Overview: Captain America: The First Avenger follows Steve Rogers adventures from scrawny Brooklyn kid to the world’s first superhero. Marvel Studios/Paramount Pictures; 2011; Rated PG-13; 124 minutes.
The Joe Johnston Factor: Steve Rogers joins the roster of ridiculously likable Marvel lead characters thanks to Joe Johnston’s direction and actor Chris Evans’ humble performance. The story of Captain America is relatively simple: Steve Rogers is the stereotypical ninety-eight pound weakly turned into a super-soldier by the United States military. And he must stop a madman from destroying the world.
Johnston’s movies have never involved the most original stories, but they resonate with audiences because of his gift for establishing an emotional connection with the hero. There’s an exchange between Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci gives a wonderful performance here) and Steve where he asks Steve if he’s signing up for the war because he wants to kill Nazis and Steve responds, “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies.” And in that single exchange between characters, we understand the motivation of Steve Rogers. Chris Evans imbues sentimentality into every scene. The character’s inherent goodness permits the viewer immediate investment in the conflict. The wins and losses affect the audience as much as the character because the movie earned its sentiment.
Marvel’s Marvelous Leading Ladies: Although there’s yet to be a successful superhero movie starring a female character, Marvel always seems to have great supporting ones. Peggy Carter isn’t a damsel in distress and she’s not handed a machine gun to give her some false sense of bravado. She’s essentially the film’s co-lead. Peggy has her own wants and needs outside of her relationship with Steve Rogers. She is a respected intelligence officer dedicated to fighting Nazi’s, which makes it all the more poignant when she decides to undermine military authority to help Steve succeed in a rescue mission. This character turn works because we’re shown Peggy admiring his fighting spirit during physical training, his intellect, and most importantly his willingness to sacrifice himself for the greater good. Even with some hokey dialogue, the viewer believes in the romance because of the organic relationship having been cultivated throughout the movie.
The Un-Marvelous Ending: Once the adventures in World War II come to a close, the movie reaches a heartbreaking yet satisfying conclusion… or so it would seem. To a degree, the movie seems more content with setting up The Avengers than it does closing off its own story. Shave off the final 3 minutes and put them as the after-credits scene and you have a wholly satisfying superhero movie. However, the final line does serve as a nice parallel to Thor’s “She searches for you.”
Final Notes: Captain America: The First Avenger delivers summer entertainment with a story of good old-fashioned rousing heroism., reminding us all why we love superheroes.