by Joe Johnston
Here is a film with exciting action, interesting & sympathetic
characters, and moments of real humor. It is in no way a bad film. It
is also not really a great film. Captain America: The First Avenger
is the epitome of a three-star film.
Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers. We know his story: a 98-pound weakling
who just wants to do right by his country and join the Army, but is
too sickly to be accepted, he’s given a formula by a scientist
and transforms into a paragon of human physiology, becoming a Superhero.
Anybody could play that role, but what Evans brings to it is the delicate
skill of making the essential heroism of the character not cheesy or
groan-worthy. Rogers has always been the ultimate boy scout (up there
with Superman), but what makes the character so appealing in this incarnation
is that he’s honestly just a really good guy. Americans in particular
adore an underdog, so his never-giving-up pluck is immensely appealing.
A line in the film explains perfectly why he makes a better Cap instead
of someone who was stronger or a better soldier: “Because a weak
man knows the value of strength.”
That line comes from the standout from the supporting cast: Stanley
Tucci as Dr. Erskine, the inventor of the Captain America formula. Tommy
Lee Jones is also great as Colonel Phillips, Cap’s commanding
officer. Collectively they have the most moments of humor, with Tucci’s
wry, witty jabs and Jones’s detached, weary one-liners. I’ve
heard complaints about Haley Atwel’s turn as love interest Peggy
Carter, but I thought she did a fine job (in a much more well-written
role than Natalie Portman’s comparable role in Thor) with just
the right touch of over-compensating for being a competent officer who
was constantly in danger of being casually dismissed for her gender.
I found it rather appealing, and I believed the chemistry between the
two leads. On the other hand, Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull I found
to be stereotypical and unremarkable. Yeah, yeah, he’s another
There are also some good spins on the classic storyline. <spoilers>I
loved the fact that he’s deemed to valuable to actually go into
combat, so becomes a USO performer instead. I was also surprised when
Bucky was “killed” when he was; traditionally Bucky is with
Cap until the end and is on the plane when it is destroyed.</spoilers>
Joe Johnston earlier in his career directed the much-beloved-by-me
film The Rocketeer, so he has a firm mastery of the 1930s time
period in which CA:TFA takes place. Details all seem authentic,
and the comic-booky sci-fi elements are fun and don’t feel too
anachronistic. He is a capable, serviceable action director that takes
great pains to make sure that you can tell exactly what is supposed
to be happening in every moment of a fight, which I greatly appreciate.
But he also has the skill to make the action sequences great loads of
fun, if not exactly nail-biting.
The only part of the movie that is truly remarkable is the special
effect that dominates the first third of the film, that somehow transposes
Chris Evan’s head onto a tiny, 98-pound weakling of a body in
a way that is absolutely seamless. If you’d never seen Chris Evans
before you’d swear that was his natural state. It is one of the
best special effects I’ve seen in, well, any movie. It isn’t
flashy, and if you didn’t know it was a special effect you’d
never notice it at all. That’s why i loved it.
So, yeah. Good movie. Very little complaints. But it’s nothing
I’m rip-roarin’ to see again. I probably won’t end
up purchasing it, though I’d love to watch some special features
about how those special effects were pulled off.