Captain America: The First Avenger
Directed by Joe Johnston
Starring Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci
Infamous New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael wrote: “Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them.” The ability to appreciate “great trash” is an occupational hazard for anyone interested in film these days. Captain America: The First Avenger is proof, if any were needed, that Hollywood is content to carry on taking out the trash.
Chris Evans camps it up appropriately and delightfully to play Steve Rogers, a skinny calorie dodger with ambitions above and beyond his physical stature. Evan’s and his co-stars, Tommy Lee Jones and Hugo Weaving aren’t shy about hamming it up for a superhero movie which feels like a parody of the genre. Could director Joe Johnston finally have cracked the unsolvable conundrum of the lacklustre, underwhelming comic book adaptation with a bit of light-hearted entertainment?
A look at the top ten grossing films of the last ten years will you that what modern audiences want, for the most part, is spectacle and not art. What Captain America has going for it is that it does have pretensions beyond being just that, a spectacle. It has plenty of fun and engaging characters, colourful action sequences and some impressive if imperfect visual effects. The story will hold your attention enough so that when 1940s “Cap” awakes from a 70-year deep freeze nap in the Arctic circle and is confronted with contemporary New York City at the end of the film, you’ll actually care what happens next.
Joe Johnston’s appointment as director might have given fans of the comics cause for concern but under the weight of considerable expectation the Jumanji and Jurassic Park III director proved himself more than capable of relieving at least some of the pressure felt by Marvel in the run up to 2012’s hotly anticipated The Avengers. The heroic cast of super characters has been gradually assembling since summer 2007, with a whole host of big names already in place.
Like Thor and Iron Man, Captain America has all the hallmarks of another Marvel manufactured, fan-pleasing comic-book movie, though it doesn’t feel quite as forced as Spiderman III. Although not as inventive and visually imaginative as Ang Lee’s underrated Hulk, The First Avenger sports some impressive CG effects.
There are couple of scenes where the “skinny dude” effect looks less than convincing and the sound of Evans’ voice doesn’t suit the 90-pound body it issues from, but for the most part it works, with Evans making a fairly smooth transition from calorie dodger to buff super-soldier.
Hugo Weaving’s portrayal of The Red Skull is nothing short of laughable, ten points to anyone who can keep a straight face after he rips his off and reveals what’s underneath. Toby Young is suitably slimy as the evil Lieutenant Schmidt’s scientist side-kick. Tommy Lee Jones does a fantastic parody of himself which hardly seems to take any effort at all and newcomer Hayley Atwell smiles, frowns and teases as Cap’s feisty buxom beauty Peggy Carter.
After Thor, The Green Hornet and The Green Lantern, Captain America is a slight improvement on what’s come so far this year, but that’s hardly saying much. With The Avengers due for release next year you get the impression that these films are just appetizers before the main course.
But are we really that hungry for another superhero movie? Do we watch these films out of desire or habit? It’s not a habit that I’m about to kick any time soon but the highs are becoming fewer and further between.
The First Avenger is different to its aforementioned Marvel predecessors in that it doesn’t feel obliged to act too cool to fit in with its peers. It is quite content to be cheesy and ridiculous. By keeping its tongue resolutely in its cheek, Joe Johnston’s film looks and feels like the melodramatic 50s matinee crowd-pleaser that it was meant to be. It’s trashy, of course, but entertaining nonetheless.
Ronan Wright blogs about films from Belfast at Filmplicity .