Captain America: The First Avengers ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2 Review by Andrea Carnevali
Steve Rogers, a rejected military soldier, transforms into Captain America after taking a dose of a “Super-Soldier serum”. But being Captain America comes at a price as he attempts to take down a warmonger and a terrorist organization.
My son, like many children of his age (he’ll be 10 in September) is a superhero fanatic, no surprise there. Up until very recently, we’ve somehow managed to keep him away from most of the films (with the sole exception of Spiderman) as I believed some of them are a little bit too strong for very young kids. But the time has now come to succumb to his will. Recently we started watching Iron man and when tonight’s choice for our weekly “movie night with family” fell on him, he chose this film.
I had seen it once when it was first released in a time when superhero movies were still a relatively new thing, though even then people were beginning to talk about the market being slightly saturated with the comic book genre (little did we know…)
The film makers were obviously well aware of the cynicism towards anything which seemed to over-emphasise that All-American gung-ho/patriotic spirit, especially in a post-9/11, post-Bush post-economic-crisis era where a certain anti-American feeling was starting to spread across the pond.
A misstep too far in bringing this latest superhero to the screen might have not only have jeopardized their international box office takings, but also (and more importantly) their long-awaited Avengers (due to be released a year later, as the post-credit sequence reminded everyone) of which Captain America was the last missing link.
And so what they cleverly decided to do, was to stay true to the origins of the hero and keep the story rooted in 1940s, at the height of World War II. By making this a period film, they were able to get away with a lot more than if they had set the story in our modern world right from the start: the old-fashioned moral decency of the characters feels more appropriate when set in the 40s and so does the Patriotism which is clearly innate with this type of superhero, who’s essentially wearing an American flag.
Once again the film makers in trying to have their cake and eat it, even poke fun at that jingoistic sensibility as they have Captain America performing in front of live audiences around country to rally soldiers and boost morale, looking more like a clown than actually a real superhero.
In fact it’s surprisingly how well Captain America works especially in the first half.
The period feel is perfectly recreated through the sepia tones of the cinematography, the muted colours of the costumes. It’s reminiscent of another superhero film from 1991, The Rocketeer, which interestingly was made by the same director, Joe Johnston.
But it’s not just the look, overall the type of film-making used here also seems to arc back to the way good action films used to be made, before a certain Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay decided that it was all going to be about one-liners, big explosion, idiotic plot-lines, fast editing (possibly to disguise the fact that they were all pretty bad) and sexual sensibility (those Transformers film, just to mention the worst offenders).
It’s a film as much about humanity and characters as it is about big set-pieces and visual effects, because in the end, action and explosions work a lot better when we really care about the people involved.
Yes, of course, it’s all preposterous and plainly silly, but so is a radioactive spider, a man who flies in tights, a Viking looking guy with a giant hammer, and the idea that a tiny mask that only covers your eyes can make you un-recognisable to your friends. We are talking about Superheroes after all!! But as long as you can suspend your disbelief, cast aside any cynicism, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.
To help it all there’s a splendid array of supporting actors: Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Tommy Lee-Jones and even an-over-the-top Hugo Weaver who’s clearly having a lot of fun in this film, putting on a fabulous (and close-to-parody) German accent!
And of course Chris Evans in the titular role, who embodies not just the physicality of a superhero but also enough charisma, warmth and even dignity to make him extremely likeable and make us actually care for him.
The fact that in the first 40 minutes we get to know him as a frail and skinny young man makes him even more sympathetic.
The special effects to achieve that transformation are truly astonishing, even 11 years later. The CGI in a later train sequence were less satisfying, but certainly not distracting.
The film does run slightly out of steam in the last part and it becomes a little bit more generic and less interesting, but as far as popcorn movies go, this is was lot better than one might have expected expect (especially considering the blandness of the original character from the comics) and more enjoyable than most of the stuff that Hollywood tends to regurgitate during the summer season… and in my humble opinion, better than some of the over the top and much-too-messy later output from Marvel.
Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick
See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali
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