Starring Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci, and Sebastian Stan. Directed by Joe Johnston. Based on the Marvel Comic Books by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
NOTE: This review is based solely on the film based on the comic books. No opinion that lies therein has any connection with the Marvel Comics the film is based on.
A little bit “Batman,” a little bit “Indiana Jones,” and a little bit “Return of the Jedi,” among other movies.
“Captain America” is Marvel’s big superhero in a Batman meets Peter Parker sort-of way. He’s a hero surrounded by astounding new technology and in some ways a lone crusader (like Batman). However this hero’s journey begins a lot like the high school awkwardness of Peter Parker.
Before becoming the “Caps” Steve Rogers (Evans) is a post-high schooler wrapped inside the red, white, and blue patriotism of World War II. Problem is that Steve is the poster child for the “98-pound weakling”: he’s thin, scrawny, and short. The guy has a history of getting his ass kicked all around town. Undeterred by his size and stature he has traveled to various cities and been handed a 4F designation each time (military code for “not qualified for service”). When best friend Sebastian ‘Bucky’ Barnes (Stan) is able to go off to war and he has to stay behind it looks like all hope is lost for the little guy.
Enter Doctor Abraham Erskine (Tucci). From the New York-via-Germany Erskine has been working on a secret formula that “amplifies” what’s inside a person. This was initially tested on a Nazi commander named Johann Schmidt and it had nasty results (we’ll get to Schmidt in a moment). Rogers is given the chance to prove to his country that he can be a soldier and fight for American freedom and gladly signs up for it, not knowing what it will entail.
Back to Schmidt (Weaving). Schmidt began working for Hitler and took up the task of hunting down occult artifacts from around the world believing that within them lies a power bestowed by the gods themselves and in doing so creates a group called HYDRA which has the mantra, “If you cut off one head two will take its place.” He finds such power in a glowing blue cube and begins to harness it. This power seems to have a reaction with his system (currently still dealing with the injection of Erskine’s serum) and with the help of scientist Dr. Arnim Zola (Jones) becomes the Red Skull.
Meanwhile, back at the lab, Rogers (having went through “basic training) is being subjected to the serum. The experiment is ran by Erskine and Howard Stark (Cooper). Things go better than imagined when scrawny Steve Rogers becomes taller, more buff Steve Rogers. A HYRDA plant tries subverting the experiment and Rogers, with newfound strength and agility, is able to literally run down the “mole” and bring him to justice (but not before the use of a cyanide capsule).
Erskine has unfortunately died from the bullet shot by HYDRA’s mole and there is no more serum. Rogers finds himself between being a lab rat or going into the “Buy War Bonds” circuit. He chooses the latter and goes from city to city being “Captain America,” a trumped-up magazine image of an American hero complete with backup chorus girls. On a trip to the war front he’s jeered by actual Americans serving overseas. His “call to action” comes in the form of a suicide mission to drop into enemy territory and retrieve 400 POWs. Circumventing Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) he enlists the aid of Peggy Carter (Atwell) and Stark to drop him behind enemy lines. What follows is redemption for Steve Rogers and the birth of an American hero. However, not all is smooth sailing as
he tries defeating his nemesis the Red Skull.
That’s about it, folks. The plot is fairly cut-and-dry: weakling with big aspirations becomes a superhero and saves the world from the Nazi’s. Pretty much end-of-story with the exception that he crash lands into the ice and is frozen for 70 years and is just recently brought into the 2010’s.
And that’s not a bad thing. “Captain America” finds Marvel mixing the issues of morality found in DC Comics with the awkwardness of being “the little guy” who wants to be so much more. There’s duality to be found in Steve Rogers vs. Johann Schmidt. Instead of fantastical powers (but, to be fair, there are some powers) the characters are more the “super men” of good versus evil (as opposed to later creations such as X-Men, the Fantastic Four, etc.)
What works for the film is the cast. Tucci is great at being Erskine. Evans has proved himself more than being Johnny Storm from the “Fantastic Four” movies and gives a sense of honesty and depth to the passion of what Steve Rogers is trying to accomplish. Hayley Atwell harkens back to being a tough, independent woman of the 40’s (with a bit of seeming like Rachel McAdams). Tommy Lee Jones steals the movie with just about every line that he utters.
The only real downside to the movie happens to be the enemy: the Nazis. While, as far as our cinematic offerings have taken us, we’ve progressed from the “cartoon Nazis” of “Indiana Jones” movies we’ve become stuck in the fact that most of the cinematic Nazis of the past decade or so branched into the occult (see also: “Hellboy,” “The Unborn,” etc.) Also, their subordinates dressed completely in black and have a “robotic” theme going on. I’m just sayin’. As for the ones playing Nazis themselves Weaving seemed far more nefarious as Agent Smith in “The Matrix” than he does as an evil Nazi commander of an occult division. Toby Jones as he personal scientific assistant seemed an odd choice as well for casting. Did nobody want to play the bad guys in this movie? Plus, the Red Skull spends most of the film being agitated/aggravated by Steve Rogers than being clever. Or interesting. Or having any good or memorable lines. I’m sure the Bond universe has worse villains than how the Red Skull was portrayed but right now I can’t think of them.
Even with its flaws and straight throughput plot, “Captain America” is an enjoyable movie on most fronts. It’s not overly offensive (that I could tell), the story is pretty tight, everyone on the Allied side did a good job… no real complaints other than what I’ve mentioned. Would I recommend this? Yes, because “Thor” was boring and this is better than “Green Lantern.” Would I go see this again? Probably.
My grade: B+