In a series of films that have so far contained a one percenter wearing a snug suit of techno-armour, a raging, green id monster and a hammer throwing Norse God with Fabio hair, it seems that the most delicate touch the then-still fledgling Marvel Cinematic Universe has needed to apply was that for their star spangled Avenger.
It’s World War II and Hitler is persisting in his mission to be history’s most notorious arsehole and tiny, sickly Steve Rogers is desperate to do his part for the war effort. However, he may have a huge, fighting spirit and heart to spare but he also has asthma and a cornucopia of other ailments that decisively keep him well away from the front line, a matter that’s made even worse by the fact that his best friend, Bucky, is shipping out to serve.Of course, what with this being a Marvel movie, it doesn’t take long for Steve to stumble on a top secret project to create a “super soldier” out of a mystery compound (say no to drugs, kids) and sure enough, stick-limbed little Steve Rogers is picked based on his decency and general good-ness alone to undergo an experiment that leaves him buffer than the floor of a ballroom.However, incidents occur that not only means he’s the only one of his kind but that he’s sidelined much to the dismay of Peggy Carter, a British agent who is drawn to Steve’s natural, god given superpower of nice. Meanwhile, Johan Schmidt (a.k.a The Red Skull for reasons that become instantly apparent) desires to move Hydra, the Nazi super science division, out of Hitler’s shadow and indulge in some good old world domination and begins to makes his move against the rest of the planet. Can Steve, now newly minted as Captain America (it’s WW2 dammit, there’s no time to be subtle!), finally be boosted into battle to start doing the job he was literally made for and make the difference he’s always yearned to before the Red Skull starts dramatically starts reducing the amount of capital cities there are in the world?
So the question remains: how, in this day and age, post 9/11 (not to mention post Schindler’s List), do you make worldwide audiences root for a guy who dresses in old glory and flings a red, white and blue shield at evil doers?
Turns out the answer’s deceptively simple, you just go full Indiana Jones. Yes, that OTHER cinematic WWII based Nazi puncher held the key to cracking the Captain America conundrum and that’s to go full action/adventure on the material while making sure the casting has laser accuracy as to assure maximum likability.
The square jawed heroism was virtually guaranteed thanks to the hiring of Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Jumanji and *ahem* Jurassic Park 3) who, before embarking on his Spielberg-lite directorial career (deal with it, Joe) worked on the original Raiders Of The Lost Ark in a special effects capacity which pays off in spades here as the influence of Henry Jones Junior is keenly felt.
The other problem Captain America has to defeat is how on earth do you make a fun, kickabout World War 2 movie in a time where Saving Private Ryan exists and not be hideously insensitive?
Once again Marvel combats many issues by hurling steaming buckets of charm at it and hoping for the best. Opting for melodramatic, “Zee Jermanz” style accents over subtitles may be somewhat awkward but the superior casting of Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell papers over so many cracks it doesn’t really matter.
As Captain America, Evans nails it, achieving the impossible by somehow making a straight laced, stand-up, nice guy interesting and endearing in a genre usually crammed with wisecracking ass-hats with daddy issues (cough* Tony Stark* cough), but it’s Atwell who truely impresses as the take-no-shit Agent Carter; feminine, smart and supremely capable she may be one of the greatest female roles in comic book history and it’s no surprise she’s since popped up in everything from Ant-Man to two seasons of her own show.
The villains, however, fare less well. It’s not that Hugo Weaving as The Red Skull or Toby Stevens as his scientific lickspittle Armin Zola are bad, far from it, Weaving in particular in full make up looks spectacular and incredibly comic accurate, but the script doesn’t fully utilise them as legitimate threats. Oh sure, they have evil plans and they kill their own subordinates (never really understood that…) but they’re thwarted before anything really villainous comes to pass and compared with Loki skewering Agent Coulson or Thanos casually pushing the delete button on half of all life on earth, Red Skull’s attempts seem like small potatoes, especially compared to the damage caused by the Third Reich itself.
Another major hurdle the film fails to scale is it’s own plot. Spread out over a period of months the film almost takes a biopic style view of the run time, making leaps in time by utilising montages to fill in the gaps and leaving the film feeling episodic and disjointed. However, in addition to it’s stirring casting, the film manages to pull some aces out of the hat to halt a fatal nose dive, chief of which is Cap’s actual fatal nose dive (at least for now…) making the ending sweetly tragic. Also, a massive thumbs up have to go to an musical interlude detailing, in a incredible meta-sequence, the good Captain’s time as a propaganda symbol with actual comic books from the period, plus Cap’s costume (in all it’s forms – no one has just one costume in the MCU) is one of the best comic to movie transitions I’ve ever seen, not 100% comic accurate but keeping all the correct details while being totally practical.
Not amazing, but good enough with plenty of room to build on, Captain America succeeds in realizing a difficult character and is well worth a salute.