“Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man,” says Dr. Abraham Erskine to Steve Rogers.
There have been many incarnations of the Marvel Comics character Captain America on TV and in film. Ranging from the 1940s serial to the two 1970s TV movies to the awful 1990 theatrical film (it was so awful that it didn’t even get a theatrical release here in the U.S.; it went straight-to-video stateside). Fans have asked for a decent film featuring Steve Rogers for years, and in 2008, Captain America was almost introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk. It was merely going to be a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in the film’s Arctic prologue. However, the prologue was cut out of the film (along with nearly an hour’s worth of excellent character scenes), and Cap would have to wait until 2011 to be introduced in his own solo film as part of the MCU. I saw Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger on the big screen in 3D when it first came out, and I enjoyed it very much. I got to see it a second time in 3D last year on the big screen as part of a double feature with the then-newly released Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 3D, and enjoyed it even more.
2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger follows Steve Rogers, a frail young man who enlists in the U.S. military in 1942 as part of a program that will turn him into a super soldier. As Captain America, Rogers leads the Howling Commandos during the remainder of World War II as they take on the Red Skull and his Hydra organization, which is planning on world domination using an alien object known as the Tesseract. Johnston assembled an impressive cast: Chris Evans (as Steve Rogers/Captain America), Hugo Weaving (Johann Schmidt/Red Skull), Hayley Atwell (as Agent Peggy Carter), Tommy Lee Jones (as Colonel Chester Phillips), Dominic Cooper (as Howard Stark), Stanley Tucci (as Dr. Abraham Erskine), Sebastian Stan (as James “Bucky” Barnes), Toby Jones (as Dr. Armin Zola), Richard Armitage (as Heinz Kruger), Neal McDonough (as “Dum Dum” Dugan), Derek Luke (as Gabe Jones), Kenneth Choi (as Jim Morita), Bruno Ricci (as Jacques Dernier), JJ Feild (as James Montgomery Falsworth), and Samuel L. Jackson (as Nick Fury). Evans is perfectly cast as Rogers, bringing strength, humility, and vulnerability to the role. Atwell is just as good as Peggy, Cap’s love interest who can look good and kick ass while doing so. Weaving is enjoyably evil as the Red Skull, making for an interesting foil to Captain America.
Johnston’s direction is strong; he shows he was perfectly suited for this period film (his directorial credits include 1991’s The Rocketeer, 1999’s October Sky, and 2010’s The Wolfman). Rick Heinrichs’ production design is top-notch, as is Shelly Johnson’s cinematography and Anna B. Sheppard’s costume designs (I liked the World War II-era uniform for Cap). The screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely rightfully focuses a lot on Steve Rogers before his transformation into Captain America (yes, character development matters!). The special effects were incredible, especially the work that went into creating the pre-super soldier Steve Rogers as well as the Red Skull’s head. Alan Silvestri delivers an outstanding, old-fashioned superhero score with a memorable patriotic theme for Captain America himself and rousing action music. Johnston’s film is another terrific Marvel Studios production and a wonderful throwback to a different era. It not only finally gives us a good Captain America film (as well as making Cap relevant again in the world), but provides the final connective tissue to The Avengers, which followed one year later.