Aug 052011

The final Marvel movie before The Avengers comes out next year has finally arrived, and it’s very worthy of your time. Captain America: The First Avenger is a highly enjoyable origin story and period movie and is one of the best movies that have been released so far this year.

The story, for those who don’t know, revolves around Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans) – a short, somewhat scrawny character with a heart of gold. His diminutive size prevents him from joining the Army, even though he made several attempts, but his heart wants nothing more that to defend freedom and fight the Nazi threat. When this desire is noticed by Dr. Abraham Erksine (Stanley Tucci), Rogers is offered a chance to do his part, which turns out to be an experiment to make a chemically-induced super-soldier. Assisted by the gorgeous yet tough-as-nails Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Colonel Chester Philips (Tommy Lee Jones), Rogers undergoes the serum injection and becomes the super-soldier that he hoped to be.

Over in Germany, however, Hitler’s head of advanced weaponry Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), known as the Red Skull, hatches his own plan for world domination by using the powers of a mysterious Tesseract that he claims comes “from the gods”. Assisted by special weaponry developed by Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), Schmidt plans on using the new weaponry to destroy all major cities (including Berlin) and make his terrorist organization HYDRA the most powerful force in the world. As it turns out, Schmidt is a failed attempt at using the same kind of super-soldier serum that was used on Rogers.

This movie is enjoyable on so many levels. The pacing is perfect. At no point does the movie feel like it’s dragging or moving too quickly. By mixing the perfect blend of drama, action, and comedy, the pacing moves the story along so well that although it’s a two-hour movie it doesn’t feel like a two-hour movie.  (That alone is one of the best things that can be said about any movie.)

Action sequences are done very well. They depict the action and violence of war without being gratuitously bloody. Even a scene where a HYDRA agent gets chopped up in a propeller blade is handled quickly without body parts scattering all over. The action never feels drawn out nor does it feel too short.

The main characters are very believable. Chris Evans is completely likeable and portrays his character perfectly. At no point does the character come across as being egotistical about his new strength and regenerative powers nor does his humanity give way to abusing his new powers. In fact, his humility about being “just a kid from Brooklyn” is the focus throughout the movie.

Hayley Atwell is simultaneously gorgeous and formidable. Right from her first scene, she proves that she will not only catch the eyes of all of the men in the audience, but she can also stand her ground against her male counterparts both mentally and physically; and she’s not afraid to charge into battle – machine gun blazing – when necessary.

As an aside, I have to give a massive “thank you” to director Joe Johnston for keeping Peggy Carter from Hayley’s native England. (She was an American agent in the comic books.) Hayley didn’t have to “go American” like too many actors and actresses from the UK and Australia are expected to do, which is a major pet peeve of mine.

Hugo Weaving plays Red Skull with a copious amount of deviousness. Even before he identifies himself as the Red Skull, he provides a very menacing presence. At the same time, he is loyal to those who follow him, such as during the escape from the POW camp. My only gripe is that I wish he had spent more time with his dialogue coach because his German accent is less than convincing.

Tommy Lee Jones does what he does so well, playing the stern commanding officer while still being able to crack a perfect one-liner at exactly the right time with no change in his expression.

On a slightly negative note, the special effects, particularly those that created a “scrawny” Steve, were good; however, there were several scenes where it seemed that the proportions were incorrect, almost as though they tried too hard to make Steve a scrawny wimp. In particular, the scene where Steve has a conversation in the barracks with Dr. Erksine, the doctor who created the super-soldier serum, looked like Steve’s head was too big for his body.

CA is definitely a solid period piece. The costumes, hair, and make-up design are straight out of the 1940s while still having a touch of modernity to them. Except for the weapons that are powered by the Tesseract and some of the gargantuan vehicles, the pieces involved are very genuine to the period. Even Captain America’s costume is toned down and is not in the bright, vibrant colors that we expect from the spandex-wearing superheroes we see in many comic books.

What really makes this movie stand out for me is that it has a lot of what most other movies lack: heart.

This is not a jingoistic “USA! USA! USA!” movie, regardless of the title and the uniform. (Russia, South Korea, and Ukraine need to get out of the Cold War era regarding movie titles, however.) The fact that Steve Rogers is from Brooklyn and serves U.S. forces is immaterial to the character. His only desire is to help to stop the tyranny that’s coming from Germany – a goal that is much bigger than himself. Rogers doesn’t do what he does for glory or publicity. His desire to reach for a higher goal because it’s the right thing to do permeates the movie. Even when he is being held on his knees and Red Skull asks him what makes him so special, he responds with “Nothing. I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.”

Yes, it’s an origin story for Captain America and the upcoming Avengers movie; but the focus really is on Steve Rogers – he’s too small and weak to be in the military; he gets beat up in alleyways; he has practically no social skills; he has no idea how to talk to women; he is completely loyal to his friends. Even after going through several battles with his enhanced strength, he still is the same Steve Rogers on the inside, and the movie focuses on that.

And as far as I’m concerned, the final line in the movie right before the credits roll, as Rogers faces Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in 21st century Times Square have just awakened from his 70 year slumber, is the most poignant line in the entire movie. Other reviewers and commenters on various web sites took that line casually (some called it “cheesy”) and out of context of the movie as whole. Of the thousands of questions Rogers could have asked and of the thousands of statements he could have said, his only thoughts were of the love he sacrificed in order to save the world.

Captain America, like Iron Man, is a great example of how to properly make not only a comic book movie but a great summer movie. Even though there are a few minor issues, those issues don’t come close to diminishing the enjoyment factor. If you enjoy the Indiana Jones movies (not counting Crystal Skull, of course) or any action movies of that type, you’ll love Captain America.