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Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

WITH each new Marvel superhero comes an even greater responsibility, it seems. Not content with simply launching a franchise on their own, each new hero must also deliver the goods with one eye on Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie in 2012.

Kenneth Branagh’s Thor managed to combine these two elements (origins and set-up) to hugely enjoyable effect, but Joe Johnston’s Captain America proves a trickier proposition.

A 1940s set boys’ own adventure that takes its cues from Indiana Jones, Johnston’s film chronicles the rise of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) from puny would-be hero to buff, unstoppable super-soldier, before transporting him to the present day to hook up with his fellow Marvel buddies.

It’s a journey that feels a little too shackled by the confines of both, depriving the film of a really great story of its own, any real emotional complexity, or a truly memorable, multi-layered villain.

But it’s not a bad film, either, as Johnston pulls out all the stops to ensure that Captain America has enough to make it good without ever coming close to great.

Evans, for instance, is a hugely charismatic central presence, easily transforming himself from earnest all-American with a heart of gold, to all-conquering warrior with the steel to match his sensitivity.

And there’s great support from the likes of Hayley Atwell, as a feisty love interest, Tommy Lee Jones, as a sceptical superior officer, and Stanley Tucci, as an early mentor who provides Rogers with the tools needed for his transformation.

The production values are also superb, nicely capturing a sense of era (just as Johnston did on his earlier film The Rocketeer) and the stirring do-or-die spirit of World War II-era Britain and America.

But while the first half of the film is pure guilty pleasure and a light-hearted romp, the second half feels like its rushing to be someplace else.

The fine character building work that’s done early on, which gives the likes of Evans and Tucci a chance to shine, is discarded for endless action montages that place Captain America in mission impossible style situations with a Dirty Dozen style team behind him.

But there’s no real sense of peril and no one sequence that stands out, lending the film a somewhat pedestrian feel.

Hugo Weaving’s villain is too one dimensional to really standout, even though the actor gleefully seems to be combining traits of his Matrix persona with a voice borrowed from Werner Herzog, and Toby Jones’ malevolent second-in-command is given too little to do as well.

The final third of the movie plays like a countdown to bringing Rogers into the present day – a destination signposted at the start of the movie with the discovery of his body in the Arctic by contemporary forces.

But it deprives the central adventure of a really satisfying finale and discards some of its most intriguing characters, leaving them in the past without a proper send-off, while also ending too abruptly to allow Johnston any opportunity to have fun with his main man in a contemporary setting (one of the key components of the comic novels).

What Captain America does do successfully, however, is enable Whedon to inherit another charismatic superhero for his 2012 blockbuster, which could – on the evidence thus far provided – turn out to be something truly special.

If Captain America fans adjust their expectations accordingly, though, there’s still plenty to enjoy in this, his first instalment, to make the wait for his cinematic debut just about worth it.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 124mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release Date: December 5, 2011