Should I Watch..? Captain America: The First Avenger
What's the big deal?
Captain America: The First Avenger is an action superhero film released in 2011 and is based on the Marvel comic-book character of the same name. It is the fifth film of Marvel's Cinematic Universe (MCU) and is the final film before Avengers Assemble (1) which would unite all previously portrayed characters into one film. Unlike the other films, this is set primarily during the Second World War before linking up to the MCU at the end. Like its stablemates, it was a critical and commercial success and ultimately established Captain America into a franchise character of his own. A sequel was released during Marvel's second phase - Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2) - while the third film was released in 2016, Captain America: Civil War (3). It also saw the debut of Agent Peggy Carter who would go on to star in her own spin-off TV show.
What's it about?
In March 1942, Nazi officer Johann Schmidt and his troops occupy the Norwegian town of Tønsberg intent on stealing a mysterious object known as the Tesseract which possesses unknown and possibly limitless powers. At the same time in New York, Brooklyn kid Steve Rogers is repeatedly attempting to enlist but is turned away every time due to illness and existing health problems. With his friend Bucky Barnes, he gives it one last shot with Dr Abraham Erskine and Erskine agrees to put Rogers onto a top secret "super solider" project led by himself, Colonel Phillips and SSR Agent Peggy Carter.
The experiment turns Rogers from a weak and gaunt individual to the very peak of human conditioning - stronger, faster, smarter. But shortly after the experiment is conducted, Dr Erskine is killed by a HYDRA assassin and the formula is lost. Initially stuck in a propaganda role, Rogers adopts the name Captain America and reluctantly agrees to it. But upon hearing that Bucky Barnes was missing in action, Rogers uses Peggy and Howard Stark's technology and know-how to get behind enemy lines and begin taking the fight to the Germans. Schmidt, meanwhile, has his hands on the Tesseract and threatens to rule the world single-handedly with it...
Steve Rogers / Captain America
Johann Schmidt / The Red Skull
James "Bucky" Barnes
Tommy Lee Jones
Colonel Chester Phillips
Dr Arnim Zola
Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely *
Release Date (UK)
29th July, 2011
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
What's to like?
The decision to use the real-life history of the character - which was used for propaganda purposes during WW2 - to inspire the movie is brilliant, giving the film plausibility and a level of realism that Thor (4) completely lacked. It's also refreshing to see such a film in a historical setting but still link up with the other Marvel films seen so far. It shows a real intelligence behind the screenplay and I thoroughly enjoyed this Boy's Own adventure with futuristic technologies and flame-throwing tanks amid tales of Nazi villainy and old-fashioned patriotism. It also looks the business, thanks to the heavyweight Marvel Studios production and unobtrusive CG.
Evans, previously the most annoying cast member of the swiftly forgotten Fantastic 4 (5) films, matures very well into the role of Rogers, conflicted by his sense of duty and the difference between right and wrong. Attwell does so well that her character was given her own TV show but for me, Weaving deserves top marks for the Red Skull - Weaving has a knack for playing baddies and this is one of his best, beneath impressive makeup and lumbered with a panto-German accent. It's such a shame he's ruled himself out of returning in future because he is a fantastic foil to Evans' goody-two-shoes character. So with a gripping story, stunning action sequences and some fine performances, Captain America: The First Avenger is surely a winner - right?
- This was the last Marvel film to be released by Paramount. Disney bought the rights for each subsequent release, starting with Avengers Assemble.
- Hugo Weaving has stated that he is indifferent to the finished product and he sadly has no desire to reprise the role in future due to the difficulty of the makeup process involved.
- Toby Jones, David Bradley (as the Tower Keeper) and Jenna Coleman (as Connie) have all appeared opposite Matt Smith in Doctor Who.
What's not to like?
Well, not quite. The film feels like it leaves out some details that would have been nice - take Rogers' Howling Commandos unit that he fight with during the war. We literally get one scene in a pub where they're all drinking and chatting and that's it. There's no explanation as to who these people are or how they first met Rogers which I would have liked. The film also takes a while to get going and the friendship between Rogers and Bucky also didn't feel as natural as it should. I felt that Stan was maybe getting short-shrift from the screenplay but as any Marvel fan-boy will tell you, he gets more to do in the future.
If you're already familiar with the character then you might feel short-changed by the film which is almost entirely an origin tale. It plants many seeds for future Marvel projects but I never got the feeling that it tells an original story with the character. Maybe a bit more time spent during the war and less on the build-up to Evans' remarkable physical transformation. And while I'm thinking about it, how quickly did Carter fall for Rogers as soon as he stepped out of the pod? Nit-picking maybe, but that's my job, I'm afraid!
Should I watch it?
Oh yes, especially if you've seen the other Phase One films in the MCU. This is wonderfully written, well performed escapism at its very best and reminds you that with a bit more effort and thought, Marvel could escape from making tired retreads of films they've already made. I was slightly underwhelmed by the likes of Iron Man 2 (6) and The Incredible Hulk (7) but this is funnier, smarter, more interesting and more exciting than both of those. This is probably Marvel's best non-Avengers films released in Phase One and that's mighty praise indeed.
Great For: Marvel fan-boys, lovers of the original comics, action fans.
Not So Great For: WW2 reenactment societies, Hugo Weaving's agent.
What else should I watch?
Marvel have quickly developed a habit of releasing films once or twice a year now with little sign of the market getting bored. Fortunately, this means that nerds like myself have a multitude of movies to enjoy from the bare-knuckle brawling of The Incredible Hulk to the trippy Shakespearean excesses of Thor. Personally, I'd stick with Cap and his two sequels which make up a terrific trilogy, the brilliant space-opera that is Guardians Of The Galaxy (8) and Iron Man 3 (9).
For a more authentic WW2 experience then I suppose you couldn't do much worse than the likes of Saving Private Ryan (10) which is both engaging and emotive in a way that might surprise you. Of course, there are hundreds of WW2 films you could watch but many more you could stay away from - for some reason, Pearl Harbour (11) and Escape To Victory (12) sprang instantly to mind...