I need to preface this review with the statement that out of all the Marvel superhero comic book characters, Captain America has always been one of my favorites. Why? Because I love a superhero whose true strength does not come from super powers, but from within. The super powers are merely an added bonus.
And so I went into the Captain America film hopeful, but still expecting Hollywood to somehow miss the message of this character’s story completely. And yet, Hollywood surprised me. Somehow, they managed to get it perfectly right.
Let’s start with some background information on the origins of the Captain America character for those of you unfamiliar with the comic book. Marvel developed him during World War 2 as an intentionally patriotic creation and he was very often depicted fighting the Axis Powers of that war.
In the film, we are taken back to World War II to witness Captain America’s humble beginnings as a 90-or-so pound weakling named Steve Rogers, who very often did get sand kicked in his face. And yet in spite of his small stature, he still attempted to do the right thing, even when the right thing wasn’t always smart and generally meant him being pummeled to a bloody pulp. He was a person with a pure heart, through and through.
And on-screen, we see this small man, who is still somhow the film’s buff star Chris Evans. It is by some miracle of digital imagery that shows us him transformed into this little guy. I was rather stunned at just how well the effect was pulled off. Because of Evans amazing portrayal, even as a digital creation, I found myself not only caring for the small guy, but was also rooting for him, right at the beginning of the film. Evans does an amazing job of painting this character and all of his heart with simple facial expressions and the way he delivers his lines.
Rogers, as a weakling, is doing everything he can to enlist to fight in the war, but he cannot find a recruiter that will sign him up. But the beauty of his character is that he never gives up and eventually, he finds himself signed up for a special army unit that is out to create the ultimate super soldier.
It is here that we see glimpses of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), father of Ironman Tony Stark, and Dr. Abraham Erskine (portrayed to perfection by Stanley Tucci). Erskine sees something he likes in Rogers, and with the help of Stark, he straps Rogers into a device that pumps him full of drugs that not only bolsters his muscles, but also gives him super-strength, speed and power.
This is where Evans shines in the role. Even though he has become this much taller and muscular man, we still see that awkward weakling with the big heart behind his eyes. And the beauty of Captain America, as a character, is that he never loses that throughout the film. Evans makes sure that we, the audience, see that little guy we cared for, with every building he leaps over and bad guy he beats up.
However, where there is a superhero, there must also be a super villain, and we’re given a man who has also been artificially pumped up, in the guise of Hugo Weaving, with the name of Red Skull. And he’s obviously a Nazi, although he has plans that exceed Hitler’s wildest dreams. Weaving chews scenery much like he did in The Matrix, playing a mad scientist, but I still found him slightly overshadowed by the Igor to his character, Dr. Zola, portrayed by Toby Jones (an actor I find to be completely underrated). In fact, once we see Red Skull’s true face, I found the character less interesting, but I believe that the point was to show him as less than human. For me, however, this was the one part of the film that didn’t work.
However, this is the only flaw I found with the film and it’s such a minor one, it is easily overlooked.
Another thing to love about Captain America? He never works alone. He is always surrounded by his friends and people he’s inspired to follow him. This is such a unique take on the super hero who always works alone (or with a costumed sidekick) that it feels fresh seeing it on screen.
Hayley Atwell portrays Peggy Carter, and is definitely not your typical superhero romantic interest. She is a strong British woman who has obviously had to work very hard to achieve the sort of position that she has with the secret army unit. What’s so lovely about her is that she sees the person Rogers is even before he becomes a muscular hunk.
The action sequences keep you on the edge of your seat and the film has this gorgeous vintage Americana feel to it: the colors are all faded browns and greens with bright reds and blues. The camera work is top-notch (which means it’s not noticeable, which is a good thing) and the soundtrack is predictably Sousa for the American scenes and Wagner for the German scenes (but in this case, the predictability helps set the appropriate mood).
This is not a “wait for DVD” film. Go see this one in 2D (avoid 3D – it’s not needed here) and enjoy a true patriotic tale.