Monday, January 30, 2012

Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

The Marvel Comics patriotic superhero, created in 1941 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, gets the big-budget, big-screen treatment in Captain America: The First Avenger. The film, directed by Joe Johnston from a script credited to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley, is one of the better comic-book superhero adaptations. It doesn’t have the highs of the X-Men, Spider-Man, or the Christopher Nolan Batman pictures, but it isn’t erratic, either. The title character, played by Chris Evans, starts out as a sickly, diminutive fellow who is determined to serve the Allied cause in World War II. Repeatedly rejected for enlistment, he catches the eye of an expatriate German scientist (Stanley Tucci), who is part of a government project to create a group of super soldiers. After the scientist’s procedures transform the recruit into a superman, unforeseen circumstances make him the only one of his kind. The script is very canny in its development of the character. The three acts are each structured as stages in his self-realization as a hero. The first covers his transformation; the second has him prove his worthiness as a combat operative (the government initially uses him solely as a propaganda tool); and the third has him triumph with a supreme act of selflessness. The film thankfully doesn’t dawdle over the grand scheme of the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), the rogue Nazi who becomes the hero’s nemesis; Johnston and the writers are in and out with the exposition, and dive headlong into the solidly executed action scenes. The actors are pretty solid as well. Chris Evans gives the title character an earnest, morally centered determination that seems just right. Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones are the standouts among the supporting cast—Tucci by disappearing all but beyond recognition into his role as the scientist, and Jones by being splendidly familiar as the hero’s gruff, no-nonsense commanding officer. Special mention should be made of Rick Heinrich’s production design and Anna B. Sheppard’s costuming; both capture the 1940s milieu perfectly.

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