[The Social Opportunist]: Movie Review – Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Written by Phil May 03, 2012

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

For the second half of my pre-Avengers review bonanza, I watched Captain America: The First Avenger (click here to read my previous review of Thor). This was the only major film I had left to see if I really wanted to be prepared for when The Avengers came out this weekend, however, given the title of the movie, you’d think it would have to be the first one I watched. But that’s beside the point. Luckily, it was readily available on Netflix! Unfortunately, this little side project has definitely started taking focus away from The Challenge (click here for more info). I need to start taking advantage of the time I have off right now and cross a few more movies off of that list. However, either way you look at it, I’m watching movies, so life is definitely good! Enjoy the review of Captain America!

Check out the trailer below before reading the review, just to give yourself a little context (or if you’ve already seen it, a little reminder).

***WARNING: The following review may contain spoilers.***

Captain America was a comic book character that I never really got on board with or was exposed to in any significant amount, so this movie was my first real experience with the character’s backstory. Captain America: The First Avenger centres around Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a skinny yet gutsy Brooklynite whose ambitions are far bigger than he is. Taking place in the Second World War, Rogers wants to join his fellow Americans in fighting the Nazis along the front lines in Europe. However, given his slight stature, he is prevented from participating, much to his disappointment. This all changes when Rogers is approached with an experimental procedure that would allow him to finally be the soldier he’s always wanted to be. With help from Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and a special serum, Rogers is transformed into the super solider Captain America. At the same time, Nazi super villain Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), or Red Skull, has taken a hold of a supreme power that threatens the survival of the world’s population, leaving Captain America as mankind’s last hope.

The troops celebrate the heroic Captain America (Chris Evans)

In comparison to Thor, which felt as though it had absolutely no substantial plot line or story concept, Captain America was actually pretty entertaining, with a strong and well-thoughtout storyline and rich characters. Our hero Steve Rogers is a complex yet admirable character that is flushed out throughout the entire first part of the movie, building into the film’s overall theme of overcoming the odds. The film does a good job of teaching people that they should be standing up for what they believe in, chasing their dreams no matter what obstacles are standing in the way and finding the courage within. This focus makes Captain America an intriguing movie where audiences find themselves engaged with and constantly rooting for the title character. It was great to see this kind of character in a superhero movie, given that so many kids will be watching these movies and might be going through something similar. It feels like Peter Parker in Spiderman, who, though geeky and unpopular, turns into one of the coolest superheros in history.

Despite this inspiring theme that takes focus for most of the first half of the movie, I should note thatCaptain America seems to loosen its grip and succumb to a typical shallowness. Only once Rogers’ physique is improved through a miracle serum is he able to get any of the recognition, respect or admiration that his character deserves. Even Peggy Carter, Captain America’s love interest, doesn’t seem to look twice at him until he becomes Captain America. However, I do understand that this is a comic book superhero and Captain America is supposed to be a ripped he-man. The character was first developed to inspire soldiers and patriotic Americans, so playing up the importance of his physical strength makes sense. It’s just unfortunate that the movie doesn’t teach people that you can be courageous, kick ass and get girls without being a ripped he-man.

The major characters in Captain America were all cast pretty appropriately and therefore were acted to great success. Chris Evans, who plays our hero Steve Rogers, does an effective job playing the dual role of a scrawny go-getter and brave superhero. His performance, while shallow and clearly not award-winning, was perfect for the character he was playing. However, Evans was not the standout in this movie, despite his lead role. Even more impressive were Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving and Hayley Atwell. Jones, who plays the crass, no-nonsense Col. Phillips, is an actor that I enjoy watching in pretty much anything and this movie was no exception. Weaving, as the tomato-faced villain Red Skull, harkens back to his role as Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy and accurately portrays a ruthless bad guy to a level that is perfect for a comic book adaptation. And finally, Atwell (Peggy Carter) throws the typical “damsel-in-distress” character out the window and shines as a female soldier that can hold her own against her male counterparts. The combination of these strong performances help to buttress the film through any of its slower moments and keep the entertainment going.

Chris Evans (Steve Rogers) and Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter)

I think a huge reason why I seemed to be entertained during this movie was the historical aspects. Despite the obvious liberties that Captain America took with the story of World War II and Nazi Germany, it’s always interesting when a movie takes place in a real historical context and puts a fresh spin on it. Captain America reminds me a little of Inglorious Bastards, which also dramatized the tale of Hitler and Nazi Germany to a point of no return. However, Bastards was clearly a far superior movie to this one and did a much more effective job of bringing its version of history to the big screen. Regardless, this plot characteristic is what makes me so excited to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter this summer!

Now, I hate to do this but I’m going to do an almost complete 360 in this review. Despite my moderate praise for this movie, my experience with Captain America: The First Avenger was largely ruined by the way the movie ended. Like I talked about with Thor (although nowhere close to that degree), this movie’s end appeared to simply be a last minute addition that only served to preface Captain America’s participation in The Avengers. I understand that they wanted to connect all of these semi-prequels together so that audiences would be drawn to see the collaboration, but I just seemed too distant from the main story to be real. This far-fetched ending took me completely out of the story at a moment when I should be satisfied and ready to see the movie through to a gratifying conclusion. But the director didn’t seem to want that to happen! Unfortunately, this ending has really jaded my opinion of Captain America, despite the fact that it is overall an impressive movie.


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