(Read this in my publication In Retrospect – Issue 1)
Directed by Joe Johnston, Captain America: The First Avenger is the fifth installment to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (after Iron Man, The Hulk, Iron Man 2 and Thor) which was established by crossing over shared plot elements, settings, cast, and characters. Although he is the last of the superheroes we are introduced to in preparation for 2012’s The Avengers, Captain America is ‘The First Avenger’ and the film focuses on the earliest days of the Marvel Universe.
Set in 1942 when America has just entered World War II, a scrawny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) attempts to sign up to the US military service but, although he shows extreme determination, he is deemed unfit and is refused entry. When he is offered an alternative way in by Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), he is quick to accept the opportunity and is soon under the training of Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). Rogers is then chosen to undergo a series of tests for a top-secret research project and, after injecting him with a special serum, emerges from testing a few inches taller with a lot more muscles, thus beginning his transformation into the ‘super soldier’ Captain America.
In between clips of Rogers’ background story, we are also introduced to the evil Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) who has just invaded Norway to steal a mysterious blue liquid which possesses a secret power. Erskine reveals that Schmidt underwent an imperfect version of the treatment that Rogers has just been injected with, but that he suffered side-effects (later revealing himself as Red Skull by pulling off the skin on his face). As Rogers comes to terms with his own new appearance, one of the attendees in the testing facility reveals himself as Schmidt’s assassin, killing Erskine and subsequently losing the super-soldier serum.
Now with his new-found super strength, Rogers is made to tour the nation in his new Captain America costume to promote war bonds, rather than filling his superhero role. Whilst in Italy, Rogers mounts a solo rescue mission to save one of his friends from an army against Schmidt and, after infiltrating Schmidt’s HYDRA organization, comes face to face (or face to skull?) with the villain himself.
Lacking in surprise and suspense and… well, anything that you’d hope to get from an action-filled super hero film, Captain America doesn’t live up to its Marvel companions. As if made just so that The Avengers could go into production, The First Avenger is dull and disappointing. Why say more than that?
Whilst Evans doesn’t give anything special to the role of Captain America (He plays Flame in Fantastic Four, why try to play him up to a far more respected hero?), the special effects used to shrink and weaken his appearance before his transformation is amazing. However, the same can’t be said for Schmidt. Whilst his army looks terrifyingly good, Red Skull looks cheap and plastic and it’s his German accent that is his scariest characteristic.
To tie in with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man’s father Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) often appears throughout the film as well which also helps to place Captain America in context and in a time frame of the other films. It’s Stark and flirty Carter that offer something more to the film, receiving the odd laugh by having personalities that you would cheer for. It’s a shame their roles are small in comparison to Evans’, maybe he should have kept them tagging along more often.