Artificial Continuum

Saturday, July 23, 2011
The pieces are now in place. With this weeks release of Captain America: The First Avenger Marvel has officially assembled its Avengers on screen. Yet how do does its final hero stand amongst the ranks of its fellow blockbusters? Captain America is easily the best Marvel Studios film released in recent years, but it may not be enough to dethrone the Studio's spectacular start with Jon Favreau's Iron Man.

A weakling his entire life, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) wants nothing more to serve his country alongside his best friend Bucky Rogers (Sebastian Stan). With a war waging in Europe, Rogers wants not only to do his part, but ,as a man who has been picked on constantly since birth, to stand up to the world's ultimate bully the Nazi Party. Opportunity presents itself in the form a super serum created by former German scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who finds Rogers to be the perfect test subject, much to the chagrin of Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). Rogers, joined by technological genius Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and the beautiful British agent Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell) finds himself soon part of a sect of the war that he never knew existed.

Captain America as directed by Joe Johnston plays out like a classic adventure film, very much in vein of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The plot contains creative set pieces, snarling Nazi villains, a bombastic heroic score, an often clever style of humor, mystical weapons from god like powers, and moments of godlike heroism. It would not seem strange at all to find Captain America and Indiana Jones fighting side by side against HYDRA agents.

This in many ways is one of the films only faults. Although this sense of adventure often pays off through exciting  action sequences and clever moments throughout, Captain America at times does not execute this design choice as effectively as it should. The opening sequences of the film often feel awkward, as Johnston attempts to ease into the world he has created. While Rogers's spirit is endearing, he at times feels one and almost saint like in his weakling heroism. This disappears as the film progresses, but those awkward moments at the films start are enough to drag the film down ever slightly. The classic sense of adventure also sometimes strays away from fun and into fleeting points of corniness, which isn't helped by the film's heroic and sometimes bombastic score.

Despite this flaw, Captain America excels as blockbuster entertainment and as a film. The plot is fun and for the most part cleverly paced. The action scenes are exciting and surprisingly brutal for a Marvel film. The film even portrays one of the best romances to grace a comic book adaptation since Spider-man 2. You will never find yourself bored. The characters are engaging, the action is exciting, and the humor is surprisingly funny. Michael Bay could learn a lesson or two from Johnston on how to tell a joke in a summer action flick.

However, the real stars of Captain  America are, oddly enough, its actors. Chris Evans is a empathetic and powerful lead. Despite early scene script pratfalls, Evans sells Rogers as an earnest hero at heart. He creates a hero, that while lacking the depth and energy or Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark, proudly stands amongst Marvel's heroes.

Even then, it is the supporting cast that truly steals the show. Haley Atwell is largely who sells the compelling romance of the film, and also plays a pretty fun WWII era spy. Dominic Cooper creates a Howard Stark that is every bit the father of the Tony we have come to love. Hugo Weaving plays the villainous Red Skull with brilliant Nazi evil, making a villain that could have easily done battle with a certain archaeologist. Sebastian Stan is also notable as Roger's childhood sidekick. Yet, the real scene stealer is Tommy Lee Jones's Col. Phillips. Jones has an undeniable screen presence and delivers the majority of the films humor with unbreakable deadpan.

If the script had been a bit tighter in its portrayal of the environment and the growth of Rogers as the title character, The First Avenger could have easily become the best. However as it stands now, Captain America stands as a great entry into the Marvel mythos.

Score: B+