Director: Joe Johnston
Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Natalie Dormer, Stanley Tucci
Duration: 123 mins
Another Marvel comic book action hero gets the big screen treatment as we role inexorably towards The Avengers next Summer. That will prove an orgasmic convergence of comic book talent but will it mark an end of sorts to the current glut of superhero adaptations? A natural line in the sand? Not if Marvel Studios have anything to do with it. Back to that one later.
Captain America: First Avenger opens on the icy wastes of a Newfoundland crash site before quickly transferring to Brooklyn 1942. An atmosphere of wartime patriotism abounds. Steve Rogers is desperate to enlist. Problem being, he has a list of infirmities a mile long, is as physically puny as they come and will never pass an army medical. An industrious stranger, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) approaches Rogers after overhearing of his repeated attempts to enlist and offers him a chance. From here he’s drafted into a super soldier project, The Strategic Scientific Reserve, and the “90 pound asthmatic” (as Tommy Lee Jones’ Col Phillips succinctly puts it) is soon the most promising recruit. He’s got heart you see. This heart is genetically modified and Hey Presto! – You’ve Captain America, ready to stand tall for those all American values.
Meanwhile across the Atlantic Johann Schmidt or “The Red Skull” (Hugo Weaving – the bad scientist to Tucci’s good) is dabbling in the occult in Hitler’s deep science research unit Hydra. He uncovers an ancient Tesseract and harnesses its energy into a unique array of weaponry. Soon he deems splitting with Hitler’s forces as the only natural progression to world domination / obliteration.
What follows is an enjoyable old-school romp. Nice touches of wry humour are peppered throughout, period Brooklyn is nicely evoked and the overall tone is agreeably wholesome. Chris Evans is perfect as the Captain, while the overlapping characters of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe continue their appearances. Samuel L Jackson puts in his, by now, customary cameo as Nick Fury and Dominic Cooper, as the charismatic as Howard Stark, works a treat in a sort of Bond-like Q capacity. The supporting cast is uniformly strong and kudos go to Cooper, Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones.
But superhero saturation is now an issue. The uniformity and very tidiness of the Marvel films (Iron Man excepted) doesn’t leave much room for in-depth character development or plot exploration. They tick boxes satisfactorily but have little of the fun of Iron Man or the sheer darkness of Christopher Nolan’s Batman. As a result the audience get slick but strangely un-involving blockbusters. It were ever thus perhaps, but if the Marvel Universe it to be serving our Summer fare for the foreseeable future they need to vary the formula.