4 StarsThe latest from Marvel Studios is a true gem. A rip roaring good time with knowing nods to Raiders of The Lost Ark, Star Wars and countless Marvel characters. Square jawed Chris Evans is perfectly cast as Steve Rodgers, a 90 pound weakling too fragile to enlist in the war effort. Until his dogged determination and inner courage gain him admission into the service and propel him as front runner for a highly secret experiment to morph men into ‘Superheroes’. Dr. Abraham Erskine (touchingly played by Stanley Tucci) a German scientist now working with the US Military is the first to spot the potential in the undersized Rodgers. However it proves far tougher to persuade Colonel Phillips (an underused Tommy Lee Jones) that the best man for the job isn’t the best soldier.
Director Joe Johnston has covered this area before in the underrated Rocketeer some 20 years ago. This time around, and presumably working from a much larger budget, Johnston and his creative team have outdone themselves. The period setting is alive visually and detailed with the kind of precision usually reserved for Oscar dramas or Scorsese pictures. Yet the look of the film has a modern/retro/sci-fi infused glow that sparkles and toes the line between fantasy and Norman Rockwell inspired art pieces. It’s a beautiful film to simply gaze at.
The screenplay from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is a lot more coherent than is the norm for the genre. Characters are given the time to develop and therefore have greater significance as the story progresses into its action filled climax. If there is a fault with the film it’s that the action isn’t a non-stop splattering of special effects. Yes, the action set-pieces are effective but the first hour of the picture is dedicated to the development of Rodgers into Captain America and then the subsequent propaganda machine that becomes of the ‘hero’. Unexpected turns in the story arc like this are common on the pages of comic books but their cinematic reincarnations have been so routine as of late that simple effective storytelling like this is noteworthy.
Sure the last five minutes are pure set up for next summer’s Avengers film, but after seeing the adventures of this First Avenger I’m far more interested in seeing a direct follow up rather than an ensemble piece that may relegate Cap to the sidelines. He deserves more than that and on the basis of this first picture he should be re-monikered The Most Interesting Avenger. A comic book movie for those that swore they’d never see a comic book movie.
Director: Joe Johnston
Stars: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Samuel L. Jackson, Hayley Atwell