Fourth time’s a charm for Marvel who have finally stopped trying to retrofit their banner first tier character Captain America and just outright accepted that for better or for worse their most iconic superhero is meant for his time period, a time during world war II where Cap Am could mostly come to use to bring down the Nazis and the evil Hydra. Who better to bring this retro character to the big screen than Joe Johnston, a man who successfully brought us “The Rocketeer” in the early nineties? Much of that same child-like enthusiasm and movie serial aura is carried over in to this new version of Captain America where Marvel finally gets it right.
Much like Steve Rogers and the super soldier program, after many botched attempts, “The First Avenger” finally aces what makes the character so likable and entertaining in the first place. “The First Avenger” is no masterpiece, but it does a lot to convince audiences to invest in this wholesome and often courageous character who spends most of his time trying to figure out how to win the war and save the world. Hard to believe he comes from the same banner company that bred Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, two of the most brooding self-pitying sets of characters ever created. Here Captain America is a man with a plan, he’s a man who knows what he wants. And much like his revival in to the modern times by the finale, he’s a man hopelessly misplaced.
Even after he’s granted the abilities of a super soldier, allowing him to fight crime, help the war effort and save the world. Chris Evans is fantastic as the star spangled crusader Steve Rogers who is depicted as a scrawny and impish young man who is desperate to fight in the war. When he’s offered the chance to become a test subject for a secret experiment that could improve his health and grant him a spot in the US military. The experiment is successful but at the cost of innocent lives. But among the tragedy of loss, Captain America rises to fight against the evil organization known as Hydra when he’s compelled to save his friend Bucky who is kidnapped along with many others in the heat of battle. “Captain America” thankfully doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel as the previous incarnations did.
Instead it touches down in to the core of what makes this character so utterly charming and focuses primarily on the period upon which Captain America became a hero. There are numerous homages to the Marvel Universe and to classic Captain America lore, but the glory is in the ensemble performances. Evans is great as the humble and brave Rogers while Hugo Weaving is compelling as the villainous Red Skull. One of the true downfalls of the film though is that Red Skull is ultimately under developed in favor of a lot of action sequences that could have been spared in exchange for character emphasis. Red Skull is unfortunately reduced to a one note villain who does nothing but monologue about his fate as the ruler of the world and his plan to demolish America. But for the downfall that is the Red Skull’s characterization, Weaving surely gives his all as the intimidating force of evil.
There are also top notch performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Sebastian Stan, and Dominic Cooper, all rounded by the charismatic portrayal of Peggy Carter by the gorgeous Hayley Atwell. “The First Avenger” is of course only a part in the long line of Marvel films leading in to 2012’s “The Avengers” (hence the sub-title), but it thankfully never feels incomplete or existent just to tell an unrelated tale (Iron Man 2’s biggest downfall). It instead takes time to explore the story of one of the most iconic comic book characters ever created, and director Johnston lends to it an awe inspiring atmosphere that makes “The First Avenger” one of the banner comic book films of the year. While it does suffer from under-developed villains, it excels at being a well paced and exciting period piece that explores the origins of Captain America, the future leader of The Avengers, whom we’re destined to see come to life in 2012. For folks looking for a prologue in to the impending film, “The First Avenger” is a grand refresher course that will entertain a great deal.