As much as I love ‘The Avengers’, it has one major problem; because it pretty much perfected the comic-booky superhero blockbuster, all other comic-booky superhero blockbusters pale in comparison. So watching Captain America post-Avengers maybe wasn’t the best idea. No longer can a superhero film just be a big action-orientated comic book blockbuster, they have to offer something new to stand out. Fortunately, Captain America does just that.
You see, Captain America isn’t really a superhero film at all. Like ‘Thor’, Captain America has something new to offer to the superhero blockbuster catalogue. Where Thor had Norse mythology and Shakespearian family-based tragedy, Cap is a rip-roaring World War 2 action adventure. The 40s provides the back drop for 90% of the movie, and the period elements are fantastically realised. Seeing the 40s recreated with a blockbuster budget is a rare delight in modern day cinema, and seeing Brooklyn as it was 70 years ago is a step back in time. The design team also did some fantastic work on Captain America’s suit for the movie. While it keeps elements from the classic costumes, it is far more practical and it actually looks like it could be used to fight in.
The futuristic alien tech harnessed by super-villain Red Skull (aka Johann Schmidt) is inventively integrated into an otherwise believable WW2-era arsenal, with the German submarine being a highlight. However, there is an over reliance on CGI, which doesn’t always look as good as it should. While the scenes with ‘skinnified’ Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) do look pretty incredible, some of the later action sequences lack any sense of real danger and kind of pull you out of the moment.
Talking of Chris Evans, he does a solid job of playing a weedy little guy/national hero, and he certainly looks the part. He is helped out by a stellar supporting cast, featuring Hayley Atwell (looking fantastic in 40s get-up), Stanley Tucci (as the sympathetic scientist who knows what makes a real hero), Tommy Lee Jones (playing a fantastically grumpy army guy), Hugo Weaving (who just seems to have a villainous face) and Toby Jones (as Red Skull’s brilliant right-hand man/scientist).
But, however enjoyable it is watching a good old-fashioned war adventure movie, the action is poor; possibly thrilling sequences completely fall flat. At one point Cap and the Howling Commandos (his hand-picked team of soldiers) zip-line onto a moving train just to fight inside a mundane corridor. The aforementioned CGI issues occasionally bring a comic-book style unobtainable with conventional methods, but too often they just make all the action seem more boring.
Also, the need to link this in with The Avengers occasionally gets in the way. The 10% of the film set in modern day feels rushed and should really have been included in The Avengers itself, though that may have caused more problems that it fixed. The most interesting aspect of the character within The Avengers team is the fish-out-of-water stuff, which is barely developed in the few minutes Johnston had to work with.
I must finish by mentioning a fantastic montage of Cap touring the States to raise support for the war effort. Played over the top is an amazing song called ‘Star Spangled Man‘ written by the films composer, Alan Silvestri (who Marvel were so pleased with they brought him back to write the fantastic Avengers score). What Joe Johnston (director) manages to cram into this three minute sequence is extraordinary; it shows Cap wearing a low-budget and completely impractical suit (a nod to Cap’s original get-up from the comics), and at one point has him punching Hitler in the face (a reference to the cover of the first ever issue of Captain America). But, in a way, this sums up the entire film; when the best, albeit fantastic, sequence in the film is a propaganda montage with Cap prancing about on a stage, you know that the film hasn’t entirely worked on a summer blockbuster level.
The action is below-par and it sometimes feels like a hastily put together introduction to a fascinating character, just to get the cinema-going public familiar before The Avengers dropped. However, the old-fashioned elements work well and the cast is fantastic, which leaves us with an enjoyable adventure yarn, but it could have been so much more.