Movies / Comics Movie Reviews

Captain America: The First Avenger


By Beth Davies-Stofka
July 27, 2011 - 16:31

Are you a fan of Captain America? If so, then Captain America: The First Avenger is not to be missed. As homage to a great comic book hero, it is as good as 1978’s Superman.  

Chris Evans is a revelation in the role. He plays Steve Rogers, that decent kid from Brooklyn, with real strength of character. Rogers takes on bullies and the draft board with persistence, courage, and self-effacement. His wry sense of humor is classic New York. He’s sickly and small, but he’s all grown up.   

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Evans’ portrayal of Captain America, super-soldier, is just as perfect. Before our very eyes, that decent kid from Brooklyn becomes Captain America without losing his sincerity or his humility, even as he suffers the indignities his Congressman thrusts upon him.  

Evans’ Steve Rogers is not complicated. He’s not flawed, selfish, or arrogant, and he never wrestles with a “dark side.” He’s just a good man.

If you are hoping for a summer escape into simulated battle, you’ll be disappointed. The movie concerns itself almost entirely with establishing Cap’s character. The first action sequence comes nearly an hour into the story. In 3D, the action sequences are beautiful, evoking a sense of snapshots from the past.

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In fact, the entire movie is very beautiful. It looks as though some of the finest inkers in the comics industry worked on the colors. The film employs some sort of retro palette, as bright and colorful as a dream. But it colors a fantasy that threatens to replace any genuine memories of the twin miseries of War and Depression. The resulting sensation is one of Romance, stripping the Greatest Generation of its humanity, reducing it to a handful of icons.

A number of very cool things happened to the origin story of Cap in this movie. We got a plausible explanation for Cap’s costume and name. We even got a plausible explanation for his shield, so much so that when Cap took it into action, it looked natural. Bucky was changed from a child into a man. And it was a fascinating idea to put Cap in comic books and movies before he went behind front lines.  

It’s unlikely that this movie will have much lasting appeal, if any at all, to non-comics fans. The story of the “Tesseract of Odin” is preposterous. Peggy Carter is an unfortunate character, irrational and insensitive, and kind of mean. And the historical inaccuracy of her role in combat operations does no one any favors. It sweeps aside the real courage and sacrifice made by women during WWII, and does it for no apparent reason.

I confess that Captain America is my favorite comic book hero by a wide margin, and because of Chris Evans’ portrayal, this movie was special to me and I absolutely loved it.

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But sadly, Captain America: The First Avenger was a movie that contented itself with being good when it could have been great. I wanted something with the same quality as the truly great films of WWII. This movie had so little in the way of story. Except for Colonel Phillips (Jones) and Dr. Erskine (Tucci), it was impossible to invest in any character beyond Cap. Except for Bucky and Peggy, I didn’t even learn their names.  

They never sat and talked the way Erskine did with Steve. They never helped us understand the war. They didn’t draw us into what they were doing, why they were doing it, or what they wanted. We knew nothing of their backgrounds, their families back home, or the reasons for their loyalty to one another.

And they were never in serious danger. All the characters except Cap just went through the motions, and unfortunately, as gorgeously eye-catching as the action sequences were, the action was just, you know, motion. I wanted Kelly’s Heroes, or The Dirty Dozen, or Von Ryan’s Express, or The Great Escape, or Stalag 17, or or or….

I give up on Marvel Studios. It’s perfectly possible to make superhero movies with spirited action and real substance. Christopher Nolan has proved just how possible it is. But none of these Marvel Studios confections can hold a candle to a great movie. This is the age of technical accomplishment, and Marvel substitutes effects in place of stories.  

It is thanks to Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, and Stanley Tucci that this particular movie was anything more than empty calories. But what a wonderful job these actors did. I’ve always loved Cap, and this movie brought him to life. For that, I’m truly grateful.

Rating: 8 /10


Last Updated: June 23, 2021 - 00:45

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