|Just one of many cool alternate posters|
Chris Evans is Steve Rogers, a skinny sickly little guy desperate to serve his country during World War II. That fact alone, that they chose to go period with this film speaks volumes to me, about how much the filmmakers (or, yes, Marvel Studios) understand the character. Rogers, who has tried to enlist 5 times, is spotted by Stanley Tucci's Dr. Erskine and selected for a radical new experiment: to be the first of the new Super Soldiers. Of course, there's Hugo Weaving as the Eeeeeeeevil Herr Schimdt/Red Skull who simply won't allow that to be and so, just as the American scientists are celebrating the successful birth of the future Dr. Erskine is assassinated and his Super Soldier serum destroyed. Thus, Steve Rogers is the one and only Super Soldier: Captain America!
After a quick detour as a USO show attraction, Cap is in Europe rescuing captured soldiers (including his childhood buddy James "Bucky" Barnes) and hunting down the Red Skull's dark-science labs and Hydra minions, including Toby Jones' evil genius, Arnim Zola. These missions with the Howling Commandos (who are, sadly, never named as such. The characters are in fact never named) leave plenty of room for more adventures from WWII to be shown. There are neat little nods and tie-ins to the wider Marvel Movieverse – the Tesseract/Cosmic Cube from the Hall of Odin connecting in to Thor and Tony Stark's equally genius daddy Howard bringing in Iron Man- that never overwhelm this particular adventure or character.
Johnston and his team (cast and crew) get so very much right about the film and character; from the palette of the 40's to the retro-futuristic sci-fi to the unwinking all-around good-guyness of Cap. The whole film is unashamedly unironic. When I first heard of the decision to put Cap in the USO show, I was a little dismayed. It seemed like they didn't really know who Cap was. But the way they carry it off here, with a greedy Senator and breaking out the well-known costume, it helps give the otherwise arcless Steve Rogers a few great character moments and decisions. Chris Evans is perfect as Cap and never loses sight of the small, skinny Steve Rogers. He manages to carry off the “Aw shucks” moments with charisma, never feeling forced or ironic. Hugo Weaving impersonates Wernor Herzog for one of the all-time great Marvel villains; he is a full-tilt unrepentant psychopathic villain. Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones give so much more to their small characters, they help lift the whole film. Tucci gives Erskine a real, flawed, brilliant and gentle humanity while Jones, being a man with a self-confessed lack of humour, shows off his razor-sharp comic timing. I've never seen Hayley Atwell in anything before, but her Agent Peggy Carter, a British agent on loan to the project, is wonderful and more than a match for all the macho-ness around her. Her and Steve's growing relationship is the heart of the film and is so well drawn and played out with such effectiveness there's a real kick in the guts come the end - even for me, who knew what was coming.
There are a few minor quibbles I had with the film. Some of the effects, especially the green-screen stuff, is really not great. But even this, oddly enough, adds to the charm of the film. And the really important effects work, to make the huge Chris Evans a scrawny shrimp, is done pretty perfect. And though the inclusion of Marvel bad-guy organisation Hydra (or HYDRA) as a dark-science cult loyal to the Red Skull is cool, I would have dearly loved to see Cap punching some Nazis in the face. And it's small things like this, small missed opportunities, that are the only real faults with the story. For one thing, I wanted more! More of Cap and the Howling Commandos, more of Cap and Bucky fighting evil together. But wanting more is a very good criticism to have of a film.
Joe Johnston is perfect for this sort of rock 'em sock 'em two-fisted action. There are obvious parallels with his The Rocketeer and his work on Raiders of the Lost Ark. He's a decent enough director, not one of the greats by any stretch, but one who generally knows his way around a story and a film. And the whole team behind really "get" what Captain America is all about - not flag-waving jingoism and blind patriotism, but standing up for those ideals that helped shape America (before it all went to hell in the 70's). And they get the man, Steve Rogers, right and manage to never cross in to cheesey or winking and nudging territory. Captain America is all sorts of fun and I can't wait to see it again.
N.B. Stan Lee once again does a cameo – though, for once, he was not involved in the creation of Captain America. That was Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.