thu 25/07/2024

Captain America: The First Avenger | reviews, news & interviews

Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger

Latest Marvel movie benefits from period setting and strong supporting roles

Chris Evans feels the heat as gung-ho Marvel Comics hero Captain America

Already shouldering the new Harry Potter off the top of the US box-office charts, this latest arrival from Marvel Studios harks back to a simpler America where the hero wraps himself in the stars and stripes and the bad guys speak with ridiculous German accents.

It’s 1941, the Nazis are trampling Western civilisation underfoot, and gung-ho American kids are flocking to join up.

But it’s bad news for 98lb weakling Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a rickety, asthmatic youth from Brooklyn who’s desperate to pull on an army uniform and head for war-torn Europe, but hasn’t a hope of passing a medical exam. Luckily, he runs into Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a brilliant German scientist who has fled to the States to carry on the fight against Hitler. He selects Rogers as the perfect specimen for his Project Rebirth, which involves our spindly hero being strapped into some bizarre Frankenstein-like machinery, injected with the Doc’s zany serum, and emerging all beefy and muscled-up to step into the role of Captain America.

In the event, it isn’t Hitler who proves to be his chief opponent, but messianic German megalomaniac Johann Schmidt, alias the Red Skull. Played with sadistic, mad-eyed relish by Hugo Weaving (pictured below), Schmidt is up to his neck in “occult power and Teutonic myth”, having acquired a mysterious supernatural crystal which has put him in touch with the darkest powers of the universe (or something similar). He listens to Wagner at shattering volume in his mountain lair, and his HYDRA organisation has developed its own super-arsenal of trains, boats and planes which vastly outstrip any of the usual gear used by either the Americans or the Germans. His hordes of robotic super-troopers recall both Star Wars and Universal Soldier.

Weaving_TRIMThere’s a riot of CGI-powered action and plenty of flying objects hurtling at you out of the screen to make the most of the flick’s 3D capabilities, but it’s some of the period touches that help lend the movie extra colour and character. Forties New York has been lovingly rendered in sepia and brownstone and filled with vintage cars and costumes, while keeping the action rooted 70 years in the past (from the dawn of Marvel Comics, in fact) has enabled director Joe Johnston and his team to handle the good-versus-evil theme without feeling the need to add a knowing postmodern spin.

Certainly it’s a leap of faith to get behind a guy wearing a red, white and blue costume and carrying a matching all-American shield, and the Captain is gently mocked in a neatly conceived sequence where he’s assigned to go on a promotional tour with a troupe of dancing girls to sell war bonds. We see him growing steadily more confident at delivering his patriotic spiel, until he’s suddenly deflated by a crowd of combat veterans in Italy who ridicule his appearance and throw things at him until the girls are sent back out. It spurs the Cap’n to get out and force the military authorities to give him a proper job bashing the Krauts, in particular his super-sceptical CO Colonel Phillips, irascibly played by a gruff Tommy Lee Jones (pictured below with Hayley Atwell and Chris Evans).

trio_TRIMAs the story develops, it blurs too much into a greatest-hits mix from the history of action movies, from James Bond and Indiana Jones to X-Men and Iron Man. It doesn’t help, either, that leading man Chris Evans is decent, upstanding but dull (and a bit thick, by the look of it), while Hayley Atwell as military liaison officer Peggy Carter is decorative, but seems to have been laminated with an invisible plastic coating.

The ancillary characters are the most fun. Dominic Cooper betrays no fear of ham as industrialist and inventor Howard Stark - as Marvel buffs will know, he’s the father of Tony Stark, alias Iron Man - while Jones is roguishly tongue-in-cheek and Tucci ladles on a Germanic Dr Strangelove topping. Weaving displays considerable skill in scenes where he gives up being human altogether and appears as the real Red Skull, radiating waves of eviltude despite having no ears and a triangular hole where his nose should be. Larks! As summer blockbusters go, it’s a notch or two above average.

Watch the trailer for Captain America - The First Avenger

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