A blog by Tim George. Follow my other work at http://www.tewahanui.nz/by/tim.george, http://www.denofgeek.com/authors/tim-george, theatrescenes.co.nz, and theragnz.com.
Monday, 25 June 2018
BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Captain America: The First Avenger (Joe Johnston, 2011)
middle of World War 2, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) feels trapped on the
sidelines. Ruled unfit to serve because he cannot pass the physical, Steve
refuses to let this setback prevent him from doing his part. Impressed by his
determination and humility, a mysterious scientist (Stanley Tucci) offers him
an opportunity to finally achieve his dream...
had asked me any time before 2011 that I would become a fan of a Captain
America movie, I would never have believed you. I could never get around
the irony of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed superman fighting against a regime
based around idealising blonde-haired, blue-eyed supermen.
movie is the perfect example of how a film can rise above its flaws to become
something special. Because when you take a closer look at The
First Avenger, there are some aspects where it drops the ball -
the middle act is basically a collection of similar-looking action
sequences; the villainous Red Skull is a bit of a cartoon, the third act is
rote and completely short-changes itself in order to set up the
next Marvel movie. And while it looks great, there is something vaguely
televisual about the production that makes it feel like an expensive pilot for
a Captain America TV show.
saves this movie is what it gets right, and that vital element is the character
of Steve Rogers. You can mess up a lot of things in an action movie, but if you
get the characters right, and make them people worth investing in, it can be
the deciding factor in making a movie worth watching.
Rogers is an ordinary guy who does not like bullies, and tries to stand up
whenever he meets them - no matter how many times they knock him down. It would
be easy to take a character like this, and try to make a joke out of his
earnestness, or ala Man of Steel, try to complicate his motivations to
make him 'gritty' and 'dark'. But director Joe Johnston and writers Christopher
Markus and Stephen McFeely (with some help from an un-credited Joss
Whedon) avoid both of these pitfalls, investing time in
showing Rogers' determination to overcome any obstacle that
stands in his way.
great about Rogers is that his determination is not that of your garden variety
action hero. He is never portrayed as a macho individualist, and he is not
particularly nationalistic. His desire to enlist is not rooted in patriotism
per se, or gung-ho about the military. He is just a good man who knows what it
is like to be marginalised, and wants to fight injustice wherever it exists -
whether that is a hulking bully at a movie theatre, or Nazis.
contrast, Steve Rogers is defined by a desire to help other people, but
and to be accepted by the rest of the community. There is a sense of
egalitarianism to his character that is not usually associated with action
heroes. In the training sequence, his split-second decision to jump
on a grenade, is not based on self-glorification, but a desire to protect
the people around him. It is also the action which convinces the military brass
that he is the candidate to test Erksine's serum on.
leads to my favourite scene in the movie.
meeting with Professor Erskine (Stanley Tucci) is the keystone to the
character and the movie. Erskine explains the reason why w short asthmatic was
chosen over a trained soldier. Because Rogers has never had power, he knows the
importance of it and how it is used.
It is the
thesis of the movie, and carries through the rest of the movie. When
Erskine is fatally injured and taps Steve on the chest, he is basically
transferring his belief in Rogers to be a 'good man'. Steve gets to exercise
that when he goes AWOL to rescue POWs from a prison camp.
The other noteworthy element of the movie is Steve's relationship with Peggy Carter (Hayley
Atwell), which builds well from a rapport based on shared lack of status. Considering how poorly romantic subplots are handled in action movies - see Thor - the focus on a slow-burn attraction was probably a wise choice. Their understated dynamic works well, and gives the film's conclusion more poignancy than it would have (especially considering the final scene).
of other highlights, while the second act is a bit rote, it is
enlivened considerably by the brilliantly meta 'The Star Spangled Man'
musical number. It's basically the origin for the 'Captain America'
moniker and his costume, but it never feels shoe-horned. It's also
Still on the musical side of things, composer Alan Silvestri deserves all the cred
for coming up with a genuinely memorable theme
for its title character.
Captain America: The First
Avenger may not
be as good as its sequels, but for me it has something those movies strive
for, but never quite attain: heart.