Summer Movie Review: Captain America

Captain America: The First Avenger is the second blockbuster period piece this summer that explores the origins of a major Marvel comic book franchise. Unlike X-Men: First Class, which takes place primarily during the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960’s while establishing a very loose continuity with the other X-Men films, the Captain America film, as its title implies, serves as a prequel to next summer’s Avengers. Of course, Cap is the fourth Avenger (and the second this year) to be featured on the big screen, and alongside both Iron Man movies, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor, the four superheroes have developed what Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Pictures have dubbed the “Marvel Cinematic Universe.”

The Avengers: Black Widow, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, and S.H.I.E.L.D.

 

Steve Rogers, Pre-Super Serum

Prior to becoming America’s very own superhero, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, What’s Your Number?) was a frail and sickly 90-lb kid who, despite his earnest intentions to help his country by joining the military during the second World War, cannot even fend for himself in his hometown. After countless failed attempts at joining the armed service, Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, Easy A), a German scientist who is working with the US Military, acknowledges Rogers persistence and offers him an opportunity to enlist. Erskine takes a liking to Rogers and is convinced, upon sensing his goodwill, that he is perfect for the experimental Super Soldier Project. The early moments of this film make it a point to focus on the character of Steve Rogers more so than Stever Rogers, the character.

The Red Skull, leader of HYDRA and self-proclaimed god

Steve Rogers only becomes Captain America because he puts his patriotism and loyalty before himself. It is revealed, prior to the Super Soldier experiment, that the serum would not only increase Rogers’ muscle mass and athleticism, but it would further exemplify his inner being. Rogers’ humble demeanor and selflessness separated him from the subject of the prior Super Soldier experiment, which transformed power-hungry scientist Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving, V for Vendetta) into the villainous Red Skull who is hellbent world domination.

Cap in the Stark-designed uniform, with his Vibranium shield

Continuity was certainly in place, with Captain America: The First Avenger tying itself more closely to Iron Man, the first movie in the Avenger film canon, than any other hero’s story. Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, The Devil’s Double), the father of the industrialist Avenger Tony Stark, had a very influential role in the film, not only working alongside the US Military, but by working on the Super Soldier Project with Dr. Erskine. After Cap’s rescue mission, Stark revealed to Rogers that he had been developing state of the art armor for the Super Soldier, including the indestructible Vibranium shield that serves as Cap’s most efficient offensive and defensive weapon. Other nods to the Marvel Cinematic Universe are references to the Yddrasil Tree of the World and the importance throughout the movie on the Cosmic Cube that was featured in Thor. The Super Soldier Serum, credited to Erskine’s alias Dr. Reinstein and developed by Stark Technologies, was also a prominent device in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. Much like in the comic books, these properties are staying connected despite having different writers and directors behind each individual project.

Marvel nailed it by casting Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark
That director Joe Johnston managed to tell such a captivating story is an achievement worthy of recognition, especially since the era which this film takes place is one that 21st Century movie-goers should find very difficult to relate to. However, Johnston’s depiction of World War II-era New York City is as genuine and earnest as the title character’s personality. There are two montages that grasp the integrity of that era, one features a group of children huddling together to read Captain America comics, and the other features a group of young boys running around the streets of New York, role playing with trashcan lids painted in the likeness of their hero’s famous shield.
Captain America, surrounded by HYDRA soldiers

When Marvel Comics first introduced Captain America, it gave the United States a patriotic superhero that exemplified “truth, justice, and the America way” during World War II. This film should not be viewed as a re-imagining of that war, nor should its historical content be compared to the historical content of other films set in that era. Captain America: The First Avenger is not supposed to be Inglorious Bastards. Quite the contrary, Captain America has a 70 year canonical history all his own, and this movies explores the character’s origins. As such, the film is as faithful to its source material as any comic book movie ever has been.

This is the story of an underdog who becomes one of the greatest superheroes known to man. It is an action movie, but it is also a period piece and, ultimately, a tragic love story. The pathos in the romance is as heartfelt as it is heartbreaking, even for comic book fans who know Cap’s fate. Incredibly, despite being tasked with accomplishing so much, it succeeds by doing each of these very well. More than an excellent comic book movie, Captain America: The First Avenger is an exceptional film.

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