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Captain America: The First Avenger

July 23, 2011
Captain America: the First Avenger

Marvel continues its Avengers saga with Captain America: The First Avenger. I know that I was the only critic on the continent who had fun at the previous installment, Thor, but this one really is pretty well done.

It’s 1943, and the United States is immersed in World War II. Seeking an edge, a secret branch of the Army enlists the aid of exiled German scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who has developed a formula which will turn our fighting men into “super-soldiers”. And the first test subject he selects — over the objections of Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and the bemusement of British agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) — is ninety-pound asthmatic Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), who may not have the body of a warrior, but has the heart of one. One injection of blue mystery fluid, exposure to “vita-rays” courtesy of Howard HughesStark (Dominic Cooper) — yes, father of that Tony Stark — and chin implant later, and Rogers has a new career as Captain America. And he’s promptly shipped off to the U.S.O.

Over in Germany, however, we find Johann Schmidt a.k.a. “Red Skull” (Hugo Weaving), who had taken Erskine’s original formula, which amplified his innate Nazi evil. After Erskine’s defection, Schmidt enlisted Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) to take his place in Nazi Science and sneer at various things. In particular, they sneer at the idea that the Nordic mythology that Hitler uses to inspire the Germanic people is only legend. And on this they’re right, which we know because we’ve seen Thor.

Schmidt seeks to take over the world himself, with the aid of a Valhallan artifact hidden here on Earth — the same Cosmic Cube we saw in the bonus scene after Thor‘s credits — and he just might pull it off with Zola’s advanced weapons designs. And, of course, it will fall to Captain America and his motley crew (including a badass-looking Derek Luke) to stop him.

Truth be told, the period-piece aspect of the film may have given director Joe Johnston a leg up, seeing as his last comic-book-hero movie was the highly underrated The Rocketeer, itself set in the late 1930s. And like that movie, Captain America is remarkably free of grandiosity. Yes, the technology is fabulous at times, but for the most part it feels like an organic part of the 1940s milieu. The only really notable exception is the contemporary, brushed-aluminum design of Zola’s energy weapons and their ability to vaporize their targets into puffs of blue CGI. The bulk of the action is down-and-dirty, basic hand-to-hand work with a few gunfights and exploding vehicles thrown in for good measure. Even the token Asian guy on the team (Kenneth Choi) is from Fresno and never breaks out with anything as silly as martial arts training.

Really, everyone across the board stands up and puts in some solid work, though there aren’t really any stand-outs. Weaving and Jones, in particular, play pretty much exactly the character niches they’ve carved out for themselves over the years; nothing extraordinary, but sometimes it’s great just to see a craftsman at work.

And of course I have to point out that there is absolutely no reason to see this movie in 3D. There were a handful of shots — not even full sequences — that looked like they’d make particular use of popping something out towards the audience, but even those look just fine in 2D. Save your money and buy more popcorn for a solid popcorn movie.

Worth It: yes; one of the best comic-book movies I’ve seen in a while.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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