as possible into the second half. There’s clearly a certain amount that the film needs to get through before the final confrontation, so we’re hurriedly introduced to Cap’s team. Steve’s relationship with the tough but comely Agent Carter (Haley Atwell) has the typical ups and downs, and there are some hastily edited battles that seem to have all been filmed in the same forest.
The cast is very strong. Evans is pitch-perfect as Steve, allaying any fears of a wise-cracking, modern Captain America with an endearingly earnest, straight-faced performance. Atwell (Brideshead Revisited) could have done with a little more screen time, while Weaving is great fun as Red Skull (and apparently channelling Werner Herzog) as the villainous Red Skull. The supporting cast is loaded with talent, boasting Tommy Lee Jones (as the tough Colonel Phillips), Stanley Tucci (kindly German scientist Dr. Erskine), and Toby Jones (Red Skull’s evil scientist Dr. Zola).
While it doesn’t quite match Thor or X-Men: First Class, Captain America is a big, bright comic book movie and it’s comfortably better than Green Lantern. Some pacing issues aside, it’s tremendously fun family entertainment.
Verdict: Captain America is no masterpiece but it’s highly entertaining and Chris Evans is perfect.