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“Captain America: The First Avenger” is the best superhero film of the summer

Posted on August 11th, 2011
Posted on August 11th, 2011

by Coop Cooper

After 67 years, we finally have a “Captain America” film that not only does justice to the Marvel franchise that created it, but also a worthy bridge film that leads directly into the “Avengers” feature film which will premiere next year.

Taking place in 1942, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) wants nothing more than to volunteer for the U.S. Army to serve his country on the front lines in Europe. His 4 ft, 90 lb frame and a long list of ailments result in rejection after rejection until Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) witnesses Steve’s pure hearted determination. After a long battery of tests, he offers Steve a chance to become America’s first “Super Soldier.” Steve accepts and is transformed into the superhero Captain America. Cap must face off against Hitler’s own renegade super soldier, the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) who plans to take over the world using a mystical energy source called the Cosmic Cube.

The corny, dated concept of the Captain America character has resulted in a long history of Hollywood misfires. As one of the first comic book superheroes, he first appeared in a goofy motion picture cliffhanger serial in 1944. He did not reappear until 1966 in a short-run animated series and again in 1979 on a laughably inept TV series. Maverick director Albert Pyun made a noble attempt at a Captain America feature film in 1990 but it failed to obtain theatrical distribution in the character’s namesake country. Fortunately, a wise group of filmmakers, lead by director Joe Johnston, created a “Captain America” film that should resonate beyond U.S. borders.

Among the many of the details this new version got correct was to set the story during WWII. Watching Steve Rogers go through the transformation from weakling to a sudden hero/celebrity was a satisfying turn of events. However, when his superiors promote him to a glorified war bond propaganda spokesman, the story arc becomes exceptional as it mirrors that of the real-life WWII war hero John Basilone. Not content to be a symbol of patriotism and heroics, Rogers (like Basilone) defies the wishes of his superiors and thrusts himself back into danger to prove his true worth.

Everyone in the cast nails their parts. Evans proves that in spite of playing the brash superhero Johnny “The Human Torch” Storm in the far inferior “Fantastic Four” movies, he can deliver a more memorable one when given a good script. Tommy Lee Jones gets all the best lines as Captain America’s commanding officer Colonel Chester Phillips. Weaving oozes his usual brand of menace as the Red Skull and Tucci’s brief part as Dr. Erskine is one of the most kind and sincere performances in the film. Haley Atwell is so remarkably striking as the Captain’s British love interest, Peggy Carter, she nearly distracts from the main story. Dominic Cooper steals the show as inventor/millionaire Howard Stark, inventor of Captain America’s indestructible shield and future father of Tony “Iron Man” Stark. His dashing flair and quick wit clearly indicate where Iron Man gets his personality from.

The only major failing I can see in this film is the lack of an ending. In order for Captain America to team up with the modern-day Avengers, something must propel him into the future. While the film only teases at the explanation for this, it leaves the audience with an awkward cliffhanger and a lot of loose ends. This also indicates that the “Avengers” film must tie up those loose ends in the beginning of the film, taking up valuable screen time for the larger story. Fortunately, the first trailer for “Avengers” (which you can see at the tail end of the closing credits of “Captain America”) hints at what is in store for the character in next year’s superhero team-up movie. It’ll be an agonizing wait for fans, but well worth it when “Avengers” appears in theaters on May 4, 2012.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars

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