Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Dominic Cooper, Sebastian Stan, Toby Jones and Stanley Tucci DIRECTED BY
Joe Johnston SCREENPLAY
Christopher Markus, Joss Whedon and Stephen McFeely MPAA RATING
Rated PG-13 RUNNING TIME
122 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY
Paramount Pictures DVD EXTRAS
Two Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes and more
In one of Summer 2011's biggest surprises, Captain America: The First Avenger is an absolute winner. Blending faithfulness to the original comic book, a simplistic devotion to old-fashioned fun, an abundance of heart, terrific cornball humor and action sequences that stress adventure over gimmickry, Captain America may very well be this season's best comics-derived cinematic adventure.
Wow. I can't believe I even said that.
Seriously, a film led by Chris Evans, Mr. Bland himself, being one of the summer's most unexpected delights?
Who expected it?
Director Joe Johnston, who last gave us the simply abysmal The Wolfman, finds almost exactly the right tone throughout the vast majority of Captain America's just over two hour running time. The film starts off in the early 1940's with CGI in reverse, with young Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) a gutsy 90-pound weakling who never backs down from a fight but can't seem to get himself accepted into the military. It's not so much that he wants to kill Nazis, he simply doesn't like bullies. On his fifth try, he encounters Erskine (Stanley Tucci), whose secret experiments for the U.S. military lead to an opportunity for Rogers to enlist despite the serious reservations of your classic military lead honcho, Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). Before you can say Nick Fury, Rogers submits to one of Erskine's groundbreaking experiments, think Frankenstein or Rocky Horror, and this 90-pound weakling has given way to a seriously buffed up Captain America.
This wouldn't be a superhero flick without a super bad ass villain, and Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) fits the bill perfectly as a Nazi commander who believes himself to be a God and vastly superior to a certain World War II Nazi leader with a bad ass reputation. Aided by Dr. Zola (Toby Jones), Schmidt has created a potion similar to that of Erskine's. The battle of good vs. evil is on, as Erskine clearly aims at creating a peaceful world while Schmidt aims at world domination.
In remaining faithful to its comic book roots, Captain America gives us the superhero's best friend, Bucky (Sebastian Stan), and introduces us to Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) who, of course, eventually has a certain Stark child who grows up and wears a bunch of iron.
Rick Heinrichs' production design is simply stellar here, somehow blending together a decidedly retro looking film evoking a 1940's feel with a larger than life style that feels like graphic novel meets B-movie. This is matched by Shelly Johnson's top notch camera work and Alan Silvestri's marvelous original score that complements the film's heart and more hardcore action sequences.
Enough cannot be said about Chris Evans, an actor with whom I've seldom been impressed yet one who manages to capture nearly everything that eluded Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern. Evans captures Captain America's swaggering bravado along with Rogers' awkward social skills and, perhaps most importantly, the character's genuine goodness that keeps you constantly rooting for him throughout the film.
Female leads in these superhero action flicks are typically relegated to caricatures or pretty little mouthpieces, so it's a wonderful surprise to see Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), a rather buxomy U.S. secret agent who takes a bit of a shine to both the awkward Steve Rogers and the buffed up, yet still vulnerable, Captain America. While the romance here is tame by romance standards, it's believable and firmly grounded in a genuine spark between the two leads. It is this emotional resonance that gives Captain America far more substance than any other similar film this year without losing any of the CGI and larger than life action.
The CGI in Captain America is top notch, though the post-fitted 3-D imaging is for the most part unnecessary. There are definitely a few larger than life sequences and weapons racing at the screen, but Captain America will no doubt be just as enjoyable in 2-D.
Also a rarity in these types of films, the supporting players are developed well and played to near perfection. Stanley Tucci has fairly limited screen time, but makes the most of it while Tommy Lee Jones has practically turned macho with a smirk into an art form. Hugo Weaving is fantastic as Schmidt, a Nazi so evil you almost forget a certain award-winning Christoph Waltz performance. Toby Jones, who is nearly always flawless, proves to be Schmidt's perfect companion.
If there are films that Captain America most closely resembles, they would most likely be Iron Man and, to a certain degree, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Evoking a true sense of the 1940's and its hyper-patriotism, Captain America is a film that gets you hooked in its opening scenes thanks to terrific performances across the board, especially that of Chris Evans, and a pitch-perfect script from Stephen McFeely, Christopher Markus and Joss Whedon along with Johnston's well paced and disciplined direction.
Finally, a comic book flick with your time and your hard-earned cash. I never thought I'd say this, but Chris Evans is a terrific Captain America and Captain America is one of Summer 2011's most pleasant surprises.