Heading into Captain America, one question was at the forefront of my mind: could director Joe Johnston recapture the tone of his 1991 cult classic The Rocketeer and translate that into a superhero movie for today’s audience? Thankfully, the answer is yes. This movie probably isn’t going to be any Marvel fanboy’s favorite, but it has enough action and humor to make it one of the fledgling studio’s better efforts of the past couple years.
The newest in Marvel’s ambitious multi-film build-up to The Avengers, Captain America shows yet another side to the studio’s versatile approach to creating one consistent universe; while Thor delved into an entirely different world, Captain America takes place in a different time, making it Marvel’s first true period piece. Johnston, a protégé of Steven Spielberg and a former Acadby Award-winning effects artist (responsible for designing Boba Fett’s armor and the AT-AT units in Star Wars, among many other things), really starts to relish the look and feel of the 1940s in this movie. In a recent interview, Johnston revealed that he had two offices during the making of the film and one of thb was in the art department so he could supervise the design and creation of the world; clearly, that aspect of production remains close to his heart. His team pulled off a really cool look here, a stylized vibe that reminds me more of a propaganda poster than what that actual time truly looked like.
After an interesting casting battle that featured “The Office” star John Krasinski and TRON: Legacy‘s Garret Hedlund, actor Chris Evans – who notably already played a superhero in Marvel’s Fantastic Four series – accepted the role and did an admirable job with a pretty decent script. Once the scrawny Steve Rogers (a great bit of CGI trickery) becomes the jacked Captain America, the audience’s ability to relate to the character dissolves a bit. It’s tough to pull for a guy who’s seemingly invincible; even Superman has Kryptonite, but there’s never any real danger for Cap. He and his boys go around the world kicking ass, and it’s cool and everything, but I wish there would have been a little more importance attached to his missions.
Hugo Weaving as the villainous Red Skull was inspired casting, but he’s essentially wasted on a character that never shows the true evil of which he’s surely capable. He’s gotta have that Darth Vader moment where he completely destroys something on a massive scale for the audience to really fear him, but unfortunately the character is never allowed that moment. The makeup is great, and Weaving was solid, but the character himself didn’t really do much.
One of the reasons I liked Thor was because of how well the writers integrated the S.H.I.E.L.D./Avengers setup stuff, making it organic to the story instead of forcing it in (like Iron Man 2). Since Captain America is a period piece, it’s a little easier for them to deal with; the story revolves around the cosmic cube (referenced in Thor and surely an important part of the upcoming Avengers), and they incorporate Howard Stark’s involvement into the story, filling out that character and allowing for some fun moments for Dominic Cooper to chew some scenery as, essentially, an older version of Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony. The rest of the supporting cast is serviceable, too. Names like Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci rarely disappoint, and more minor players like Neal McDonough (fantastic in “Band of Brothers”) and Sebastian Stan (entertaining in Hot Tub Time Machine, totally forgettable in the otherwise-brilliant Black Swan) also did some good work. (Though their parts are woefully underwritten.) Hayley Atwell (Cassandra’s Dream) takes center stage as Cap’s love interest, Agent Peggy Carter. Her character isn’t given much to do, but Atwell brings enough moxie to the part that I’m interested in seeing her again soon.
Like most of the other Marvel films, this one begins in media res and returns to the present time by the end. Aside from not detailing how exactly Cap is able to “sleep for almost 70 years” – and honestly, it doesn’t matter – I thought all of the storylines were nicely wrapped up and, without trying too hard, Captain America ended up being a pretty fun stepping stone towards next summer’s ultimate team-up flick. Until next time…