I was very dubious when sitting down to watch the first solo adventure of the Marvel superhero Captain America. The character had become a bit of a caricature of himself in recent years, replaced by more gritty violent heroes like X-Men or Batman. There was a danger that Cap could be too saccharine for today’s audiences. I was also not impressed by the casting of Chris Evans as Captain America. He’d been in a series of flops before being cast, including the awful Fantastic Four movies. Fortunately, none of my concerns turned out to be real. This movie is a great comic book film, perhaps my favourite of the solo Marvel films.
The film is set during World War II, where a young man from Brooklyn, Steve Rogers (Evans), yearns to join the army and fight the Nazis in Europe. Unfortunately, he is a scrawny sickly boy who gets rejected every time he tries to sign up. That is, until a scientist (Stanley Tucci) sees his heart and goodwill and nominates Rogers for a secret army program to create a super soldier. He believes that Steve’s good values and the fact that he will appreciate his new strength and will use it wisely. I must say the special effects were really well done for these scenes. Steve Rogers really looks like a sickly thin man. All along Evans had been building up his muscle for when he’d eventually become Captain America. To make the thin Steve Rogers believable was paramount to the films success and it does a really good job.
This movie reminds me a lot of Indiana Jones. It is a great adventure set during World War II with some supernatural elements involved. Chris Evans is charming as the titular hero and is evenly matched by the villain Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). Red Skull is searching for a cosmic cube and hopes to harness its power to help Hitler win the war. Only the superhuman Captain can defeat Red Skull and stop his nefarious plan.
This movie does a really good job of leading straight into the Marvel team up film, The Avengers. This was released the year before The Avengers and was able to connect that film with the rest of the Marvel universe. Some of the previous Marvel films (Iron Man 2??) had seemingly wasted too much time establishing this world and all the extra characters that are in it. Captain America doesn’t try so hard, but is still able to make the audience aware that there is a whole other world out there in the Marvel universe.
This film is great. It’s an awesome adventure with a great leading man, a scary villain and a promise of better things to come in the world of Marvel comics.
Going into this movie, I was confident I would be underwhelmed by this Captain America guy. My favorite superhero of all time is Batman, who’s Marvel Universe analogue is definitely Iron Man. Both are bajillionaire-playboy-geniuses, with vices and issues and gritty backstories. Their movies are intriguing because they are flawed individuals who are doing the right thing even though they have no obligation to do so. From the trailers Captain America appeared to be Superman– a goody-goody who doesn’t swear or smoke or ever act unchivalrous. Yawn…
But you know what? Captain America is actually an incredibly great movie, despite the fact that the Cap, a.k.a. Steve Rogers, is a bit of a goody-goodie. This is in large part due to the fact that the bulk of the film takes place in the 1940s, a time when being a chivalrous Boy Scout was something to aspire to, rather than something to deride. Rogers makes sense in this environment, in fact he’s basically a model American citizen. He’s humble, smart, brave, determined, selfless… the perfect candidate to be transformed from a “98 pound weakling” to a muscly super soldier.
However, when you remove Captain America from the 1940s and drop him into the 2000s, he’s still compelling in a way that Superman fails to be outside of the 50s. Rogers fit in perfectly in the 1940s, but when he finds himself in present day he must cope with almost 70 years of changes all at once. The character of Superman has essentially remained unchanged since his inception. The only “reinvention” his film stories typically get are bringing them into contemporary settings. His Midwestern values remain unchanged, but also unchallenged. Steve Rogers may still be wholesome post-defrosting, but his beliefs are challenged (sometimes from unexpected sources, see The Avengers), and the trailers for his sequel, The Winter Soldier, hint that he may have to fight his own creeping cynicism.
A lot of people might write this off as just another superhero movie, or just another WWII movie. And on its own it just might be (I personally like both genres, so I don’t care). But given that this film was designed to be the lead in to The Avengers as well as an introduction to the Captain America character, I think it’s a really excellent movie. It succeeds on its own merits, in fact it has replaced Iron Man as my favorite Marvel stand alone story. It also leads into the studio’s next phase of films, but without an annoying cliff hanger.