Something rubs me the wrong way about the visual effects in Captain America: The First Avenger. The story is mostly set in the 1940s, during the crux of World War II, so I can appreciate the subtle effects that have to change the visual landscape of New York City without us noticing them. But then the effects start to get carried away, with all these chases and anachronistic weapons and blue wisps of alien matter and Steve Rogers leaping over tall fences and off enormous exploding tanks in a single bound. It becomes much of a muchness and, quite honestly, distracting from what’s really going on.
To be sure, there is a lot going on in this film, and for the most part it is thoroughly captivating. The writing by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely does a good job of shaping Captain America into a hero with feelings, wants, ambitions, and weaknesses. That he begins life as a scrawny street kid makes his transformation into muscled goodness all the more rewarding.
Here is a man propelled by the atrocities of war. As the sickly guy from Brooklyn, Steve (Chris Evans) is unhappy that his friends are getting shipped off to the front while he has to stay behind and get beat up in an alley. He wants to fight. He feels it’s just.
His cries are heard by a German scientist named Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who is secretly modulating an underground experiment that will convert even someone as small as Steve into the next Mr. Universe. Steve leaps on board, partially to fight the war, partially to attract the voluptuous Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), a British officer who looks uncannily like she just stepped out of a propaganda poster.
After Steve is encased in a metal coffin and bright lights flash and dials whizz out of control and all the men in white coats yell out arbitrary percentages, he steps out as Captain America with pecks as big as his head, ready for action.
He is then assigned to fight a malicious Nazi named Johann Schmidt, who plans to utilise alien technology to vaporise his enemies — meaning the States. Johann, as played by Hugo Weaving, makes for a scary villain, one that Hitler himself might wage war against. He holes himself up in a mountainous facility where he manufactures weapons of mass destruction and paves perhaps the longest runway in human history. He also surrounds himself with countless henchmen, who do little except fall off bridges and through gaping holes. If you want something done right, don’t hire henchmen.
The rest of the plot is pretty standard, as Captain America leads mission after mission into Schmidt’s lair, ultimately landing himself in a fistfight with the idealist while their plane free-falls towards the Atlantic. What makes the story spicy is the Captain himself, who embodies likability within the face of Chris Evans. Here is a superhero who actually has character, who smiles a genuine smile and speaks like a humble boy nurtured in respect. Yes, he’s a patriot, so he’s driven by federal values and war, but nothing in the screenplay dictates that he be human — Evans moulds it out of his performance. Next to him, someone like Hal Jordan stands no chance.
I enjoyed all this, and the change in scenery. I think superheroes and World War II fit together quite nicely. Everything’s primitive and old-fashioned. The villains are great Nazis, and the good guys are embolden by chivalrous virtues and bravery. Again, Hal Jordan stands no chance.
I just wish director Joe Johnston had tuned down the visual effects to a level more suited to the material. I know the plot deals with technology from the beyond, and most comic book movies shouldn’t be taken as seriously as academics (though many people do), but a lot of the action scenes seemed to float in a space between realism and whimsy, and I just think, in my humble opinion as a casual comic fan, that they’re not the kind of stuff Captain America deserves.
Best Moment | I liked a lot of the tongue-in-cheek dialogue, especially the banter between Steve and Peggy, and the occasional one-liner from Tommy Lee Jones.
Worst Moment | The action scenes.