[Captain America: The First Avenger
Directed by Joe Johnston
Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, and Haley Atwell
MPAA: PG-13 – For Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Action and Violence]
Here’s a rundown of the superhero movies we’ve received this summer…
Thor: Mediocre. X-Men: First Class: Better, but with crippling problems that keep it from greatness. Green Lantern: Crap on a flaming stick. It’s kind of sad to see this. The Dark Knight pretty much raised the bar to a whole new level for the superhero genre, so shouldn’t superhero movies in general be given more of an effort after that film pretty much dominated everything about popular culture for being a great film?
Well, I dunno where I’m going with this stupid ramble so here’s Captain America: The First Avenger, and while this film still doesn’t even get to the level of good of Spider-Man 2 (or Iron Man, for that matter), I still have to call it the best superhero film of the year. It’s not great, but there are some elements in the film that work really weel thanks to director Joe Johnston’s great use of balancing the seriousness and goofiness in the premise.
The film opens with an excavation team in the arctic discovering a crashed ship in the middle of the snow and a shield emblazoned with the colors of red, white, and blue. We then flashback to the early 1940’s, where we meet Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans), a plucky, skinny, but brave little runt who is so goody-two-shoes that it is almost inhuman. Despite being the weakest living human being in America-land, he still wishes to kick Nazi ass in the second World War, stand up against bullies in alleyways, and pretty much fight for the good of all of mankind. If he were put in a Miss America pageant, he would be the only girl in the bunch who would say “World Peace” and actually mean it.
Soon, he’s picked for a special project headed by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, and yes, they mean that Stark) that is aimed at creating the perfect super-soldier. Why is he chosen? Because he’s the only one in the god damn pageant who meant it when he said “World peace” that’s why. Soon, he becomes a public symbol for the American way and dons the name of Captain America. In good time, he’s kicking Nazi ass and hunting down the leader of the evil Hydra corporation led by Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving at his Hugo Weaving-est), a man who was literally kicked out of Hitler’s army for being “too evil”.
So, we have a protagonist who is too good to be remotely human, an antagonist who is too evil to be remotely human, and the trailers suggest sci-fi and fantasy elements that look out of place in a 40’s period setting. And despite all this, Captain America works better than Thor‘s attempt at blending Norse fantasy with modern superheroes, or X-Men: First Class‘s attempt at injecting the Cuban Missile crisis with mutants. This is mainly due to Joe Johnston’s direction, who takes things seriously enough without taking things too seriously. In short, he achieves a tough balancing act. It isn’t too silly, too goofy, or too grim, and he somehow finds a way to make Captain America‘s more fantastical elements right at home with the 40’s setting (He did direct The Rocketeer, as well).
The plot is most certainly derivative, and it’s characters are either way too good or too evil to be believable, but the film doesn’t treat everything with irony or moroseness. This isn’t like Priest where every single cliche is evident and yet the film smugly puts itself on a high horse. This isn’t like Scream 3 where the film makes fun of its cliches, yet failing to subvert them in the process. Captain America essentially has a sense of traditionality to it, if that’s even a word. The hero is a good guy, the villain is a bad guy, and not a single shade of gray can be found in the film. And Joe Johnston makes it work, because he adds a sense of class and respect to everything, without putting the film in a golden throne.
The other main reason it works is because of the performances. Chris Evans was the only likeable thing about the Fantastic Four films, he added tons of charisma to The Losers and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and here, he makes Steve Rodgers a believable, and more importantly, likeable goody-two-shoes. That last bit is important. While there still isn’t much depth to the character, you automatically root for the Cap because of his no-nonsense charm and likeability. Hugo Weaving is an expert at making all the villains he’s played as (Most notably Mr. Smith in the Matrix trilogy) deliciously devilish and devious. And Tommy Lee Jones is…well, he’s Tommy Lee Jones, you don’t fuck around with him.
But Thor and X-Men: First Class also had some excellent performances. So what makes Captain America any better? I think the main reason is because unlike those two films, Captain America feels suitably EPIC. The film spans many years in the evolution of Captain America and the second World War, and Joe Johnston embues actual stakes into the picture. Many felt disappointed that Thor felt very small in scale, and I personally felt that X-Men: First Class didn’t feel as epic as it should’ve been. Captain America feels epic. The set-pieces are big and impressive-looking, the passage of time is long, and there is simply just a lot of stuff that happens.
The film still has some problems though. The characters are still rather one-dimensional, when major characters die you don’t really feel too much sympathy, not enough time is spent with Rodgers coping with his newfound powers, and certain aspects of the story will confuse people not familiar with the ones who watched Thor, because of Marvel Studios’s use of applying comic-book continuity to big-screen motion pictures. All that being said, it’s the best superhero film of the year thanks to the performances, directing, and it’s surprising and unconventional ending.
Final Verdict: Captain America: The First Avenger glides on Joe Johnston’s direction and Chris Evans’s leading-man presence. It isn’t perfect, but those two qualities are enough to elevate it above the other superhero films that have released this summer, and this year in general.
That is all.
See ya next time, now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to wait after the credits because–HOLY SHIT THERE’S AN AVENGERS TRAILER RIGHT AFTER IT AND IT KICKS ASS!! BYE!!