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.
I’m quite surprised by the tone of this. The surprise reboot seems to have ever more surprises up its sleeve. So strange to think we have another year to wait!
Oh this utterly and totally rules:
This is totally what Cap is supposed to be about, and should make Thor and Iron Man look like bore fests, acting as an amazing lead-in to the Avengers film next summer!
Very much a prequel and not a reboot, Michael (Kick-Ass/Layer Cake) Vaughn’s first stab at a Marvel film is hugely enjoyable. Subtly concocted, aware of the need to fix the damage done by X3, the film focuses on the relationship between Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), and explains how their friendship was forged, as well as how their diametrically opposing worldviews led them into opposing paths. It’s not without it’s faults – McAvoy definitely plays second fiddle to Fassbender, some of the effects are needlessly ropey, and some of the mutants’ changes in allegiance are downright baffling, but its strengths more than outweigh its weaknesses. I should add though, that this is a very character-driven piece – most of the action is in the back half of the film, and I can imagine that not knowing that in advance could lead to disappointment for some.
First thing I should say is that this isn’t Kick-Ass. Although it seriously glamourises the villain of the piece, it’s a very conventional film. Set in the 60′s, it’s a romp through the early X-corner of the Marvel Universe (can Marvel please retrieve the rights to the X-films please?), and the cute period touches work well. The fashion of the time is noted, the politics underpin the film’s plotline, and Sebastian Shaw’s Bond villain-esque lair was a well considered sarcastic touch. The heart of the film though is Michael Fassbender and his transformation from Lehnsherr into Magneto. The script by Miller, Stentz, Goldman and director Vaughn never loses touch with the reasons for Lehnsherr’s hate-filled worldview and Fassbender makes it very easy to empathise with him. Towering above his co-stars, this is very much his show, but whilst that may be hugely entertaining, it causes let-downs elsewhere. McAvoy’s countervailing Xavier never really convinces – he has the lines but doesn’t give them the punch needed, and similar problems occur throughout the nascent X-Men team. Nic Hoult’s Hank McCoy is brilliant, but his Beast is downright awful (this is largely not his fault – the make-up/effects are woeful). Zoë Kravitz’s Angel may be a welcome, off-beat, street-based character, but her reasons for switching sides are never properly developed, and we never really find out much about Havok or Darwin. Disappointing too are some of the effects, particularly the miniatures – whilst they’re clearly necessary in most action movies, someone should have noticed that if it’s abundantly clear that the trees are toy trees, the entire credibility of the scene could be completely wiped out.
The confrontation with (and backstory behind) villain Sebastian Shaw is well developed (Kevin Bacon is unexpectedly brilliant), putting the Xavier/Magneto confrontation at the heart of the Cold War is even more clever, and the formation of the X-Men as a result of both is dramatically satisfying. But the film suffers from confused priorities – Fassbender’s mission of vengeance is a taut, nasty and compelling thriller, which doesn’t sit easily alongside the conventional X-superheroics which the franchise demands. McAvoy’s Xavier must then bridge the divide between plotlines, and for either script or acting reasons (it’s ultimately hard to tell), he never really manages; only after the character loses the use of his legs does he start to resemble Patrick Stewart’s Xavier. This opening outing though is full of knowing and enjoyable moments, from the links to the future (you’ll have to see them for yourself) to Fassbender’s clear joy at playing Lehnsherr/Magneto, and it’s well worth your time. If the plot had been built up entirely through the prism of Xavier/Magneto, and had been played against the parallel social changes happening in America at the same time, it could have been as great as X2. It’s not too far off though.