Having waited to see Captain America: The First Avenger for three years, I was not let down in the slightest. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that it went above my expectations. After the “average-at-best” Thor and Green Lantern (and I think that is putting it mildly) it was great to see a film that I put on par with this past Spring’s X-Men: First Class, 2008’s Iron Man, and 2009’s Watchmen. These have been among the best super hero films of the past five years, perhaps only topped by The Dark Knight.
What is so great about Captain America is that we’re given a protagonist and main character that we care about from the very beginning. We care about what happens to Steve Rogers and he is played perfectly by Chris Evans. If there are any doubters out there, don’t be. He shines.
This cast is also possibly the best ensemble cast of all the above films listed because it is balanced so well, and unconventional actors were given the chance to shine. Whenever a new face was on the screen or an old one came back, I was always entertained and enjoyed the characters. I was more than happy to see Stanley Tucci still performing magnificently into his old age, and Hugo Weaving never fails to disappoint, especially since he has been in two other movies I love (V for Vendetta and the Lord of the Rings Triliogy). The woman playing Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) was very good and extremely beautiful in that pin-up girl sort of way. I had never seen her before, but as a man, this brunette with dark red lipstick was more than welcome. She got plenty of face time too and was more than just eye-candy. Thanks, Marvel. Even Tommy Lee Jones was perfectly cast, and though I was hesitant at first to see the Men in Black and No Country for Old Men actor in a super hero film—guess what?—it was a great choice. Everybody played their parts straight and realistically. I felt depth in everyone, not hammy laughs and over-amped characters.
A brief word on sound design, editing, and action: Very good on all fronts, but not excellent. Pacing of editing and story development were perfect. Not rushed and also, never dragging. Some may feel that there was not enough action, but I felt that was not the case. Action was needed where it was needed and wasn’t super over the top. Just enough for it to be a superhero film. This isn’t supposed to be X-Men battlefront. It’s an origin story, and a damn good one at that. The only origin film I think I like more is Batman Begins (2004). I’m not even going to mention either of the HULK movies regarding butchered origin stories. Christ. What a shame.
The CGI was a little much for me however. I enjoyed the world that they created, as well as all of the colors template, the mis en scene, and costume design for the 1940s; however, the CGI was sometimes clearly a blue screen. I don’t know if this was because of too much budget or too little budget, but I wonder if some shots which tried to “flex muscle” could have been left out. Without the distraction of noticing overlayed backgrounds, the audience would have been kept in the “illusion” better. Some may not notice at all, of course. I wonder if some of the parts, (mainly Captain America chasing after the plane near the end and much earlier when he was talking with Red Skull in the fiery lab/hangar), could have been re-edited or given another camera angle so we didn’t have to see so much “fakeness” in the background. This is a very “nit-picky” point I am making here, and I’m sure that if my ideas were implemented another viewer or critic would equally wonder why not enough was shown. They would say:
“Why can’t we see the background in this shot? It feels awkward. Did they run out of money?”
So, it is a lose-lose situation possibly, but again, it is a small thing. Hopefully it will age well and the scars of CGI here will smooth out, not become even more apparent (especially on Blu-Ray).
The last thing I’d like to mention is the time in which this film came out. Nearly ten years after 9/11. I am sure that Marvel Studios didn’t plan for this, but I am glad that if there were any plans to green-light this movie earlier—that they were pushed back. I don’t think that the public would have been in great support of a “Captain America movie” between 2005-2008 when Iraq and Iran were messes, Bush was still in office, and the housing bubble was popping its way into a long recession starting in 2009. It was wise to wait until somewhat better times, and arguably, it is now. Captain America, just that title comes with a pride for country and nationalism that is multi-faceted now, and unfortunately, complicated. In addition, while there isn’t a sparkling list of a thousand reasons to be proud of our country and it’s incompetence at present in both parties in Washington, the truth is this film came out at as good a time as it ever will. Many, many superhero films have been spilling through Hollywood these past eleven years with more on their way, and waiting to do Captain America and eventually, an Avengers film, was a good choice. We knew eventually they would do every comic franchise imaginable. For example, I never thought we’d get Ghost Rider or Daredevil – certainly not before the better known Iron Man and Captain America. How did they get made first? I don’t know.
A lot of the big, bad boys have been done an are out of the way (i.e. Spiderman and X-Men, and DC’s Batman almost done as of 2012) so with a new generation completely in love with comic book superheroes like never before, we can all learn about some of the lesser known ones without too much impediment. The problem recently, as in Thor and Green Lantern, is that they did not deliver. In fact, they were poor. Worth perhaps one viewing for free. In that regard, the very idea I’ve just put forward about lesser known heroes reaching out to new fans on the coat tails of the greats has failed us. Thor and Green Lantern and Fantastic Four’s Silver Surfer tragedy of a film were let downs. But I got to tell you, I had the lowest expectations for Iron Man years ago, and I suddenly became a huge Iron Man fan after I saw the film twice in theaters. Was not expecting that great origin story. Too bad Iron Man 2 was clearly more fun to make than watch.
Maybe there is opportunity for rectification. After all, with the Amazing Spiderman film set for next year already re-beginning Spiderman, who knows?—Maybe all of these films in the past ten years will get re-made in the next ten. Let’s freaking hope not.
In conclusion, Captain America is a surprisingly welcome dose of red, white and blue without shoving the flag down your throat. Bravo.