A great deal of effort is often made to ensure that superhero movies are idiosyncratic, which is done for two purposes: to encourage audiences to see every release that comes their way, and to ensure the genre doesn’t become stale. Some releases, though, prove so distinctive they may leave moviegoers perplexed, at least on their first viewing.
In the shadow of the Second World War, Brooklynite Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is hoping to join the United States Army, but is rejected on account of his short height and skinny frame. It’s not until he meets scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) – the lead researcher in a program hoping to create a unit of Super Soldiers – that Rogers is given the opportunity to join the military, under the watchful eye of Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and British officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).
To realise his dream of becoming a soldier, Rogers is injected with a serum that rectifies his physical deficiencies and turns him into a figure of strength and athleticism. Soon after, Erskine’s laboratory is attacked by a rogue faction of Hitler’s armed forces, Hydra, and the serum stolen, leaving Rogers as the sole example of the experiment’s success. With this in mind, the Army is chary of sending Rogers to the frontline in Europe, and instead uses him in vaudeville as propaganda for the war effort.
Like most films in the superhero genre, Captain America: The First Avenger can trace its origins to comic books, with the intellectual-property introduced in the Forties to, ironically enough, boost morale during World War II. The approach to the character in this film is less jingoistic, preferring to see him as a person of nobility and selflessness. Because of these qualities, Steve Rogers is a protagonist to be admired not just by American audiences, but by viewers the world over.
Further making Rogers such an admirable figure is Chris Evans, who is perfectly cast in the lead role. Evans was recognised primarily as a comedic actor prior to appearing in The First Avenger, and few believed he was capable of inhabiting the superhero; yet just like Robert Downey Jr and Chris Hemsworth before him, Evans defied the naysayers to deliver a performance that did the character justice. He takes the role very seriously, appearing straight-faced and earnest throughout the picture, in turn leaving the viewer fixated.
There’s no question that Evans’ casting was a masterful manoeuvre; whether the same can be said of his co-stars is doubtful. This isn’t due to their lack of trying, but rather, because of their seemingly wasted talent. Tommy Lee Jones’ performance as the grizzled, sceptical Chester Phillips, fun though it may be, appears so effortless that one wonders whether his role could have been filled by any other actor. Likewise, the indefatigable Hugo Weaving is giving very little to do as the villain, being menacing and not much else.
Also disappointing is how The First Avenger merely glances over the war journey of Steve Rogers. Most of the missions and battles Captain America partakes in are shown only in montages, with little to no context provided, depriving the viewer of some rather thrilling scenes that may well have been the coolest part of the movie. Instead, one is left to settle with Rogers and his allies battling agents of Hydra with futuristic weaponry – outlandish fight sequences that border on science-fiction territory.
It’s for these reasons that The First Avenger seems like something of a letdown on initial inspection, failing to satisfy the wants of either superhero fanatics or action connoisseurs. Only when revisiting the film do its flaws become less noticeable and many strengths become apparent – after that, it can easily be appreciated without inhibition. Thus, the first Captain America is one of the rare releases from Marvel Studios that proves more enjoyable upon a second, third or even a fourth viewing.
As far as superhero origin stories go, Captain America: The First Avenger is an oddity, not quite delivering the thrills many would be anticipating. But thanks to a well-developed protagonist, and the efforts of Chris Evans, the film is able to overcome its faults to be another fun Marvel feature.