Chris Evans has done it. He finally won me over. Now he is starring in his very own summer-comic-book-blockbuster and it’s a blast. Thankfully for the uninitiated, like me, Captain America: The First Avenger doesn’t have any prerequisites. Fans and non-fans alike will find themselves cheering on this hero.
Steve Rogers (Evans) is the quintessential little guy, a 90-pound weakling who only wants to do his part and help fight the Nazis. When a scientist working with the U.S. government, played by the always-welcome Stanley Tucci, gives him his chance, Captain America is born.
There’s a best friend, a British dame, a cantankerous boss, and a dastardly villain. Each of these characters is fun, well-rounded, and well acted by Sebastian Stan, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, and Hugo Weaving, respectively. There are many fun old-school montages showing Roger’s training, his hilarious USO tour, and his Nazi-bashing abilities. Honestly, I don’t require much more of a movie other than a plot set in an alternate WWII, where someone does nothing but kill Nazis (see Inglourious Basterds), but The First Avenger gives me what I want and more.
The costumes are fantastic. From the Hydra storm troopers to the period garb to Cap’s patriotic suit, everything is stylish yet appropriate. The production design has fun with historical inaccuracy while serving as a throwback not to the period but to period movies like Indiana Jones and the director’s own, The Rocketeer. The special effects are goofy at times, but they work very well within the context of each scene.
Not everything works perfectly, but two things keep any low points from falling too low. For one, the pacing is ridiculous. The movie really zooms by without a hitch. This is almost a complaint, since there was so much more I wanted to see. (More Nazis! More Dominic Cooper as Iron Man’s Dad!) The film speeds along regardless, and amazingly the characters don’t get shafted as a result. It is very well plotted. Secondly, Chris Evans is a true star here. He owns this role. A scene might not work, like when an Army secretary comes on to Cap, but Evans keeps you invested, keeps you watching, and keeps you entertained throughout.
The film wisely avoids irony, as that could easily derail the whole enterprise. From a 21st century standpoint, Cap could be prime for mocking, but the film recognizes that while he might be a throwback to a different time, he is still a hero deserving of reverence. At its core, Captain America: The First Avenger is a big goofy adventure with fun action and good performances.
I am a bit torn on the ending. It is, on one hand, very tragic. I like the tragedy of it, but I’m not sure if that fits with the rest of the film, especially since the great final line barely sinks in before the USO-orchestra starts up. I like the way they get Captain America’s chess piece in place for next year’s The Avengers (stay for the cool tease after the credits BTW), but I also wish they waited. I want more WWII Cap before The Avengers assemble. It works, but what I really wanted was for it to end with Evans dancing with Atwell then being called away on a mission to Japan. Then we get a sequel and that movie ends how this movie does. The whole Avengers planning stuff can be pretty obtrusive and this is the most unobtrusive it has been (I’m looking at you Iron Man).