Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – Review/Best Bits/Not Best Bits

What did we think?

It’s another pretty wonderful film from Marvel, one that impressed fans, wider audiences and critics. After Thor (2011), this was part of a four film run that helped set Marvel to be one of the biggest and most successful studios in the world. But right now, this still felt like a cheaper blockbuster, one that is quietly unassuming and happy to be it’s own thing. It is also unabashedly fun.

Joe Johnston was an interesting choice for director, with almost every man and his dog evoking The Rocketeer, his wonderful film from 1991. And there’s certainly a lot of that here. World War II, the square jawed hero and the wonderful steam punk elements. What’s new is the weight of expectations on a 70 year old classic character. And Johnston and the filmmakers pull it off with great style.

Chris Evans is great in the role, and you can’t imagine anyone else doing it. Everyone in the world auditioned, and the memory of the Human Torch was still in recent memory, so there was no guarantee that Evans would pull it off – or that audiences would buy into it. It’s not an easy performance either – there’s not a lot of light and shade to work with – he is always a just a good man. How to make that interesting without changing the character is what DC have struggled to do with Superman.

It’s easy to say Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Tommy Lee Jones and Hugo Weaving were great. Because those ever reliable character actors are always great. Hayley Atwell was a wonderful find, and no wonder they kept bringing her back in various roles, being a vital player in the MCU. Sebastian Stan is fine as Bucky, but he’s nothing compared to what he would do with the role. The Howling Commandos are wasted.

The film’s worst crimes probably have all to do with the budget. Some of it looks pretty bad – in particular the fight scenes, and the clear CGI. The action is unconvincing, in particular weightless shield throwing, explosions that give off no heat, and copy and paste Hydra soldiers. There are lots of cut corners – the same backgrounds being used over and over again out car windows – if we noticed it, that’s not great. The sets work, but don’t really knock us out. We never see the grand weapons. And the ending, where Captain America is kept when he reaches the present day, is just stupid. By Phase 3, they would not cut such corners, but here it was noticeable.

But they put their effort into what really counted – characters and script. Word is Joss Whedon helped shape the shooting draft with more character moments. And you buy into it very quickly. Erskine and Rogers build a lifetime of loyalty in one chat. Soldiers are won over my a bad actor in one swoop. Phillips interrogating Zola, Bucky and Cap, anything with Carter or Stark. We would love to hang out with any of these people. Part of you wishes they could have waited another film before sending Cap into the future. Of course, that’s not the plan.

It feels a little like Marvel fluked another one, but they were getting better. That the Captain America films would wind up being the best trilogy in the Marvel films was unexpected, and gives extra dimension to this film.

Best bits:

  • Chris Evans. Pulls off a wonderful job. Everyone went from “really…?” to “born to play this role…” in a few films time, and you can see it all here.
  • Character actor overload. The Joneses, Weaving and Tucci. Just masters.
  • The golly gosh sock ’em fun of it all. It’s so…comic book-y.
  • Hayley Atwell’s Agent Carter.
  • Some pretty good jokes. Nothing as painful as Edward Norton holding up those purple pants.

Not best bits:

  • Some of the worst CGI in the MCU
  • Howling who?
  • Bucky’s kind of wasted too.
  • Hydra has to have the worse defended bases in the world.
  • It will get worse, but random blue energy being shot in the sky, undefined energy guns…ugh.

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