Captain America: The First Avenger, is one of the better superhero movies out this season, and an example of how a multilayered lead character can make for a compelling piece of cinema. Starring Chris Evans, in what seems like a role he was born to play, this origin story is part of a set up for the upcoming cinematic version of Marvel Comics’ superheroes team, The Avengers.
The First Avenger, set mostly during the Second World War period, tells us the tale of Steve Rogers, a man who possesses the heart of a lion (“I hate bullies”), but a body woefully inadequate for his dream of joining the armed forces. When asked if he wants to kill Nazis that badly, Rogers says that he isn’t driven by blood thirst but rather by a need for justice.
After the military rejects him for the umpteenth time, Rogers comes across Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a German scientist who has defected to the United States, and is looking for a candidate to experiment upon with his ‘Super Soldier Serum’.
We learn that before he switched sides, Dr Erskine’s first test subject was Nazi officer Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), whom comic-book aficionados know better as the super villain, the Red Skull. The film shows us that while the serum did bless Schmidt with super strength, it also amplified the very nature of his soul, driving his evil hunger for world domination.
After his own transformation is successful, Rogers dons the Captain America costume to become a symbol for the allied effort; comic books and TV spots starring him are produced. This is closer to the truth than you might imagine, as the superhero Captain America was actually written in the 40s as part of a PR effort against Nazis. Eventually, Captain America becomes more than an icon, leading on the battlefield and delivering decisive blows against the Axis powers.
It is human nature to cheer the underdog, and the dreamer in us identifies with Steve Rogers on an emotional level. And when he becomes the powerful Captain America, we love the fact that on the inside, he hasn’t forgotten that he is still that little guy from Brooklyn.
Chris Evans does a stellar job of playing Captain America, and his performance gives a surprising depth to what could otherwise have been a one-dimensional superhero.
In fact, the cast is the movie’s main strength: Tommy Lee Jones, who plays the sceptical Colonel Chester Phillips, adds to his reputation as one of the best actors in Hollywood. Hayley Atwell shines in her understated role as agent Peggy Carter. Finally, Hugo Weaving seems to have perfected the art of playing the menacing villain and is deliciously diabolical as the Red Skull.
Despite a few action sequences that are more serviceable than spectacular and hurried pacing in some scenes, director Joe Johnston (October Sky) has produced a solid character driven film here, that not only has a moving message of inner strength for the younger audience, but at its core, is a pretty darned good superhero movie.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, September 11th, 2011.