Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Joe Johnston

Chris Evans - Steve Rogers/Captain America
Hayley Atwell - Peggy Carter
Hugo Weaving - Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull
Tommy Lee Jones - Col. Chester Phillips
Dominic Cooper - Howard Stark
Toby Jones - Dr. Armin Zola
Sebastian Stan - James 'Bucky' Barnes
Stanley Tucci - Dr. Abraham Erskine
Neal McDonough - Timothy 'Dum Dum' Dugan

Genre - Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Science Fiction/Comic Book

Running Time - 124 Minutes

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a good-hearted young man who wants serve in World War II to follow his father's footsteps. The problem is that Rogers is small, frail, and has medical issues that prohibit him from enlisting. After all his attempts to fake his way into the military has failed, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) overhears and sees his wanting to help out his country. Seeing Rogers' big drive despite his small frame, Erskine offers Rogers a chance to be part of a secret science experiment that would allow him to help with the war. Seeing no other options, Rogers agrees to it, not even knowing what he signed up for.

After several tests, Erskine sees Rogers as the perfect candidate to become a super-soldier for the United States military - the first in what the government hopes to be many more. Rogers is given a serum that changes his entire molecular structure. Once a tiny, scrawny weakling, Rogers is now tall, buff, and has acquired superhuman strength, super speed, and a healing factor. Unfortunately, many sees Rogers less of a soldier and more of a hero of propaganda, using him in shows to promote patriotism and sell war bonds to boost the country's economy. Dubbed 'Captain America', Rogers must prove to everyone who doubts him that he was born to fight for his country and stop anyone who threatens it and what it represents to the American people.

Meanwhile, HYDRA [
a Nazi unit] have their own plans to win the war. Leader Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a follower of Hitler and the first person to undergo the super-soldier experiment, finds a mysterious artifact known as the Tesseract - better known as the Cosmic Cube, "the jewel of Odin's treasure room". Schmidt and scientist Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) harness the power of the Cube to power weapons that will disintegrate Allies soldiers. However seeing that the Cosmic Cube would make him a god, he gets rid of his human features and appears as The Red Skull, ready to take over the world after winning World War II. Too bad there's a guy who wears red, white, and blue ready to stop him with his formidable skills and impressive shield.


- The strong cast. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER has a lot going for it. The actors and their work on this film is nothing short but spectacular. Chris Evans had a lot against him when it was announced he would be portraying Steve Rogers/Captain America. Evans, while a good actor, hadn't had a great track record in terms of box office receipts. Also, he's usually typecast in roles that require cockiness, arrogance, and pretty boy looks. The big issue was the fact that Evans had already portrayed a Marvel super hero in a previous franchise as Johnny "Human Torch" Storm in FANTASTIC FOUR and its sequel, RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER. However whether you loved or hated these films, both sides could agree that Evans was the highlight of each film. The question was could Evans portray a subtle, heroic, and well-mannered character that has been loved by comic book fans for over 70 years?

Thankfully, all the worry was for naught as Chris Evans impresses as Captain America. He gives the character a ton of heart and charm that makes Captain America instantly likeable. Evans captures the moral aesthetic of the character very well, and as the film runs, we become quickly accustomed to Evans as this do-right soldier who not only wants to protect his country and win the war, but do what's right and not expecting anything for his good deeds. This is probably one of Evans' best roles and a really different and mature one for him - and he pulls it off flawlessly. I've always been a fan of his and I'm glad he's finally getting that A-list status that eluded him for so long.

The supporting actors are just as good. Hayley Atwell plays Agent Peggy Carter, Cap's love interest. Instead of being the typical damsel-in-distress or girlfriend role, Atwell is tough as nails and matches up equally to the male dominated cast. Plus, she has an easy chemistry with Evans, which helps make their love story quite believable and enjoyable. Hugo Weaving always plays classic bad guys, and portraying The Red Skull is no different. I loved the German accent and the menace he gave the character. I do wish Red Skull was in the film more, but I'll get to that shortly.

Tommy Lee Jones is perfect as Col. Chester Phillips, playing the hard-nosed cynic who doesn't believe in Rogers. He brings subtle humor to the role and I really enjoyed him here. Sebastian Stan is good as Bucky Barnes, Cap's best friend and sidekick. Again, Stan doesn't get a lot to do in the film. But since he's signed a multi-film deal with Marvel Studios, I expect Stan to return in a sequel - probably in flashback form or in current day as Cap's arch-nemesis, The Winter Soldier. Would make for a cool sequel for sure. I also enjoyed Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, Tony Stark's father. Toby Jones and Stanley Tucci are great as Dr. Armin Zola and Dr. Abraham Erskine respectively. Just a solid cast all around.

- Character development. The acting wouldn't be so good if the actors didn't have great characters to portray. Steve Rogers is picture perfect American patriotism, doing whatever it takes to support and protect his country, while never compromising his morals to make that happen. Even though the dark times, like getting bullied pre-Super-Soldier serum, getting rejected by the military and later his colleagues, and especially during his time as a pawn for the Government to sell War Bonds, he always gives it his all because he loves his country unconditionally. He never stops wanting to prove that he's worthy of being a hero and a leader, which makes us like the character a whole lot. I also like how unaware of his attractiveness he is once he becomes a Super-Soldier, still acting like the inexperienced and shy kid he was before the experiment. This humility makes him sympathetic and likeable. He's complex without it being in your face about it. There are a lot of layers to Steve Rogers, and I think the script does a great job handling each one.

The Red Skull is your typical power-hungry villain, but he's written with enough depth to understand his evil motives. He was the first Super-Soldier, yet feels slighted by his "creator" when he abandons Germany and decides to make Steve Rogers a much improved soldier. Knowing that his super abilities have made him the leader of HYDRA, he wants more power to dominate the world and not be a victim again. It would have been nice to see and know more about his origins, but what we do get is enough.

Peggy Carter, like I mentioned earlier, isn't your standard damsel-in-distress girlfriend character. She has a lot of spunk, can protect herself in combat, and has great banter with Steve Rogers that strengths their bond. She's edgy, but in a odd wholesome way - making her compatible with our hero. Col. Chester Phillips is the stern cynic that tries to get in the way of our hero, but does it because he doesn't want his country in believing in someone who doesn't have much experience in combat and could fail when he's needed the most. His evolution in putting down Rogers into supporting him with open arms when he proves himself is believable and realistic.

The other characters, such as Howard Stark [who shows us why Tony Stark is an arrogant playboy since he's the same way], Bucky Barnes [the best friend and protector who becomes the protected when Rogers go through his change], and The Howlin' Commandos [we needed to see more of them] are good in their own right. In fact, every character has a place in the narrative and never wear out their welcome. I thought they were very faithful to the comic book versions, never insulting my intelligence by changing their backstories all that much.

- The direction. Joe Johnston does a great job adapting the comic book into a live-action blockbuster. Johnston, Steven Spielberg's protege [in fact, he worked as a visual-effects artist on 1981's RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK], has had an interesting career as a director. For every financial high [HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS and JUMANJI], he had a financial [even if popular with critics] low [THE ROCKETEER and OCTOBER SKY]. Like THE ROCKETEER and even RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER has that 1940s serial feel to it, making it stand out amongst the rest of THE AVENGERS related movies. Johnston gives the film a sense of authenticity while catering to modern motifs, pleasing both old school and modern audiences. In fact, while the film has that 40s/Indiana Jones vibe, it's also mixed with stuff from B-movies of the 1950s and 1960s. The visuals are interesting and quite entertaining to look at because of the mish-mash.

Johnston also brings style to the film. Slo-mo, montages, and exciting action pieces are all here, helped by great editing and beautiful cinematography by Shelly Johnson. I really dug Johnston's work on this, as I feel he was a great choice to direct Captain America's origin story due to his past work and style. Even though the idea of World War II is pretty heavy, he presents the subject matter in a fun, lighthearted sort of way. It's a great visual presentation by a man who's done some cool stuff in the past, but never really got his due until much leader. I really liked the tone, pacing, and atmosphere he injected into CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER.

- The special effects and make-up. Just brilliant stuff by the SFX and make-up teams on this film. The skinny, short version of Chris Evans as Steve Rogers is amazing. Did they put Evans' head on another body? Did they shrink Evans' actual body on a computer to create this effect? Whatever the case, it's just impressive as hell because it doesn't look fake at all. Just stunning stuff. Loved the Cosmic Cube and its power to turn people into dust. Simple, but cool effect. And the look of The Red Skull - just absolutely perfect. I really was expecting it to be sort of cheesy, like the Green Goblin in SPIDER-MAN. But I was definitely wrong. It's exactly how I would picture the villain appearing in a real world setting. Just great technical work on this film by the effects team. Stunning job.

- The origin story. Captain America, out of all the superheroes out there, probably has one of the easiest and more easy to identify with origins out there. Steve Rogers wants to help defend his country from Nazis, so he decides to take part in an experiment that will help him do that. And when he becomes Captain America, he never lets this power corrupt him. Instead, he uses it for good and for the love of his country. That isn't a hard thing to screw up and thankfully, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely write a screenplay worthy of the character. The right characters are used and portrayed in the right way. The Red Skull is obviously the perfect first villain for Captain America, and he's used right. The characters are strong, their motivations have depth so they resonate until the final moments, and the events that needed to be taken from the comics are used to set up possible future events in later sequels [Bucky's death in particular]. The film does feel like multiple Captain America stories in one film [each act does feel like different films], but I feel Markus and McFeely tie them all in a cohesive package that flows well and builds to something important. I honestly don't think the origin could have been done better. I really dug the script, the action, and the dialogue in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER.

- Bucky/The ending/THE AVENGERS set up. While I understand why all three of these subplots are in the film [because they have to be], I kind of felt they could have been given more depth to matter more. Bucky, in particular, is an important character in the Captain America stories because he is Cap's right hand man who dies in battle - something Captain America has to deal with for the rest of his life [even when Bucky does eventually return in the comics]. Captain America feels responsible for not being able to save his best friend, which motivates him greatly in battle as he wants to protect innocents and his teammates from suffering the same fate. While the elements are in place, there aren't enough scenes between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes in the film that really deepen their relationship. We know they're friends. We know that their roles switch in terms of their friendship as the film runs. We understand their camaraderie and know that it couldn't be an origin story without dealing with this aspect. All I wanted was more scenes between them, especially after Rogers officially becomes a Super-Soldier. There seemed to be a moment where Bucky is sort of envious and jealous of his best friend for becoming this larger-than-life hero, even though he's still as personable as ever. But it's never really explored. Maybe this is being saved for a sequel [I hope the Winter Soldier storyline is adapted for this reason alone], but it leaves a lot to be desired here. It's sad when Bucky dies and how it motivates Captain America, but it would have been stronger if their friendship was given more time to develop on screen.

As for the final act, it's a bit rushed. It should have been a great climatic battle between Captain America vs. The Red Skull - good vs. the ultimate evil. But the battle between the two characters doesn't really last long, making it not as satisfying as it ought to be. It doesn't help that The Red Skull, while in many scene stealing moments, isn't in the film more than he should be. And while there is a battle and it's shot well and paced well, it should have been so much more than it was.

I think the ending was cut short due to the whole THE AVENGERS set up in the film's final moments. Obviously this film exists for mainly that purpose alone and I'm not complaining about this "prologue" doing what it's functioned to do. But adding 10 extra minutes to let the flashback play out to a more fitting end, then doing the whole Steve Rogers waking up 70 years later to modern world he has trouble understanding, wouldn't have hurt the film much. I do like that the film ends on a bittersweet note, where you feel bad for Rogers for not getting the happy ending he was expecting. But I felt the final act begins to stumble because it's more focused on finishing the story to set up the next film. These three things aren't terrible and don't ruin the movie much, but they are flaws that I can't fail to address.

After two failed attempts to give the character a live-action adaptation he deserved, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER gets it right and sets up two franchises that will be entertaining audiences for years to come. While it's not perfect, the movie is the second best prequel to THE AVENGERS after 2008's IRON MAN. Chris Evans and the rest of the cast are fantastic, the direction by Joe Johnston is great, the effects are incredible, and the story is strong for the most part. Captain America may have been frozen in a block of ice for 70 years, but he shouldn't be scared of the new world he's woken up to - especially when a film of this caliber is around. Can't wait for THE AVENGERS this weekend.


3.5 Howls Outta 4


  1. What a terrific review for a movie I enjoyed just as much as you did. They really hit this one out of the park - and that's really amazing when you consider it's an origin story and a precursor to another movie! Well done!

    Also, question - would you think it rude if I added a link to my blog review of the same movie to my comment? I'll hold off doing so until you give me your answer.


  2. It's amazing how well this film turned out. They tried twice before and both versions are just really campy and not worthy of bearing the name "Captain America". Then they had Chris Evans playing Captain America, which didn't bother me to be honest, but really turned off a lot of people I knew due to his performance as The Human Torch in the Fantastic Four films. Plus, he hasn't done many roles where he's this straight-laced good guy without some sort of arrogance to the character. So to see him pull it off perfectly is great. Everything just clicks here - acting, direction and tone, special effects, and the story itself. This was obviously made to build up to THE AVENGERS, but the film itself can stand alone as a winner in its own right. Look forward to the sequel in 2014.

    As for the link, you can definitely do that. I have no problem with sharing. I'm honored you think it's good enough to do that. So go on ahead and thanks for commenting and linking. :)

    1. Thanks so much, Fred - here is that link:


  3. A solid movie overall. I was surprised to see 'Captain America: The First Avenger' turn out as well as it did, especially considering my initial doubts when it was still pending release and the fact that Captain America is exactly the most 'accessible' superhero out there. I agree with you for the most part. Good stuff.

    1. Thanks. Yeah, I had small doubts about it as well. But it did turn out great.

  4. I'm not a fan of comics / comic adaptations but I really needed to see this, especially because the trailer promised some nazisploitation :) In the end, I enjoyed it quite a lot. Not a perfect movie, but highly entertaining and full of great actors.

    Only flaw: the 3D. There were shitloads of scenes you could easily watch without 3D glasses.

    1. Did they change the name of the film where you live? I heard it was changed in Europe due to the "America" name. But you're right - not perfect but a bang up job bringing that comic character to life. And you're right - the acting was fantastic.

      Didn't see this in 3D though. Unless it's meant to be in 3D [as in film with actual 3D cameras], I honestly have no interest. It looks fine as it is in 2D.

    2. Nop. They changed it in Russian countries to "The First Avenger", but here in Austria it was released as "Captain America - The First Avenger". We actually like America :)

      The 3D was unnecessary but fortunately, it didn't spoil the movie.

    3. Oh okay. Yeah, I read a lot of countries had issues with the "America" deal. Nice to know Austria wasn't one of them. :)

      And I don't want 3D unless I feel it'll enhance the film. I saw THE AVENGERS in 2D and enjoyed it quite a bit, even though I heard the 3D wasn't so bad. Still, I wanted to see these films for themselves, not because of the gimmick.

  5. Saw this one in the theater last summer and had a blast, because the film stayed true to the sentiment of the Captain America character. BTW - love what you did here with Avengers week!

    1. I think that's why the film is a success - it stays true to who the character is and is pretty darn faithful to the origin. I'm more interested in where they take the character now because there's a lot of stories there. And thank you about Avengers week! It was pretty tiring, to be honest. But I'm glad I accomplished it and it was a lot of fun. Back to horror now though. I think a lot of readers are ready to go back there again. Ha.


Related Posts with Thumbnails