Directed by Joe Johnson, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, Captain America: The First Avenger stars Chris Evans as the Steve Rogers, the skinny kid from Brooklyn who enlists in the ‘Super-Soldier’ program to become the iconic Captain America.
It’s World War II. The allied forces are in the midst of tackling the Nazis when little Steve Rogers tries to sign up for active duty. Only, he’s not allowed. He’s too skinny, too sickly and ill equipped to be a soldier. It only makes things worse for Steve when his childhood best friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan) is allowed to sign up. But when Steve encounters Dr Erskine (Stanley Tucci), he’s finally given a chance to prove his worth. Picked for his, for want of a better word, goodness, by Erskine, Steve is selected for the super soldier program.
Abraham Erskine: Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.
He joins up at an army base under the supervision of Colonel Philips (Tommy Lee Jones), where he is ridiculed for his size but once again he proves there’s more to being a great soldier than physical abilities. This is why Erskine has picked Steve for this project and is summed up brilliantly by their conversation the night before Steve undergoes the procedure to become ‘super’ in a funny and heartwarming scene between the two.
Abraham Erskine: Do you want to kill Nazis?
Steve Rogers: Is this a test?
Abraham Erskine: Yes.
Steve Rogers: I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they’re from.
Steve undergoes the transformation to become all beefy and he is immediately given a chance to test out his new given muscles by chasing down an agent of Hydra (Richard Armitage). Now, Hydra are the rogue Nazi science group utilising the ‘Tesseract’, an ancient cube of infinite power, to produce WMDs. They’re led by the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), who himself underwent an early version of the super soldier procedure giving him similar abilities to Cap but left him disfigured. He’s a basically super-villain version of Hitler. With, yep you guessed it, a weird red skull. The aforementioned Hydra agent who infiltrated Steve’s transformation process blows up half of the facility and kills Dr Erskine, putting a halt to the process which was designed to produce an entire army of Captain Americas.
Colonel Philips as a result loses this faith in the program and Steve is sidelined to starring in morale-raising activities as the Captain America persona rather than fighting he good fight. However, after Steve and Agent Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell), with help from Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), form a plan to rescue hundreds of troops from behind enemy lines, Philips realises Cap’s value and he becomes a key leader in the fight against Hydra with the help of Bucky and the Howling Commandos and Agent Carter.
This is where the film goes downhill, unfortunately. The first hour of this film is an underdog story of real merit. It’s nicely written and Chris Evans really delivers as the guy who just wants to do what’s right regardless of the personal cost. And he’s not annoying or boring either, which would have been an easy mistake to make. He’s engaging and charming. There’s a great moment early on, when getting beaten up in an alley Steve refuses to give up saying ‘I can do this all day’. It gets you rooting for Steve from the off. The exchanges with Tucci’s Erskine are equally good really driving home why Steve is uniquely equipped to undergo this procedure and why he is the one chosen to be Captain America. It’s heartwarming, inspirational stuff. However, this is where it starts to get formulaic and dare I say a little boring. Once Steve becomes Captain America we’re treated to very little of the early character stuff and it becomes a bit of a generic action film with Steve and co going around and destroying Hydra compounds (in a montage) and chasing down Red Skull and the Tesseract. While it’s by no means bad, it’s frustrating to see a film that could have been great let down in this way.
The film is saved, however, in the last 15 minutes. As Steve defeats Red Skull he’s got no option but to crash the plane which stages their final confrontation into the Arctic and we’re given a gut wrenching, heartbreaking scene between Peggy and Cap in which both actors deliver brilliant, emotional performances before the plane thuds into the ice.
We’re then treated to seeing Cap wake up in a present-day NYC, only to be encountered by a certain Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) who recruits him to be the first avenger (get it? like the title).
While I really like this film and I do, a lot, I can’t help but feel some lazy writing after an hour or so in, with some formulaic and predictable plot trajectories, let down what otherwise was an excellent, emotionally driven character arc. Chris Evans is excellent as Captain America, and is never boring, as the ‘goody-goody’ heroes are all too often branded. He delivers a thoughtful performance as the underdog turned champion.
GOOD. Good characters, solid performances and genuine feel-good moments rescue a film which turns generic once the hero is born.