I honestly didn’t go into this film with any expectations. I was fairly familiar with Captain America, but had never been a fan as he seemed too goody-goody — espousing peace, honesty and apple pie. I usually like my comic book heroes darker and edgier like Wolverine or Batman. Even the trailers didn’t impress me. There were no “wow” money shots, just quick cuts of Captain America wielding his shield and shooting guns, set amid a cheesy World War II backdrop. But how I love it when a film exceeds my expectations and delivers way beyond what I had anticipated.
After a quick scene set in present time, the film introduces us to Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) in 1942, in the middle of World War II. He’s short and scrawny, but has an undefeatable spirit. He dreams of enlisting in the U.S. Army because he sees the Nazis as bullies, and he can’t stand bullies. But due to his slight stature and numerous health ailments, he continues to be rejected. However, Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who’s working on an Army Super Soldier operation, sees how big of a heart Rogers has and recruits him to become his first Super Soldier. Rogers then transforms from a 90-pound weakling to a tall and muscular soldier.
After being dubbed “Captain America” while touring the country promoting Army enlistment and other national propaganda, he takes it upon himself to join the fight on the battlegrounds. Meanwhile, the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), the leader of Hydra, a scientific branch of the Nazi army, comes into possession of the cosmic cube, a source of great power that he utilizes to create super weapons for his Hydra troops. It’s then up to Captain America to destroy all of the Red Skull’s weapons factories while helping win the war for the United States.
The credit for the film’s success must be given to director Joe Johnston. He’s had a decent, if not solid, career, directing such films as “Jumanji”, “The Rocketeer” and “Jurassic Park III.” But Johnston instantly joins the list of elite directors with this effort. Directing a film set in World War II where the main character’s name is Captain America is quite challenging, as it easily could have veered into cheesy territory. But Johnston does an excellent job of keeping the film grounded in reality. There are certainly brief moments where the cheese factor emerges but it’s to be expected in a film where the story plays so straight. Fortunately, these moments are rare and controlled.
The ensemble cast assists Johnston with superb performances. Chris Evans plays the film’s hero straightforwardly, but is genuine and pure. Newcomer Hayley Atwell, who plays Agent Peggy Carter, is charming as the romantic lead, and I also enjoyed Dominic Cooper as super genius Howard Stark, the father of Anthony Stark aka Iron Man. Cooper is able to be smug and earnest at the same time, which really impressed me. But my favorite performance is Hugo Weaving as the villain Red Skull. Weaving’s performance is well balanced and not over the top, which it easily could have been considering his character wears red prosthetics on his head and speaks with a German accent. Veteran actors Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci also are solid, along with all the others who play Howling Commandos, Captain America’s group of fighters.
I also have to mention the movie’s score. Alan Silvestri has always been a standout in the film music industry, and his score for “Captain America: The First Avenger” could be his best work yet. His melodies capture the essence of each scene perfectly.
As I write this review, I’m surprised myself at how much I enjoyed this film. It’s already up there as one of my favorite comic book films ever. Yes, it’s that good. After previous films about Iron Man, The Hulk, and Thor, “Captain America: The First Avenger” is the last film leading up to next year’s “Avengers” film. If “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” are any indication of what’s to come, I’m already counting the days.
Speaking of the Avengers movie, stay past the full credits for an awesome surprise.
“Captain America: The First Avenger,” 125 minutes, is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now.