Saturday, 23 July 2011


Paramount Pictures
Now Showing

I'll admit the approaching Avengers film does not produce in me the same giddy excitement it does in some of my fellow reviewers and film goers. Honestly, people were clapping, cheering and, yes, squealing when the teaser trailer played at the end of the Captain America: The First Avenger screening earlier this week.

My lack of excitement is perhaps best explained by a childhood (and adulthood, for that matter) not spent with my head in a comic book, Marvel or otherwise. As a child, Captain America was just a generic moniker for American heroes; I hadn't heard of Iron Man until the Robert Downey Jnr film, though I was aware of The Incredible Hulk; and Thor was, as far as I knew, a Norse god. As for The Avengers, wasn't that a dud '90s film starring Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman?

But with the arrival of Captain America, directed by Joe Johnston, the final piece in the Avengers puzzle, which began with Iron Man in 2008, followed by The Incredible Hulk that same year and Thor earlier this year, has fallen into place. And in less than a year, all four superheroes will unite in the Joss Whedon helmed Avengers. But first, who is Captain America?

Just as The Hulk is essentially a guy with anger management issues, one could suggest that Captain America is less a superhero and more a guy juiced up on 'roids. Before his transformation at the hands of Dr Erskine (Stanley Tucci) and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a 90lb weakling (achieved through clever CGI) but with a heart the size of Phar Lap's. His spirit is willing to go to war and fight the Nazis but the flesh isn't able, certainly not in the eyes of the US Army medicos.

But Erskine sees something in Rogers that can't be measured in a cubicle whilst wearing only your boxer shorts, and much to the chagrin of Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), and the stiff-upper-lipped pleasure of Brit agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Rogers becomes the first and, as bad luck would have it, the last in the Americans' Super Soldier experiments; going from beef patty to beef cake faster than you can say "Holy anabolic, Batman!" (Yes, I'm aware Batman is DC!).

The less than impressed Phillips deploys Rogers to the sidelines where his newly developed muscles are poured into a red, white and blue costume and used, with the aid of dancing girls in star spangled suspenders (a great song-and-dance set piece composed by Alan Menkin), to sell war bonds. But whilst on tour in Europe, Rogers, encouraged by Peggy and Stark (yes, Iron Man's dad), puts his new found talents to the test, rescuing a platoon of US POW's and truly earning the mantle of Captain America.

The Captain then becomes the Allies' best weapon in defeating Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a rogue Nazi commander who has designs on ruling the world through the use of mythic (Nordic, even) power sources. A recipient of Dr Erskine's super soldier formula before the good doctor defected and his serum was perfected, Schmidt had his evil nature amplified. It also didn't do his facial features any favours; think Voldermort with a serious case of sunburn, hence his moniker Red Skull.

Ultimately Captain America: The First Avenger is a time old good versus evil tale with Johnston (who also directed The Rocketeer in 1991 and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles for TV) relishing in the matinee aesthetics of the 1940s setting. Much like Chris Hemsworth in Thor, Evans reveals a personality beneath the pectorals (man, I can't wait for those two to have a shirt-off in the Avengers) but it's the veteran supports - Jones, Tucci, and Weaving - who shine.

And more successfully than in Kenneth Branagh's Thor, where the Norse god found himself in modern day New Mexico, is the presence of a 1940s soldier in the present day explained (well, in comic book terms, anyway).

If you enjoyed Thor, then I'd suggest you'll have as equally as good a time with Captain America. It's no Iron Man, my favourite of the Marvel/Avengers films thus far, but on the plus side it's no Incredible Hulk either.

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