If you were one of the people who were underwhelmed by this year’s comic book film offerings and were wondering when the really great comic book film would arrive, well, you can stop waiting. It’s finally here and its name is Captain America: The First Avenger. To comic book fans, it is a pitch perfect adaptation of one of Marvel’s oldest heroes with plenty of fan service easter eggs thrown in to keep them happy. To the non-comic literate, it is a rousing action film with humor, heart and characters you want to root for.
The film tells the story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a man who weighs 98-lbs soaking wet, with a list of medical maladies a page long, who undergoes a special treatment to become a super soldier. He’s meant to be the first in a line of said soldiers, only the scientist responsible, Dr. Abraham Erksine (Stanley Tucci) is assassinated by a minion of one of his former test subjects, the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). This sets off a cavalcade of mayhem as Cap and Red Skull move towards their inevitable conflict.
The best comic book films make the necessary sacrifices to years of comic book continuity in order to get a cohesive narrative, yet never lose sight of the spirit of the piece of the work they are adapting. That’s exactly what Captain America: The First Avenger does. There are several major changes from the comic book, especially in the relationship between Cap and Bucky, but the changes improve the film. But they capture what makes Captain America to a T, know what even some comic book writers don’t that Cap doesn’t represent America, he represents the American ideal–never giving up, never backing away from a fight for right even if the odds are insurmmounatable, and putting others above himself. All of this is in the character and present perfectly.
The film, for those of you who have never read a comic in your life, has a plot, and one that doesn’t just exist to move the story from one CGI effect to another. That recap I gave you two paragraphs back? That is only the barest minimum of a descriptions. The plot is far more complex that that, with many twists and turns.
You probably reminded of other films while watching this one, especially Star Wars (the Red Skull’s Stormtroopers look a lot like George Lucas’ Stormtroopers, and there is a motocycle chase through the woods that call to mind the speeder bike chase in Return of the Jedi), but this is less ripping off Star Wars than paying homage to the movie serials that inspired it. There are several “cliffhanger” moments in the film that would be right at home in an offering from Repubilc or Columbia in the 1940s.
Joe Johnson does a great job directing. There are so many little touches, so much attention to detail, that you can’t help to be immersed in the flick. We get the feel of the period, even though the bad guys are firing lasers at us. We willingly suspend disbelief because the creators of the film worked so hard to makes us do that.
The acting is first rate. Chris Evans, usually the cocky and sarcastic rogue in any number of films, plays well against type. He plays Rogers as a kind and earnest man, self-effacing and humble. You believe the weaker Rogers, which is Evans’ head CGIed on another man’s body, because that person never leaves Rogers’ personality. This is definitely some of Evans’ finest work.
Weaving gives an effortless performance as the evil Red Skull and Tommy Lee Jones is suitably errasable as Colonel Chester Phillips, Cap’s commanding officer. And Hayley Atwell plays the character of Peggy Carter with skill and brio. You’ll believe that she is as strong as she appears to be on the screen, and her chemistry with Evans make their tragic romance work.
There are a number of Easter Eggs for the loyal Cap fans in the audience. One “cameo” that takes place early in the film made me shout the character’s name out in the movie theater. And the introduction of Arnim Zola is an artistic reference to his comic book persona. And even though I have seen reviews that state there isn’t an extra scene after the credits, there is.
Captain America: The First Avenger ranks up there with some of the best comic book adaptions ever made. It is a fun time at the theater and offers a lot that other comic book films do not. It is well worth seeing.