“Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing: that you will stay who you are – not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”
Deneb’s rating: 3 ½ iconic striped shields out of five.
Deneb’s review: My local movie theater annoys me. I’d just like to say that and get it out of the way.
Why does it annoy me? Simple – because it has the uncanny ability to stop showing movies just when I’m fixin’ to go and see them. It’s done this with… hmm… *counts on fingers* At least five films and counting that I’ve really wanted to see on the big screen. Dammit, Regal Entertainment Group, why must you pick on li’l ol’ me? Did I give you a hotfoot in a past life or something?
As you’ve probably guessed, one of said films was Captain America. And since I’m a man who loathes spoilers, I’ve had to scrupulously avoid every last hint of them for months and months, while people shower praise upon it all around me. I’ve even had to avoid reading Drew’s excellent review until just now! Oh, the pain! The anguish! You people really have no idea how much I suffer sometimes.
Anyway. Captain America. I have now joined the rest of the world and seen Captain America. How was it? Read on, MacDuff.
The story begins in the modern day, where scientists have discovered some variety of aircraft embedded in the polar ice. Upon excavation, they discover something else – a red-white-and-blue colored shield, one that belonged to a certain man – a certain very well-remembered man…
The rest of the movie takes place in the 1940s, where we learn all about said certain man. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a man who hates bullies. He’s been picked on all his life, and he sees the growing Nazi menace overseas as a case of bullying on an ominously large scale. So when the US joins the war, he desperately wants in.
Trouble is, there’s a reason why he’s been picked on all his life – he’s a wimp. A shrimp. A proverbial 90-pound weakling, with all the muscle tone of a sick lambkin. As a result, no draft board will take him – and he’s tried. He’s tried all over the place. But no dice.
Poor guy. All he wants is to do his part and show those nasty Nazzies what’s what. But due to his scarecrow frame and shrunken stature, it seems he’s destined to be left behind – until, that is, his persistence catches the eye of one Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci). He feels he just may be able to use Steve after all, in a context where his scrawniness will make no difference.
See, Erskine is a government scientist, and he thinks he’s come up with the solution for winning the war. He has devised a treatment that will turn anyone it’s used on into a virtual superhuman, many times faster, stronger, and in generally better working condition than a regular man. He knows it’ll work – it’s already been tested once, albeit with mixed results (more on that later). And that was some time ago – by now, he thinks he’s gotten it just right, and sees Steve, decent fellow that he is, as the perfect prototype for a new breed of soldiers that will whup Hitler’s butt in no time flat.
The results are mixed. Oh, they’re mainly pretty darn good – the process goes without a hitch, and transforms Steve from a wringing-wet weakling to a tall, muscular he-man. The visiting senators are very impressed. All would be just dandy, except for the fact that one of said senators is a Nazi agent, and before anything can be done to stop him, he’s plugged Erskine and effectively brought the whole program to a crashing halt.
So what about Steve? Well, the army wanted super-soldiers, plural – they’re not too interested in just one guy. The government still has a use for him, though – he’ll be a propaganda symbol, dressing up in a costume and getting folks to buy war bonds by inspirin’ ‘em up real good with public appearances and the like. And what will they call him? Why, Captain America, of course!
Needless to say, this business of parading about like a trained seal is not exactly what Steve joined up for. He wanted to fight the Nazis, was that too much to ask? Especially seeing as how there are some particularly nasty Nazis running around right now. They call themselves HYDRA, and their leader is one Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), otherwise known as the Red Skull. He owes this soubriquet to a particularly nasty little deformity brought on by an early version of Dr. Erskine’s treatment (“mixed results”, remember?). He’s utterly brilliant, crazier than a specimen of chiroptera in a guano factory, and in possession of a mysterious, immensely powerful artifact that he uses to power his soldiers’ weaponry. If he’s not stopped right now, the world will be under his thumb, and they’re unlikely to enjoy the experience.
Naturally, you can’t keep a good do-gooder down, and before long, Steve is genuinely doing the things that he used to portray in the movies. With a doughty crew of soldiers at his back, he’s putting a stop to the Red Skull’s ambitions faster than he can blink – and now the newsreels really have something to show.
Trouble is, Schmidt’s not beaten yet, and he has plans – terrible plans. And don’t forget how the movie begins…
Now when I finally saw this movie after my months-long wait, I had a few reservations going in. I’m a Northern Californian by birth and breeding, and like many Northern Californians, I’m basically a second-generation child of the ‘60’s, and raised in an atmosphere of healthy skepticism regarding mindless patriotism and the like. Hence, I was a little worried that Captain America would fall prey to jingoism and flag-waving. I mean, the name of the main character is Captain America, for cryin’ out loud, and while I’m well-versed enough in the comics to know that Cap is considerably more than just a guy wrapped in a flag, I was worried that the filmmakers might not remember that.
Thankfully they did, and that’s the key to how the movie works. Steve may be a guy from America called Captain America who fights on the side of America while wearing the colors of America, but he himself is only coincidentally an American. That is to say, the good Captain’s true ethos knows no country – he fights for the ideals of America, which are basically the ideals of every country with any morals to speak of: freedom, fair play, a chance for the little guy, etc. He’s not in this for any sort of national agenda, or to shove the flag down the viewer’s throats – he just wants to get those naughty Nazis to knock it off. That aside, he himself is just such a likable guy that you want him to succeed and cheer him on – the fact that he happens to be wearing the red, white and blue while fighting on the side of the Allies is just icing on the cake.
Speaking of the red, white and blue, that aspect of the story is very cleverly handled. Just how to justify the whole “guy in a brightly-colored costume gets sent overseas to punch Nazis” aspect has always been a problem in later retellings of the character. It’s definitely a little ridiculous, and it can be a bit difficult to get beyond that. Having him start out as a government propaganda tool was a stroke of genius – it gives him the name, the costume and the fame necessary to become a legend all in one swoop, at the same time acknowledging the purpose for which the character was created in real life. Hell, the montage of him doing his thing onstage while patriotically-bedecked chorus girls sing his theme song is so incredibly corny that it turns right back on itself and becomes awesome – more so because it’s exactly the sort of stunt they would have pulled back then.
And even if you ignore all that stuff, those scenes with Cap in action? Bouncing his shield around and taking on scores of bad guys single-handed? They are damn awesome, and worth the price of admission. Cap is basically the incarnation of all those over-the-top movie heroes who do physically impossible things while never acknowledging the fact, only in his case, it makes sense – he’s Captain friggin’ America! He does that sort of thing to work up an appetite!
So yeah – they got Cap right, and that is worth a good deal. If they’d gotten him wrong the whole movie would have foundered, but they didn’t, so it didn’t. He pretty much carries the film on his shoulders, and bears the burden proudly.
Unfortunately, some parts are a little heavier than others. In fact, there is one aspect to Captain America that, for me, comes close to sinking it.
That aspect is the villains. More specifically. HYDRA.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not HYDRA’s presence that I take issue with, per se. They’re not an invention of the film, after all – they’re a prominent part of the Marvel Universe, and it’s nice to see these things being acknowledged and incorporated into the movies. What I take issue with is not the fact that they’re there, it’s that they feel so terribly out of place.
Look – what do you think of when you think of classic Cap? You think of him fighting Nazis, yes? I mean, the guy only took down Hitler on the cover of his first comic ever – you’d think that a Captain America movie would have a fair amount to do with him fighting Nazis. And it does – but only technically.
What do I mean by that? Simple – for all intents and purposes, HYDRA are not Nazis. Oh, they may have started out as Nazis, and everyone more or less refers to them as such, but by the time we see them, they’ve been seriously de-Nazified. They don’t use any of the Nazi symbols or uniforms (there’s barely a swastika to be seen in the whole film), they don’t talk about thousand-year Reichs or “the Fatherland” or spout gratuitous German or any of that stuff – hell, they don’t even acknowledge Hitler as their leader! Basically, as presented here these guys have nothing whatsoever to do with Nazis; they’re just a generic evil army. I half expected Cobra Commander to walk round a corner and start yelling orders.
On a similar note, I think giving them all that high-tech weaponry was not a good idea. I certainly get what they were going for – they were trying to make them more menacing when going up against regular soldiers – but in practice, it just doesn’t work. The movie is set during WW2, but going by these battles you’d never know it – you’d instead infer that you were watching a scene from far in the future, the year 3000, perhaps. All very striking, yes, but why on Earth would you set the story during one of the more visually distinctive conflicts of human history if you’re not going to do anything with it? I have no problem with HYDRA having high-tech equipment, but it should be stuff that looks and feels like it was high-tech for the era, stuff that the Nazis might really have come up with if they’d had a few mad scientists working for them (and for the record, those few scenes that do achieve that effect are pretty darn awesome), not sleek and shiny and Pew Pew Pew. The only times that Captain America achieves a genuine period feel are during the sequences that do not feature HYDRA, which I personally think is a crying shame, since it severely detracts from the appeal of the film. I watched this movie to see Captain America beat up Nazis, the goose-stepping goons we love to loathe, actual genuine Nazis, not characters that look like they’ve just stepped off the Death Star. It just strikes me as completely missing the point.
Despite all that, I’m not saying any of this sinks the movie – it’s just distracting, and keeps me from rating it as highly as I ordinarily might. Don’t get me wrong, the movie’s still quite good, it just could have been great if they’d done a few things differently. Such is my opinion, anyway.
Also, call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the initial costume Cap wears to his redesigned “battlefield” version. I know, I know, it’s corny and it’s meant to be, but despite that, it’s still a fairly accurate representation of his usual costume, and as such packs more iconic punch than the redesign possibly could. Just a personal preference.
So since it’s been established that the movie basically rests on the shoulders of Captain America, and Captain America is fine and dandy, how’s Steve Rogers? Steve Rogers is similarly fine – he’s not exactly a complex character, but then, he doesn’t have to be. Chris Evans plays him as completely unpretentious, a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve at all times, even when it might save him a beating to keep it hidden away. When it does result in a beating, though, he doesn’t flinch from it – even during the period when he happens to be a foot shorter and narrower than his usual assailants. It’s this iron core beneath a vulnerable exterior that shows the potential for the superhero he’ll become.
In other roles, Hayley Atwell is great as Peggy Carter, Steve’s on-and-off love interest – she’s a female officer in a very masculine army, and has clearly decided that the best way to prove herself is to be so casually competent at everything that nobody ever calls her out on it. Tommy Lee Jones does a pretty good job in the role of Colonel Phillips, Steve’s commanding officer, but then, he could play this sort of world-weary wisecracker in his sleep. A particular stand-out is Stanley Tucci as Dr. Erskine – he manages to make the character interesting and sympathetic in a very short amount of time, and pulls off the best German accent in the movie, to my ears. (Incidentally, I like how it’s emphasized that German does not automatically equal Nazi, and that Erskine’s main motivation is to help topple the monsters that are despoiling his already-troubled homeland. It sounds fairly basic, I know, and it is, but you’d be surprised how many WW2 flicks forget to mention things like that.)
On the villainous side of the fence, Hugo Weaving does a serviceable job as the Red Skull. I was honestly a little underwhelmed by him, though – don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with his performance, and he’s clearly having a good time hamming it up, but to my mind, he could be doing so still more. A little extra ham is par for the course when it comes to someone as operatically evil as the Skull is supposed to be – I would have enjoyed him much more in the role if he’d indulged in some Vincent Price-style histrionics. Still, he’s fine. Toby Jones is well-cast as Dr. Arnim Zola, his weaselly right-hand man – he actually gives the character a fair amount of depth, as you see him growing rather disturbed at the depravities his boss will sink to.
Final thoughts? Despite my grouchiness about the whole HYDRA thing, in all other respects, Captain America is a perfectly enjoyable superhero flick with parts that can legitimately be called terrific, and an excellent portrayal of a truly iconic hero. I recommend it to all those who enjoy such things, which I assume includes most of you.
(And listen, Regal Entertainment group – the next time you mess with me, I’ll… I’ll… do nothing at all. But I’ll be mad about it!)
Drew’s rating: In keeping with my Thor review, I’ll be writing this one in the voice of a blond-haired, blue-eyed American badass. You’re welcome.
Drew’s review: From the start, Captain America: The First Avenger had a major advantage and a significant disadvantage with me. The advantage is that of all the Avengers-related films (Iron Man, Thor, etc.), it’s the one I was most looking forward to. And the disadvantage is that… it’s the one I was most looking forward to.
I’m someone who always needs to see the man in the Superman. It’s what Marvel became famous for — back when DC had twenty costumed heroes sharing one personality, Marvel’s heroes squabbled, got picked on, struggled to pay the rent. It’s less important to me that someone can lift a tank as it is to know what drives him to want to lift tanks in the first place. Like Batman, Captain America is one of the least powerful heroes in comics, yet exudes such leadership and bravery that gods and geniuses follow his orders without question. He embodies the ideals most of us constantly strive for; plus he personally socked Hitler in the face. Ergo, coolness. But it wasn’t always that way…
In 1943, Steve Rogers (Evans) is 220 lbs of grit stuffed into a 98 lb sack. Wanting nothing more than to fight for his country, he keeps being rejected as physically unfit for service. But Steve catches the attention of Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who needs a
guinea pig volunteer to test his super-soldier serum, designed to transform a body into peak human physical condition. The U.S. government wants an army of super-soldiers; and assisted by Agent Peggy Carter (Atwell), who clearly drank all of the super-sexy serum, Steve complies and instantly goes from Franklin Roosevelt to Teddy Roosevelt. But when a Nazi saboteur kills Erskine and the formula dies with him, the program is deemed a failure and Steve an interesting oddity, useful for propaganda purposes and little else. That is until Steve’s friend Bucky is captured by the Red Skull (Weaving), a rogue Nazi setting up his own regime using a mysterious power rooted in Norse legend. Aided by Carter and inventor Howard Stark (Domonic Cooper), the good Captain is ready to go AWOL, storm the fortress, and beat some Nazi ass. And boy, are we ready to watch him do it.
One much appreciated aspect of Captain America is that while it’s definitely flag-waving, it isn’t jingoistic… which, let’s face it, was a danger in a movie like this. Dr. Erskine is a German refugee quick to point out that Nazis don’t represent all German people, and when Cap displays momentary surprise at seeing a man of Japanese heritage being held prisoner with U.S. soldiers, he’s quickly admonished in perfect English with “I’m from San Francisco” (with the “jerk” left unsaid but implied). Cap is a symbol that anyone, no matter their beginnings, can rise up and achieve greatness, and if there’s a better expression of the ideal conception of America’s melting pot, I haven’t heard it. We’ll politely ignore the fact that Steve Rogers gains success by injecting muscle-stimulating chemicals into his body and that these days that’s enough to earn you a lifetime ban from the game of baseball, because really, why quibble?
In terms of acting, Chris Evans is perhaps slightly wooden, but he’s kind of supposed to be, because so is the character. (Sorry, Cap.) He’s best in the pre-transformation scenes, displaying a heartbreakingly earnest desire to serve despite his physical limitations. Meanwhile, Hayley Atwell looks every inch the pin-up girl her character resembles but isn’t; she’s fine in the role, but I can’t say the romance between Peggy and Steve particularly clicked for me. Hugo Weaving does what he always does, which is to say creeps you the eff out with his voice while turning in a solid performance. I think he’s hurt a little by the make-up/CGI, but such is the nature of the beast. Impressing me the most was Domonic Cooper as Howard Stark. You can see in him the genius and the penchant for quips and womanizing that he’ll pass on to his son (which is a huge credit to Cooper, having to emulate Robert Downey Jr. while seeming more like a predecessor), but also less self-confidence and more awkwardness, not being born into success as his son will be. Well done, sir.
Even though I enjoyed Captain America a lot, don’t think it gets away without any criticism. Some of it is just typical action movie stuff, like a car being able to catch a jet mid-takeoff. But while I understand why the ending needed to be the way it was, it doesn’t make it seem like any less of a contrived set-up for the Avengers movie… which, of course, is exactly what it is. And fair enough, but a slightly better reason could have been given for why Steve needs to take the course of action he does with the jet. I also really, really dislike the half-baked notion that the super-soldier serum amplifies what’s in a person, for good or evil. That’s really hokey and tries to instill a quasi-metaphysical element into something that didn’t need it. Just let the Red Skull be an evil S.O.B. and Steve Rogers a genuinely good guy who happens to get a body to match his spirit. No amplification necessary.
As I said at the beginning, I was predisposed to like this movie by my love of country and my enjoyment of the comic character. (Yes I did intentionally wear a red shirt to go with my blue jeans and white socks, and no you may not laugh at that, commie.) But it also faced an uphill battle because of my heightened expectations. I’m happy to report that Captain America: The First Avenger mostly lives up to them. No, it’s not quite as slick as Iron Man, and Spider-Man remains the preferred “superhero origin story,” but if Cap doesn’t exactly blaze new trails, it at least retreads familiar ground in a most agreeable way, and that’s not easy to pull off in a period piece. Granted it’s largely a set-up for next summer’s Avengers movie; but that doesn’t stop Captain America from telling its own story and doing it well. Much respect, Cap.
“And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were born — to fight the foes no single hero could withstand. Heed the call, then — for now, the Avengers Assemble!”
- One thing I was excited about going into this movie was the rumor that the Invaders – a period superteam that Cap was retconned into being a member of – were going to fight alongside him. As it turns out, they don’t – but Cap’s little squadron is officially named the Invaders, although they’re never called that in the movie. Boo! That’s cheating!
- Steve’s relationship with his best friend, James “Bucky” Barnes, is a clever reference to the comics, in which Bucky was his kid sidekick. In this case, Steve more or less starts out as the sidekick, then the positions are reversed.
- Actually, I know exactly why the filmmakers didn’t make HYDRA ‘real’ Nazis – they were paranoid that the inevitable action figures would draw complaints from parents if they had swastikas on them. So release ‘em without swastikas, geniuses!
- In all but name, Cap’s team is clearly the Howling Commandos, a group originally led by Nick Fury in the comics. The upper-crust British member of the team, however, despite being very close in appearance and demeanor to one of the original Commandos, Percy Pinkerton, is in fact supposed to be one James Montgomery Falsworth, who, in the comics, was the original Union Jack.
- The Red Skull is only called that once during the film. Generally, he’s just referred to as “Schmidt”.
- Apparently, all the HYDRA tech seen in the film is based on actual, unused Nazi war designs – which admittedly does mitigate my annoyance towards it a little bit. Not much, though.
- Where did those tomatoes come from? It’s a war zone!
- At one point, Dum-Dum Dugan (the guy in the derby) yells ‘Wa-hoo!’ That was the Howling Commandos’ signature battle cry.
- Like every recent Marvel movie, there’s a scene following the end credits, though this one’s more of a trailer for the upcoming Avengers movie. Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson, and Scarlett Johansson are all featured. Apparently the tagline will be “Some Assembly Required.”
- Raiders of the Lost Ark reference FTW!
- Tommy Lee Jones boasts that an army of super-soldiers will “escort Adolf Hitler to the gates of Hell.” In the Marvel Universe, Hitler was killed by Cap’s fellow WWII hero, the original Human Torch. And what hero did Chris Evans portray in two Fantastic Four movies? None other than the “new” Human Torch.
- To that point: at the fair Steve and Bucky attend, a sign reading “Phineas Horton presents” adorns a glass dome containing what appears to be a mannequin in a red costume. This is the original Human Torch, Marvel’s first superhero, an android created by Dr. Horton.
- Though never referred to as such, Cap’s crew are the Howling Commandoes. In the comics they were led by Sgt. Nick Fury; the survivors would go on to help found SHIELD.
- At one point, Steve can be seen drawing in a sketchbook. In the comics, Cap is a decent artist; for a period of time Steve Rogers even worked as an artist for Marvel Comics, illustrating the Captain America comic book!
- In the comics, the Cosmic Cube is a man-made device. I have to give the screenwriters credit for tying it in with Thor by making it a Norse artifact.
- Could be wrong, but was that a Doctor Strangelove reference?
- Hydra in the Marvel Universe are the main adversaries of SHIELD. They were founded by Baron von Strucker, another wartime foe of Cap’s. Dr. Arnim Zola, seen in the film as the Red Skull’s main lackey, will go on to be a mad geneticist and major pain in the revived Cap’s ass.
- The cover of Captain America’s first appearance, published in March 1941, depicted Cap punching Hitler in the jaw. This was a somewhat bold decision on the part of Timely (the company that would become Marvel), since in 1941 America was still a year away from entering the war. While many Americans despised Hitler and what he stood for, plenty still favored uninvolvement in the war, and there were open Nazi supporters in the U.S.
Red Skull: And the Fuhrer digs for trinkets in the desert…!
Dr. Erskine: A strong man, who has known power all his life, may lose respect for that power – but a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows compassion.
Steve: Who the hell are you?
Assassin: The first of many.
Bucky: Don’t do anything stupid until I get back.
Steve: How can I? You’re taking all the stupid with you.
Dr. Erskine: So many people forget that the first country the Nazis invaded was their own.
Red Skull: Captain America, how exciting! I am a great fan of your films!
Steve: I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies – I don’t care where they’re from.
Col. Phillips: Our goal is to create the best army in history. But every army starts with one man. At the end of this week, we will choose that man. He will be the first in a new breed of super-soldier, and they will personally escort Adolph Hitler to the gates of Hell.
Red Skull: I did not come all this way for safety, Doctor.
Steve: That wasn’t so bad.
Dr. Erskine: That was penicillin.
Steve: What do you want me to do – collect scrap metal in my little red wagon?
Col. Phillips: He’s still skinny.
Steve: I thought you were dead.
Bucky: I thought you were smaller.
Dr. 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.
Steve: I know this neighborhood. I got beat up in that alley – and that parking lot, and behind that diner…
Keeper: You cannot control the power you hold! You will burn!
Red Skull: I already have.
Steve: Women aren’t exactly lining up to dance with a guy they might step on.
Repeated line: Cut off one head, two more shall take its place. Hail HYDRA!
Red Skull: You don’t give up, do you?
Steve: You know, for the longest time I dreamed about coming overseas and being on the front lines, serving my country… I’ve finally got everything I wanted – and I’m wearing tights.
Col. Phillips: Well, if it isn’t the star-spangled man with a plan. What is your plan today?
Red Skull: Arrogance may not be a uniquely American trait, but I must say you do it better than anyone.
Steve: So, do you two… Do you… Fondue?
HYDRA soldier: Cut off one head, two more shall– *gets shot*
Col. Phillips: Let’s go find two more!
Red Skull: You are failing!
Peggy Carter: You can’t give me orders!
Steve: The hell I can’t! I’m a captain!
Red Skull: You could have the power of the gods, and yet you wear a flag on your chest and think you fight a battle of nations! I have seen the future, Captain. There are no flags!
Steve: Not my future!
Dr. Arnim Zola: The sanity of the plan is of no consequence.
Col. Phillips: And why is that?
Dr. Arnim Zola: Because he can do it!
Dum-Dum Dugan: Y’know Fritz, one of these days I’m gonna have a stick of my own.
Gabe Jones: You know what you’re doing?
Steve: Yeah. I’ve knocked out Adolph Hitler over 200 times.
Bucky: What happened to you?
Steve: I joined the army.
Red Skull: You are deluded, Captain. You pretend to be a simple soldier, but in reality you are just afraid to admit that we have left humanity behind! And unlike you, I embrace it proudly, without fear!
Steve: Then how come you’re running?
Bucky: I’m turning into you. It’s like a horrible dream.
Col. Phillips: If you have something to say, right now is the perfect time to keep it to yourself.
Red Skull: So what made you so special?
Steve: Nothing. I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- The Rocketeer
- Iron Man
- Raiders of the Lost Ark