Apparently the third franchise is the charm for Chris Evans, who has found cinematic paydirt with Captain America. After two lackluster films in the Fantastic Four franchise, and another in The Losers, Evans managed to stand out in both for the two biggest things he brings: his charisma and ability to deliver a one liner. The latter has been his signature throughout his film career and as such Captain America: The First Avenger manages to take this away from the young actor and give him something he has yet to have before: one of the best characters he’s ever had.
Steve Rogers (Evans) is a 98 pound weakling who wants to do his part in World War 2. Rejected for his physical size, as well as a handful of medical problems, he’s given a chance by an eccentric German scientist (Stanley Tucci) and a medical experiment led by a gruff Army officer (Tommy Lee Jones). Injected with a Super Soldier serum, the 98 pound weakling is transformed into the perfect physical specimen. With the serum destroyed (and its creator killed) by the henchmen of Nazi officer Johann “The Red Skull” Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), for whom the serum gave a hideous physical appearance to, Rogers is first used as a State Department spokesman to sell war bonds as “Captain America.” Made into a walking cartoon character, complete with ridiculous costume and nightly beatings administered to an Adolf Hitler look alike,
Rogers becomes a “trained monkey” in his own view. He wants to fight but he’s too valuable to let loose in the European theatre. Deployed into the European theatre to entertain the troops, his best friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan) is captured in action 30 miles behind enemy lines, inspires Rogers to do something about it. Becoming a one man wrecking crew, and eventually commanding his own squad, Rogers leads the fight against the Red Skull and his Nazi outfit Hydra, Captain America: The First Avenger functions as both a World War 2 romp in the vein of Raiders of the Last Ark and a setup for next year’s The Avengers.
But it’s Evans who stands out the most, even in a remarkably well set up and designed film.
Going into the film one expects Evans to be his usual wise-cracking self and Evans is given a character for which he has to rely on presence as opposed to delivering one liners. It’s left for the rest of the cast to deliver the occasional one liner and Evans is doing some fairly heavy lifting, dramatically. Rogers is easily Marvel’s best character in film because of two things. It’s a well written part, of course, but Evans is remarkable in the role. He has to be a good man but not to the point where it’s overbearing and annoying. It’s a thin line to ride and he does so admirably. We like Rogers, as the 98 pound weakling, because Evans knows the right notes to hit. The film’s first act is critical because without Evans delivering the entire film will fall flat; we have to genuinely like Rogers before he becomes “super-sized” or else his beating up of Nazis just doesn’t work.
It doesn’t hurt that he has a sufficient foil to play off of. Weaving crafted one of the best villains in The Matrix and he seems to be having just as much fun as the Red Skull. Playing someone who thinks the Nazis aren’t quite evil enough, he gives what’s essentially a throwback to pulp film-making the sort of evil presence it needs. It’s a nice juxtaposition against Rogers as Captain America; if you need a villain evil enough to oppose a good man, someone more evil than Hitler is a good call. Weaving isn’t chewing scenery; he’s daring anyone to step on screen with him.
Captain America: The First Avenger may not be the best Marvel comic book film ever, but it’s certainly in the team picture.
Director: Joe Johnston
Notable Cast: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Derek Luke, Neal McDonaugh
Writer(s): Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, inspired by the Marvel comic books