Back in 2002, Marvel Entertainment released the movie Spiderman. It was a huge critical and commercial hit, wowing critics and pulling in audiences nationwide. Its popularity was due to the fresh and humanizing take on the superhero genre, one that hadn’t enjoyed much success since Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989. The genre was reborn, and Marvel was quick to build an empire around it. Nine years and around 15 films later, we have Captain America: The First Avenger. Although the movie retains the Marvel superhero formula established by Spiderman all those years ago, it still manages to stay relevant through its stylish, vintage feel and light-hearted adventures.
Captain America: The First Avenger is a film that never really takes itself too seriously, and it’s right to do so. In the beginning, an energy source of immense power is stolen from a church in Norway by our obvious baddie, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving). We’re never really told why Schmidt is seeking this object, or where it came from (only that it was the “jewel of Odin’s treasure room”), but do we really need to know? The pressures of being realistic are quickly thrown out the window, much to the audiences’ relief. The line between superheroes and realism is often crossed, but with Captain America it’s apparent that we are on the side of good ‘ole fashioned fantasy.
The story follows a fairly generic path. We follow Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as he is transformed from a masochistic weakling into the buff warrior we always knew he could be. Bad guys are slain, villains are chased, and a romantic fling with the beautiful-yet-dangerous Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is eminent. There’s not much new here. If you look through the cloud of typical Marvel fanfare, the movie seems rushed and insincere. It’s unfortunate that the film must be a necessary stepping stone to the upcoming Avengers movie, because it holds back what could have been a solid and fun stand-alone original. Captain America is unique in the fact that it takes place in the 1940’s, and that alone could have propelled the movie to a higher standard than the ones set in place by Iron Man 2 and Thor. The film is delightfully retro, and it’s nice to see the hero driving around in a jeep and firing a pistol rather than flying through the sky shooting rockets. Following the vintage look, the colors in the film are subtle and muted for the most part, a welcome change in a summer full of flashing neons.
Chris Evans is capable but not extraordinary in his portrayal of Steve Rogers/Captain America. He’s more intriguing playing Rogers before his transformation, a small guy with a big heart. It’s here that Evans can actually bring his character to life, giving him an earnestness and emotion that can’t be displayed when he is turned into another muscular action-hero. It seems that character connection is important, as the film makes it a point to show that Steve Rogers is as human and empathic after becoming Captain America as he was before. This is a tired retread of most other superhero movies, where naive youngsters must harness their newfound powers while maintaining their integrity. It’s a struggle we’ve seen before, but, along with many other superheroes, we’ll lose our empathy as soon as the hero realizes what power he or she holds.
Captain America: The First Avenger is good but not great, a fun summer movie held back by the shackles of genre and the future film plans of Marvel. The plot is sometimes nonsensical, but thankfully the movie never takes itself too seriously in its reality or emotional tones. It’s another entertaining film in a long line of comic-to-movie adaptations, better than some and worse than others.