Marvel’s recent run of Avengers lead-up movies has been splashy, silly, clever, and entertaining, and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) is no exception. This latest origin story provides fun, violent period camp, and puts a surprisingly effective human face on a superhero who, for me anyway, has always been kind of a tough one to get interested in.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is your quintessential ninety-eight-pound weakling, meekly stumbling through early 1940s Brooklyn in the shadow of his best friend, the strapping James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Bucky is getting ready to deploy overseas to fight in the Second World War. Rogers wants to serve his country, too, but he’s hopelessly 4F. Enter Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), an expatriot German scientist who sees Rogers’ inner potential and selects him for a top secret scientific research unit. There, Rogers — despite his physical limitations — impresses hard-nosed Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). This ultimately leads to his being selected for an experiment with Erskine’s super-soldier serum, which turns the scrawny Rogers into a beyond-perfect physical specimen. Rogers’ journey to heroism takes a detour through the States shilling war bonds, but ultimately he makes his mark on the battlefield in Italy. The legend of Captain America is born as he goes up against the powerful forces of HYDRA and their leader, the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).
Like Thor, I found Captain America mostly unsurprising, and pretty much what I was expecting. Also like Thor, this film made me like an Avenger I never particularly cared that much about. Evans (with the help of some impressive CGI) makes for a likeable, noble wimp in the more effective early section of the film, which makes his transformation into a superhero feel more earned than it really is. I wouldn’t have minded the film spending a little time on Cap’s training, though; he emerges from the super-soldier experiment fully bad-ass, never having to learn how to fight. But overall I think they handled the character well.
Evans is surrounded by an effective supporting cast, especially the scene-stealing Tucci and Jones, and Hugo Weaving makes for a great Red Skull. The lore-building early sections of the film were more effective for me than the action-setpiece endgames, but that’s kind of par for the course with these Marvel reboots. (The body count struck me as surprisingly high for a PG13 superhero movie, though that’s hard to complain about considering the war backdrop.) Ultimately I’d give Captain America a thumbs up, especially for Marvel buffs, of course; not perhaps as winning as the first Iron Man, but definitely a step up from Thor.