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Captain America Is A Solid Entry Into Marvel’s Avengers Push

Captain America: The First Avenger
Directed by Joe Johnston
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely based on the comic books by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Paramount, 2011

Captain America has a trailer for The Avengers after the credits.  After all, that’s what all of these Avengers-related movies have been anyway since after the original Iron Man.  After the credits of both Iron Man and Thor, and just before the credits of The Incredible Hulk, we’ve been seeing bonus scenes reminding us that there is in fact an Avengers movie being made and they’ve wanted you to be excited for it 4 years before the movie actually came out.  Some of these origin stories have suffered as a result.  And look, this time they decided to even throw in the word “avenger” into the title.  That ain’t by mistake.

Joe Johnston has been making huge Spielbergian films for awhile.  This is not to say, just like Spielberg, but in that wheelhouse of homage to old serials and spectacle filmmaking.  Johnston did The Rocketeer, the Chris Van Allsburg adaptation Jumanji, and to hit it squarely on the nose, Jurassic Park III.  He’s done a lot of movies you’ve heard of, from his debut of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, to October Sky, to that awful Wolfman picture from last year.

So it’s no surprise here that Johnston is back in Rocketeer mode, with a splash of Indiana Jones, in the making of Captain America.  Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, last seen in Marvel superhero circles as The Human Torch in Fantastic Four) is a wimpy, bullied kid who wants to join the army to fight Nazis, but is repeatedly turned down.  Then he goes to a Modern Marvels of Tomorrow exhibition, where there is yet another recruitment office, where a scientist named Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) has a hunch that the little guy is just the man he needs to test some sort of superhero serum on.

So Steve finds himself being trained by Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones, who’s great) with some guidance from a true firecracker in cute, but tough Brit Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).  Steve shows fortitude and intelligence where other, perhaps more qualified men don’t, and thus he convinces everyone that he should get injected with the power juice.  Right after this happens, turning from wimpy to muscular and suddenly having physical powers, Steve has to track down a spy from a group known as Hydra, being led by the Nazi supervillain Johan Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), who once worked with Abraham and wanted all the power that his serum could provide.  But, like all supervillains, he used too much and “good things become great, and bad things become worse.”

Schmidt, later seen as the monster Red Skull, which looks like James Carville painted red, is sort of breaking away from the Hitler machine to start his own area of world domination, using a power source to put into all kinds of weapons that basically just disintegrate everything.  With the help of his own scientist, Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), tanks, guns, and bombs all have the stuff and it’s only a matter of time before whole cities are threatened.

After a section where Steve becomes “Captain America,” a character that tries to recruit soldiers for the cause in shows around the U.S., he really becomes the hero Captain America when he finds out a bunch of his buddies have been captured and taken prisoner.  This is where his powers finally come to fruition.

And these are decent enough powers, with an indestructible shield built by Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), the father of Tony Stark.  Captain America has great regenerative qualities, the ability to jump far, and crack skulls.  He’s not really a guy with supernatural powers, more like a ‘roided-up Batman I guess.  This is sort of the thing that brings the movie down ever so slightly, mainly because his skills are something we’ve seen average heroes do in all sorts of movies.  What makes this guy special?  A shield made by a scientist from some indestructible metal.

But, that said, the movie is still good and worth the watch.  Johnston guides this pretty smoothly and this is very good blockbuster filmmaking.  It’s a tier below this year’s X-Men: First Class and much better than Thor and especially Green Lantern.

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