Steve Rogers is the heart of the Marvel Universe, so Chris Evans didn’t just have to look the part (he does), he had to portray Rogers’ effortless morality, steadfastness, determination, compassion and natural leadership (in the books he even ran for president once). The good news is he pulls it off.
And it’s a good thing too, because as the final film leading into next summer’s Avengers blockbuster, it needed to be the best Marvel film of them all. If Cap is to have any resonance for cinema-goers when he leads the Avengers, they need to be thoroughly convinced right here, right now. I certainly was, both as the ‘kid from Brooklyn’ (the CGI is unreal) and as the hyper-buff superhero he becomes. Every necessary ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ crossed, from the friendship with Bucky (Sebastian Stan) to the relationship with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), but there’s additional fun thrown in too. Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips has perhaps his best turn since ‘The Fugitive’, chewing every scene he’s in right up, whilst Hugo Weaving somehow figures out how to play a Red Skull who’s both dastardly and entirely believable on film. And Stanley Tucci’s role as Dr Erskine helps ingeniously to rework the origin and to hammer the importance of Rogers’ moral centre home; Simon and Kirby would have been proud.
Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely even offer cheeky nods to the comic book character, putting Steve through his paces in his four-colour counterpart’s costume, giving great story justification why it would be so ridiculous to wear in the ‘real’ world. Of course this world doesn’t even try to be ‘real’ – we have cosmic cubes, hints of the Norse mythology which eventually crosses paths with the Marvel Universe in ‘Thor’, not to mention men with perfect skull-like faces, having been changed by a super soldier serum and ‘vita rays’, and it’s to director Joe Johnston’s credit that he takes it all in his stride. Like Spielberg and Raiders of the Lost Ark, he plays Cap’s origin as a largely pulpy affair, but never neglects to add the espionage flavour which has made Ed Brubaker’s current run on the book so enormously popular. It’s a fully realised Second World War Marvel Universe, and with vibranium and Dr Phineas Horton directly referenced, can the Black Panther or a rebooted Fantastic Four be very far behind?
The ending is never in doubt – Cap had to be encased in ice for generations, but the modern twist is neatly executed and his first meeting with Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury provides the neat, formal lead-in to the Avengers. It’s not a perfect film by any means – some of the CGI is ropey and loses perspective sometimes, but the tone is so perfect, the humour so dark, and is overall so true to the best the character has been in his own book, that it really doesn’t matter. Delight in Hugo Weaving almost outdoing his own Agent Smith turn from the Matrix as the Red Skull (with a nifty German accent to boot), laugh as Hayley Atwell steals almost every scene she’s in as Peggy Carter (more than can be said for the other cinematic Marvel leading ladies), and relish the fact that, unlike DC/Warner, Marvel has yet again put a truly heroic and likeable character on screen, and given us reasons to like him. Unlike ‘Thor’ before it, The First Avenger never tries to rush Rogers’ backstory, and for this reason I’m highly tempted to say this is the best Marvel Studios film yet released.
Run, don’t walk, even if you don’t like comics.
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