Tuesday 2 August 2011


(Joe Johnston, 2011)

Like Superman, Captain America is a character much-derided by those (lets call them casual Super-hero fans) who favour edgier, seemingly more complex modern Super-heroes such as Batman, Spider-Man and Wolverine. That is somewhat understandable. On the surface, he seems an overly-literal, simple-minded creation. Visually he is a walking flag, resplendent in red White and blue, his costume encompassing both stars and stripes, together with little (eagle?) wings on the mask. His creation as a propaganda tool during the Second World War now makes him seem dated and irrelevant. His characterisation can be - in the wrong creative hands - reductive and silly, restricting him to the role of the big strong boy scout. Then there is the shield...
Well, Johnston's fun blockbuster addresses most of these issues and displays a fine understanding of just what makes the character of Captain America so compelling. Nicely grounded with a vivid grasp of a certain sort of zippily pop-cultural view of the Second World War which is perfectly suited to the character, the film spends its first act establishing its characters and making Chris Evans' Steve Rogers a truly likeable and sympathetic underdog. With the classical simplicity which is very much a hallmark of Marvels best characters, also present whenever nerdy Peter Parker cuts loose as the wiseass god of skyscrapers Spider-Man or when weedy, repressed Bruce Banner gives into his rage and levels buildings as the Hulk, Rogers' transformation into the "Super Soldier" Captain is made tremendously satisfying by how realistic, convincingly mounted and well-acted his sickly asthmatic beginnings are.
Indeed, Captain America gets its textures right throughout, stealing liberally from Raiders of the Lost Ark and sprinkling in some nice retro-futurist designs for its Hydra villains Nazis-with-black-magic World. There is also some wit in the details; the sequence where Rogers is used as a propaganda tool for selling War Bonds may just be the films best passage and actually provides an explanation for the ridiculous symbolism of that costume.
The cast give good accounts of themselves: Evans is convincing and winning throughout and effortlessly handles the action scenes, Tommy Lee-Jones is as good as ever in a one-note part, Hayley Atwell makes her vague cypher of an idealised strong 1940s Woman relatable and even affecting, and Hugo Weaving manages to make the Red Skull both disturbing and hilarious with what seems an outright Werner Herzog impersonation. The action scenes are competent if never inspired, but the patient pacing of the love story and Rogers' growth as a hero give it a surprising emotional charge by the slightly underwhelming, somewhat rote, underexplained climax. The coda, then, seems bizarre and even an attempt to shortchange the audience in advance of next years massive all-star The Avengers, which will feature this hero alongside Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk and Hawkeye.
It is also more than a little overlong, but its visual richness and the ease of the storytelling mean that Captain America mostly works as a fun summer blockbuster in its own right.

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