‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated October 5th, 2011 at 3:53 pm,

Captain America The First Avenger Reviews Captain America: The First Avenger Review

Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Reviews Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger is the last of the lead-in films to Marvel’s ambitious superhero team-up event, The Avengers, yet it also comes with the greatest potential to distinguish itself from the other Marvel superhero movies, as a period-piece with fewer direct ties to other Marvel films.

So, does the WWII-era setting allow director Joe Johnston to do something truly unique with his superhero origin tale (especially in a summer where we’ve already seen so many of them)? And does Chris Evans do the iconic and respected role of Captain America justice?

Short version: The First Avenger is the best comic book movie of 2011, definitely one of the best comic book movies in general, and it does its job of establishing the character as an iconic symbol of American ideals.

The story is classic, and yet, timeless: Steve Rogers (Evans) is a skinny asthmatic weakling with the heart of a patriotic lion. Steve wants more than anything to serve his country in the war against Hitler, but the enormity of his spirit simply isn’t enough to overcome the limitations of his frail body. Steve’s big heart catches the eye of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a scientist working to create a new breed of genetically-enhanced super-soldiers, who will turn the tide of the war in The Allies’ favor.

Along with his collaborator Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Erskine successfully transforms Steve into a specimen of human perfection. At first used as a propaganda symbol, Steve yearns to put his newfound power to actual good use, as the hero Captain America. He partners with a pretty Allied Forces agent named Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and gathers an international team of special-op soldiers – including his best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) – to help combat evil.

Skinny Steve Rogers in Captain America First Avenger Captain America: The First Avenger Review

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) dreams of being a hero.

However: while The Allies have been bending science to further their goals, their enemies have done the same. Enter Hydra, a Nazi advanced weaponry division led by Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving). When Schmidt discovers a long-lost mythological artifact of immense power, he unwittingly sets Captain America on his most important mission yet – one which will ultimately give birth to an age of Marvels.

The First Avenger is a movie that does many things right – character, tone, acting, action – and yet, it somehow comes off as being very good, rather than amazing. That’s not an insult, at all; director Joe Johnston does a very admirable job creating the period setting and general “world” of the film. The historical set pieces all feel authentic, while the more fantastical comic book elements, although pulpy, still fit with the bygone era. This includes the advanced technology developed by The Allied Forces and Hydra, as well as the “magical artifact” at the center of the film, which has ties to the more mythological elements of the Marvel movie universe. There are also some great Easter eggs and nods to other famous films. I counted two Raiders of the Lost Ark references and one Star Wars homage. Repeat viewings will likely turn up more.

Action fans can rest comfortable: Johnston avoids the current trend of “shaky cam action” by staging competent action sequences shot at wide angles. It is refreshing to be able to actually see every punch or kick Cap throws, and we do indeed get some nice shield-tossing moments. While the action is competent, it never achieves jaw-dropping amazement in the way a Michael Bay action sequence does – but that’s OK, since Johnston and Co. have the much more valuable elements of story and character pinned down.

Chris Evans in Captain America Costume in First Avenger Captain America: The First Avenger Review

Evans as Captain America in 'The First Avenger'

Indeed, Chronicles of Narnia screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus do a great job shaping the story of Steve Rogers’ transformation into America’s icon. The pace of The First Avenger is tight, and there are some genuinely moving moments in the film. Ironically enough, the movie is at its best in the beginning, before Rogers dons his iconic costume and picks up his shield.

Captain America has been an icon for so many decades because of who he is, rather than the feats he performs as a superhero. The film wisely invests ample time into firmly establishing the character, and then, keeps his good nature and strong spirit as the central theme of the story. In a time where so many heroes are being “re-imagined” as darker, grittier, versions of themselves, The First Avenger delivers a hero who is just as inspiring and wholesome – and unabashedly patriotic – as you remember him, without veering into preachiness, cynicism, or campiness.

The other trick the screenwriters pull off is weaving the many threads of the larger Marvel universe into the most cohesive standalone story since Iron Man. The First Avenger has the fortune of being a prequel to the events of the modern-era Marvel movies, which allows the filmmakers to dive fully into the telling of their own story, while the many requisite Easter eggs all get treated lightly enough so as not to distract the focus of the narrative.

Captain America and Bucky in The First Avenger Captain America: The First Avenger Review

Cap (Chris Evans) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) in 'The First Avenger'

The film is also fortunate to have the best all-around cast of any Marvel movie to date. The main players each bring something to the table that actually enhances the film – and in a cast this big, everyone gets a surprising amount of time in which to shine.

Chris Evans has successfully left his role as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four behind by owning the role of Steve Rogers – but again, it’s somewhat ironic that Evans is at his best when out of the costume. He’s particularly fantastic as that frail boy from Brooklyn – an idealist who is selfless and brave and doesn’t see any irony at all in the dichotomy between his outward appearance and inner strength. As Cap, Evans looks the part of a hero and handles the action scenes well enough – but it’s definitely in the dramatic moments where he really makes the character resonate.

The supporting cast of the film couldn’t have been better. Hugo Weaving adds another great villain to his filmography as The Red Skull – a menacing and maniacal villain, who stays grounded enough as to not be cartoonish (extra hard to do when you’re slathered in red makeup). Hayley Atwell shines equally bright as Agent Carter, a tough-as-nails Allied operative who still manages to be distinctly modern and feminine (read: hot). She and Evans do a great job managing the understated chemistry between Steve and Peggy – a true romance that has no real chance in the midst of wartime.

Chris Evans and Haley Atwell in Captain America First Avenger Captain America: The First Avenger Review

Evans and Atwell in 'The First Avenger'

Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci bring needed authority and weight to their respective roles as the Colonel and scientist who give birth to Captain America; Jones in particular steals many scenes with some unexpected dry humor that only he could pull off. Some of the other secondary characters – like Toby Jones’ Arnim Zola and the diverse collection of actor’s who make up Cap’s “Howling Commandos” unit – get a bit shortchanged, but none of them were so charismatic that the absence is tragic.

Finally, young up-and-comers Sebastian Stan and Dominic Cooper garner some well-deserved attention as Cap’s best friend Bucky and Iron Man’s daddy, Howard Stark, respectively. Cooper manages to capture that Stark-brand swagger that’s both an imitation and expansion of what we saw in the Iron Man films, while Stan does enough development of Bucky to generate interest about the character’s possible future in the Marvel movie universe.

The only thing that prevents The First Avenger from being an excellent film (as opposed to a very good one) is the fact that there are no particularly spectacular blockbuster action moments. While the middle of the film doesn’t exactly drag, the flurried montages of Cap’s feats during the war (while necessary to create room for sequels) likely won’t blow anyone’s mind. The final battle between Cap and the Skull is well-executed – but as has been par for the Marvel movie course, the need to tell a bigger story limits the possibilities of what this one film can deliver.

As for the 3D: it’s post-converted but not horrible. Some shots and sequences were definitely interesting to see in 3D – but overall, you’ll be fine catching this film in plain old 2D.

Still, at the end of the day, Marvel’s iconic hero gets his due and America does too. A winning finish to the 2011 superhero movie season.

Rate the movie for yourself using our poll below:

[poll id="172"]

If you are still on the fence about seeing Captain America: The First Avenger, watch the trailer below.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

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  1. Bit lame of a film, left the cinema already forgetting the ending, so much potential and yet a flop, prefer green lantern and batman everytime, regardless of lantern’s reviews.

  2. I’ve already seen it. I like it. This is a film with good taste. It’s beautiful most of the time. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s good to see something more than a rudeness or arrogant character taking the charisma’s move. It’s barely adorable. I like what they’ve done with this film. Wish The Avenger take time enough to make the relationship between the characters an especial part into the film. I think they’re doing a good thing. Not perfect for my personal expectations, but… really good enough. I’m enjoying this movement and I want to give my recognition to it.

  3. Finally got to see this and enjoyed it from beginning to end. Very impressed by the whole look of the movie – the period settings were totally convincing, beautifully staged and lit. A solid, straightforward, no-nonsense approach to everything from the plot and structure to the filming of the action sequences, and the guileless, dependable nature of Steve Rogers himself. Great supporting cast too. Tommy Lee Jones never disappoints.

    I’d like to have seen more of the Howling Commandoes (a LOT more, in fact), and definitely a greater indication of how dangerous Hydra were. Their synthesis of occult beliefs with incredibly advanced technology came across as just an offshoot of the SS on steroids instead of a literal New Order beyond anything even the Nazis dreamed of (loved the Red Skull’s Focke-Wulf Triebflugel-based aircraft, though…). If running time was a problem then the USO scenes could have been trimmed without losing their point.

    I could only get to a 3D showing and wasn’t looking forward to that aspect at all, but I have to say I ended up being really surprised CA was a post-conversion: most scenes gave me a genuine impression of depth rather than that jarringly-separated foreground/midground/background thing.

    I thought the film’s tone was just right. Straight-faced without being grim, fun without being camp. All things considered, I’d say Captain America’s been my favourite of this year’s four big superhero movies.

  4. Another good movie (like Green Lantern) that probably won’t make its money back in the theaters. Marvel and DC have to be extremely disappointed with their films this summer. Lesson learned – don’t release your movie the same summer as a Harry Potter or Transformers movie.

  5. Just saw a 3D preview here in good old europe….

    I had a very bad feeling going into this one, I really liked Thor and X-first class a lot. But Captain America? All stars and stripes throughout the entire movie, patriotism over the top?

    Well I must tell u I was pleasantly surprised! I really liked the movie, thumbs up for no shaky cam, good camera angles and solid acting from most.

    Some things could have been done better though, red tomatoe head was, let’s say, distracting.

    The ending, a lot has been written here before and I agree it could have been done better.

    Technology, myself and many others had to lough about the non digital self destruction countdown in the first Hydra base…later on we have displays like we have today but in black/yellow tint. Not very convincing and sometimes it pulled you out of the movie a bit.

    Beeing german most Nazi related movies are a bit weird, some are really well done like raiders of the lost arc and lately Inglorious Basterds (really scary Nazi interpretation!). This time they did not quite get it, the double arm salute instead of the usual one armed one was cheesy, people loughed because it came over as silly (maybe just here in germany). I will have to watch it in english on bluray to maybe get a better feeling on how they captured the Nazi stuff and language.

    Anyway good movie, 3,5/5 from me. Looking forward to the Avenger movie, I imagine Red Skull could have a Thorish – “comeback” of some sorts ;-)

    • @andi

      Don’t worry, I get that you’re from Germany, so don’t take this the wrong way, not trying to point out a mistake to make fun of you, but just wanted to correct something because your English seems excellent except for one word, it’s laugh with an a, not lough. That’s it though, just pointing it out, I’m sure you’d rather know the right way rather than continue spelling it wrong. Again, not trying to make fun of you or insult you, I know if I thought something was spelled a certain way and it wasn’t, I’d want someone to correct me too. :-)

      • Hey relax, no offence taken, actually it was just a typo…:-) I know how to spell laugh :))

      • Uhhh I just saw I made the lough mistake twice…so no typo maybe!!!

  6. Four out of Five. Hmmmm. not so sure about that, the format felt samey, it didn’t differ from any other superhero movie narrative. Hydra, were just awful, driving tanks and cars so out of place it was just unrealistically offensive, and reminded me style wise of league of gentleman. Oh and the Germans had access to lasers in the 1940s, really? Jesus, why put that in the film? Couldn’t we have had a gritty WWII drama with Cap in it, rather than Over the top Nazis with laser guns?

    The editing was annoying and used to hide blatant over the top actions i.e. Cap jumping 40 feet across a burning warehouse. Wait we don’t see him make it? why’s that? because it would look stupid?

    Caps commando team, how racially diverse in the 1940s, having a giggle with historical accuracy again are we hollywood?

    Oh and the explanation of why captain America has disappeared and awoke in 2011? He was sleeping? Why not say he was in encased in ice? Because that would be stupid? Give us an explanation not some dozy statement that he was sleeping

    It was an OK film, but four stars? nah, got to be something special to get Four stars, not something average.

    There were some fun moments, and the missus enjoyed it, but thats all it was a simple, light superhero film, no boundaries pushed or explored.

    • Things like the racial diversity of the Commando’s and the laser guns that Hydra uses were not meant to be historically accurate, these were things mentioned in the comics. And as far as the waking up in the present thing is concerned, I imagine this is something that will be talked about more in The Avengers. Fury’s comment that he’d been “asleep for a while” line was just showing the vernacular of the character, not a literal, you’ve been napping for 70 years thing.

    • It’s a comic book film, not a war film, buddy. And it sticks pretty close to the comics.

      Did Nazi’s have “cosmic cubes” in the 1940s? Not to my knowledge – but they sure as hell did in Captain America comic books. Lasers too.

      So, you wanted to see a gritty war film and didn’t get it? That’s a disappintment of your own design.

  7. This was a great movie! I enjoyed it and so did my wife and son. Very good movie. can’t wait to own it!

  8. This was really a good movie. I must say that marvel based movies are so much better that the DC ones lately