Captain America: The First Avenger is not a story about an American. It’s not a story about a soldier. It’s not even a story about a superhero. It’s a story about a hero, plain and simple. Where most comic book superhero films follow the formula of “selfish John Doe gains powers, uses powers for selfish purposes, tragedy strikes, John Doe uses powers to correct things,” Captain America changes things up in a refreshing way by having our main character already embody everything a hero should be before getting the power to prove it.
Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans (Fantastic Four, The Losers) is already a good man, a hero in his heart. He only lacks the abilities to change the world around him. When Hitler begins his sweep across Europe in World War II, Steve is unable to enlist due to his sickly nature. Despite this, he tries to join the army in several different cities using aliases knowing going to war would probably mean his death soon after. This is the sign of a hero: the willingness to do what is right despite the danger to one’s self. Is Superman a hero when he stops a mugging? No more than I am a hero for stomping on a spider to protect my wife. But Steve Rogers would gladly lay down his body to protect the little man from what he considers “bullies,” be they in a back alley or in a tank overseas.
Evans does a great job of portraying weak Steve Rogers and buff Captain America. When he was first cast, I was convinced this movie was not going to work. Chris Evans was too young and too much of a pretty boy to convince me he could be a leader of men. He certainly wasn’t someone that Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man would respect enough in next summer’s The Avengers. Personally I was pulling for Human Target’s Mark Valley. But through a combination of Evan’s charisma and Joe Johnston’s direction, my opinion was changed. Somehow Evans manages to keep the “aw shucks” attitude of Steve Rogers while inspiring his Howling Commandos (and the audience) as Cap.
The filmmakers do a good job of not belittling the real history behind World War II and dishonoring those brave men and women who fought and died during the war. Captain America does not win the war for the Allies, but instead fights on a second front against a fringe section of the Nazis (as if it were possible to be even more insane than Hitler’s regime). When this movie is released over seas, I really hope that foreign viewers get that, and can see it for the fun alternate history that it is.
The First Avenger is a great movie on its own, but it is only enhanced by having seen the other Marvel films that will eventually tie together in The Avengers. It is especially served by Thor tying in to Hitler’s and the Red Skull’s (Hugo Weaving- The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings) infatuation with mythology and the occult. It’s also a veritable Easter egg hunt for fans of the comics. Sharp-eyed viewers will see lots subtle shout outs to the true geeks, while many of the eggs are right there in the audience’s face whether they know it or not. As much as I want to talk about them, I want viewers to be able to find them for themselves like I did (but if you want to compare notes sometime, shoot me an email).
Captain America: The First Avenger was my most anticipated movie of the summer, yes, even more so than Harry Potter (though it was a very close race). Every trailer I saw got me more and more excited until I was sure that I could only be disappointed. Thankfully I got exactly what I came for: a film that thrilled me like a war movie combined with the swashbuckling of Indiana Jones. Luckily we only need to wait one year to see Captain America in action again. Is it too early to start counting down the days to The Avengers?