G3 Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America (Chris Evans) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan).

The best comic book movies find the balance between pleasing fans and entertaining people who don’t know their adamantium from their vibranium. As sturdy and sincere as its title hero, Captain America: The First Avenger pulls it off. It’s an accessible origin story with big, old-fashioned heart, and the geek in me was thrilled to see that famous shield slice the air.

While I didn’t love Captain America as fiercely as the first Iron Man movie or X-Men: First Class, it entertains from start to finish. That’s due in no small part to star Chris Evans, who has left that unfortunate Fantastic Four movie far behind him. As Steve Rogers, he’s confident but not cocky, unfailingly earnest, and charming.

No matter how many times you’ve seen the trailers, the CGI that turns Evans into the puny, pre-enhanced Rogers is stunning. Despite his disturbing frailty and serial rejection, his determination to enlist during World War II eventually pays off. He’s a veteran of many alleyway beatings, so no one can accuse him of being untested. Rogers is also remarkably resourceful and fearless, qualities that impress the hell out of the gruff Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). During basic training, Rogers scores a capture-the-flag victory that puts the other recruits to shame.

Even so, Rogers wonders why he, out of far more able-bodied candidates, was chosen for the experiment that will turn him into the ultimate soldier. Scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine, Rogers’ Yoda, so to speak, breaks it down thusly: “A weak man knows the value of strength.” But there are some bumps along the way as Rogers decides what he wants to be: a costumed symbol of strength, or a man of action on the front lines.

The second half is all about defeating Nazis — specifically, the Hydra faction led by the odious Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). I don’t how Weaving does it, but he’s a master of the cold, soulless glare that says, “I will kill you without blinking.” And when he reveals his leathery, crimson face beneath the mask? Brrrrrr.

We are introduced to a host of familiar characters, including Peggy Carter, a tough agent played by Hayley Atwell. This being the 1940s, she’s used to being disrespected by men who quickly regret doing so. And then there is the storied Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Rogers’ best friend and courageous fellow soldier. Iron Man’s pops Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) has some funny scenes, and you can never go wrong with Jones, who was born to play grizzled war veterans. Captain America’s sleek shield is practically a supporting character, and it’s really the only reason to see this movie in 3-D. I won’t lie. I flinched a bit when that thing looked like it was flying out of the screen.

Maybe some while find it corny, but I think Captain America works precisely because it’s so straightforward. There’s no winking and no attempt to make the title character a gritty, angst-ridden hero who’s sagging under the weight of his duty. Strength and sincerity look good on Evans, and he alleviates any concerns about his ability to play the iconic character. His Captain America is the polar opposite of Johnny Storm, but that’s called good acting.

Though the movie ends abruptly, it does so on a poignant note and sets up perfectly for The Avengers movie. You’ll want to stay for the trailer, even if you’ve seen it on YouTube. Trust me.

16 thoughts on “G3 Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

  1. Well put E. I agree with everything you said. The one thing that did grate on me was the “in” jokes throughout the movie that the writers seemed pretty intent on keeping to themselves and die-hard fans only. The addition of Sargeant Fury, Dum Dum Dugan, and the Howling Commandos was fantastic (I’m assuming Sarge was Nick Fury’s granddad in this continuity) but they were never once introduced formally to the audience. I think there was some untapped magic there. Even just a hand shake when he rescued them, with a “hey, I’m Dugan, and this here’s the Sarge…” Followed by a “name’s Fury, Jeddediah Fury” would have had the audience talking.

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    • …and Mrs. D disagrees with me. She liked the fact that the movie didn’t dwell on every little fanboy detail. She liked that she recognized some of them (the bowler hat and mutton chop/handlebar thing stuck out to her, but we’ve been out of the loop for awhile) but felt the movie flowed better without all the character plugs and backstory explanations.

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      • Fury’s the same man in the 1940s and the 2010s in this continuity, I would assume, since the movie versions are blends of mainstream and Marvel Ultimate characters.

        In the mainstream Marvel continuity, Fury is exposed to the Infinity Formula which is either a Nazi attempt to recreate Captain America’s Super Soldier Serum (this is the version Fury admits to) or a formula developed by Sir Isaac Newton from Deviant science and given to select agents of the Shield, for which S.H.I.E.L.D. is merely a front (the actual, and very weird, truth). The Infinity Formula doesn’t give him superhuman abilities, but it does slow his aging to a tiny fraction of normal.

        In the Marvel Ultimate version, which the movie seems to be closest to, Fury is captured by the Nazis along with Wilson Fist (later the Kingpin) and James Howlett (later Wolverine). He and Fisk are experimented on by being given the Project: Rebirth formula, a Nazi attempt to recreate Captain America. The formula gives Fury some amount of superhuman strength (enough to break open his cell door) and slows his aging. Apparently it does the same for Fisk, as well.

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    • Thanks, Craig! I went into this as a blank slate, so the in-jokes probably flew right over my head. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it because my knowledge of Captain America is pretty thin. Fortunately, I was able to get into it on the ground level, so to speak. :-)

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      • I picked up a few Cap books over the years but never collected religiously so I’m betting I’m only a few floors up from you E. Loved the music (took a real liking to the ’40’s era pop music playing Bioshock) and the recreated backgrounds of 1940’s downtown New York were absolutely gorgeous.

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  2. I don’t recall Nick Fury in the movie’s WWII scenes at all. There was a “Sarge” at boot camp, unnamed IIRC, but I don’t recall one anywhere else.

    It was obvious that the movie Howlers (Gabe Jones, Jim Morita, James Falsworth, Jacques Dernier, and apparently James Barnes) deferred to Dum Dum, but there’s no clear structure to the unit except that it’s led by Captain America himself.

    The Marvel Movieverse Nick Fury is pretty much a cipher. While his look is based on the Ultimate version, we have yet to see (or really, need to see) his personal “origin” story.

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  3. I thought it was a very good movie. No continuity baggage, straight forward story telling. The fanboy stuff was there (The original Human Torch, Dum Dum) but not dwelled upon. My only regret is that Hayley will not be continuing on. I really liked her performance and I beleive we saw Sharon near the end. Keep it up Marvel, it is not about the awards it is about quality entertainment.

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  4. Nice review, thank you – sounds like a good job, I’m so glad it doesn’t stink! I like it that the nods and references aren’t played up, it’s fun catching them if you care (I do), but there’s no need to bog down a newcomer’s experience with too much trivia and detail… if they get into the comics, they can come back and find all that for themselves. In the Marvel Spotlight where the Infinity Formula is introduced, an injured Fury in the field (WWII) was treated by a… French? doctor, who used it to help Fury pull through… years later, Fury wakes up old, only to hear from the doc., who reveals that repeated doses will return him to ‘normal’, and are available… at a price. I have it here, somewhere, havent’ read it since the 80’s, though. S.H.I.E.L.D. seems particularly prone to retcon, there are some pretty big contradictory plot threads out there… just re-read the Nick Fury vs. SHIELD series from a way back, and I still can’t figure how Clay Quartermain, Jimmy Woo, and Jasper Sitwell returned to normal after being reduced to fading LMD copies of themselves… or why the series didn’t seem to make a splash, as the rumours/build-up to a Fury vs SHIELD story had been floating about for a couple of years before it happened. Of course, we now have another ‘SHIELD was never what you thought’ storyline… it’s ridiculous, really. Ah, well…

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  6. I’m glad to hear that Captain America is good. I was a little worried about it from the trailers. It looked like it could go either way.

    I’m impressed by Marvel’s ability to make some of its more off-beat comic lines into successful movies. X-Men, Spiderman, and Iron Man are pretty easy, but making Thor and Captain America successful and accessible movies takes some talent. I just wish DC could get their stuff together. If you can’t even make Superman and Green Lantern work for you, what hope do they have of ever using their lesser known characters?

    Haven’t seen Cap yet, but I’m looking forward to it. Just need a chance to find a movie buddy who is free at the same time as I am.

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  7. I realized that with all Marvel movies I have a problem enjoying them fully for little things, that a lot of other people I notice don’t really mind. ((i.e. Emma Frost cracking in DIAMOND form by a metal bedpost… come on now.))

    What annoys me is when directors and writers excuse their sloppy storytelling by saying its an “origin-story”. That’s just plain lame. Every movie that isn’t a sequel is technically an “origin story”. We don’t the character’s history beforehand, we don’t know the plot or what drives these characters from the get-go. If movie producers took every “Superhero” movie and simply made them as they would any other great flick… there is the potential to really go over the top.

    I mean seriously, you have 60+ years of comic book scripts to work from. Most writers don’t get that…

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