Captain America: The First Avenger (Film Review)

(theatrical release poster)

By C.E. Chambers

Posted August 19, 2011

While war ravages Europe in the early 1940s, an idealistic but emaciated-looking kid from Brooklyn tries to enlist at five different U.S. military recruitment centers.  Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has great determination but he’s an asthmatic with the strength of a kitten and is declared 4F by each doctor.  (“Marvel Directory”:  He was “born during the Depression and grew up a frail youth in a poor family.”)

However, after the last rejection Steve is approached by Dr. Erskine, a government-connected scientist who has created a Super-Soldier serum.  He’s looking for a worthy subject: A person’s character, whether exemplary or hostile, “amplifies” along with the treatment” and he wants the recipient to respect his newfound strength rather than abuse it.

Steve is chosen to compete with a special unit of Army soldiers and meets stern Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) who is less than impressed with Steve’s still-puny body.  He also meets a beautiful but formidable British agent working with the American Strategic Scientific Reserve, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).

Steve demonstrates quite graphically that he has a self-sacrificing nature and Dr. Erskine agrees to inject him with the serum.  Steve is transformed from the proverbial ninety-pound weakling into a “pinnacle of human physical perfection.”  However, the doctor is killed by a Nazi infiltrator during the procedure and Steve, instead of serving in battle, is assigned to advertise war bonds by traveling the U.S. in a form-fitting red, white, and blue uniform.  “Captain America” becomes a public favorite but is jeered by jaded soldiers in Italy.

Captain America, however, reveals his capabilities by going behind enemy lines and rescuing old friend, Bucky (with whom he shares some great quips) from a POW camp.  He’s finally allowed to serve in the theater of war — albeit with a cumbersome disc-shaped shield (he’s given a bullet proof one later) and a glow-in-the-dark costume that doesn’t seem to faze fellow soldiers.  He encounters a Super-Nazi known as Officer Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) who has a “love for occult power and myths.”  (He’s also called Red Skull because he once injected himself with Dr. Erskine’s serum which resulted in a deformed, vermillion-red face.)

The Super-Nazi is disillusioned with Hitler and plans to dominate the world via power contained in an esoteric cube that he brutally obtained from caretakers in Norway.  He has his own diabolical army and a futuristic-type laboratory.

“I have seen the future,” Schmidt proclaims.  “There are no flags.”

When Captain America had set Bucky free from his captors, he had also rescued four hundred other POWs.  He forms a volunteer team comprised of international soldiers to assist him in seeking out and destroying the Super-Nazi’s HYDRA bases.  He has to act fast when he discovers that Super-Nazi Schmidt is about to pilot his stealth plane to the U.S. on a mission to destroy major cities.

The film’s ending propels Captain America seventy years into the future which provides a nifty portal to an upcoming sequel, “The Avengers.”  This movie is scheduled to be released in 2012 and will feature at least four Marvel superheroes, including Iron Man and Captain America.

Actor Chris Evans is very personable and very convincing as a guileless, likeable superhero.  He’s certainly physically appealing.  His role as a young man who changes from looking like he’d disappear if he turned sideways into a jaw-dropping example of manly perfection wasn’t achieved without effort.  The actor is six feet tall and, according to Zorianna Kit from Reuters, put on fifteen pounds of muscle for this film.  Director Joe Johnston realized that superimposing Chris’s head on a skinny body double wasn’t working out, so digital wizards used computers to create a “shrinking technique” that minimized the actor’s bulky on-screen physique and even decreased the size of his jaw, etc.  More than two hundred shots of the actor were required.  As the actor’s “body went through the digital nips and tucks, it created empty space in the background which needed to be filled in.”

Tommy Lee Jones and Hayley Atwell are very strong characters with good screen presence.  Jones, as usual, delivers his lines as if he’s firing bullets — but would we want him any other way?  The relationship between Captain America and the well-trained, brunette British SSR agent adds a little substance to the film.  She’s actually somewhat attracted to Steve even before he undergoes his radical physical transformation and doesn’t allow herself to be pushed into the background when he becomes sought after by fans.

This is the perfect time to complain about one of Hollywood’s inventions, in fact, one of its favorite stereotypes.  When a script calls for a smart, level-headed, and competent female character, a brunette is chosen (or created).   Blondes, of course, are bubbly airheads whose naughty breasts can’t be contained by mere clothing and who have teeth white enough to blind their admirers.

Hollywood films are distributed around the world and maybe entertainment industry executives should ask an Aryan how she feels about the way blondes are all-too-often depicted.   This is going to sound off-topic, but I’ve done a bit of traveling in the past and lived in Norway and Iran; both cultures are fond of formal greetings that include handshakes.  However, when I lived in Norway, I quickly learned to beef up my handshake.  Blonde-haired Scandinavian women can crush bones.

(Rated PG-13: battle scenes with gunfire; exploding tanks; grenades; 1940s shockingly-red, sensuous lipstick on a brunette)

Producer:  Kevin Feige

Directer:  Joe Johnston

Distributor:  Paramount Pictures

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