During World War II, the US government developed a super-soldier programme. In Captain America: The First Avenger, weedy Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Fantastic Four, The Losers) is turned from a puny kid to the titular superhero with the help of the super-soldier serum. It then follows his adventures from propaganda piece to military hero, battling his nemesis the Red Skull (Hugo weaving, The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings).
Captain America: The First Avenger works both as a war epic and a comprehensive part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Evans plays his role well, and it’s nice to see him go from a skinny teenager to a fully-fledged fighter. But it’s clearly the supporting cast that stands out here. Tommy Lee Jones (No Country for Old Men, Men in Black) played Colonel Phillips, and he portrayed the gruff and sceptical officer naturally and perfectly. Hayley Atwell (The Duchess, The Sweeney) is a great independent female lead. You can get a great sense that her character, British Agent Peggy Carter, can handle herself, especially in such a high position in a male-dominated profession. This is refreshing, especially when compared to the bland, female stock characters that are usually seen in these sorts of films.
I felt surprisingly sympathetic towards Doctor Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones, The Hunger Games), who was the German scientist that came up with the formula but had to flee his home, a clear comparison to those who worked on the Manhattan Project. And it was fun to see Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, Tamara Drewe, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), Iron Man’s dad, and Cooper echoes Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in a weird “same, but different” way. Hugo Weaving is a great antagonist, with his Red Skull being the counterbalance to Captain America’s patriotism and justice. It’s also great to see a traditional megalomaniacal villain who wants to take over the world just because he can, yet at the same time doing enough to stand out from the crowd.
In spite of the strong cast, however, Captain America isn’t perfect. I felt that the whole “Howling Commandos” unit that Rogers led was severely underused, with some roles that could have been deep and interesting just cast aside like extras. And the film rushed towards its climax too quickly. It was great seeing the build-up (how he became a superhero and how he was a propaganda tool) but most of the action scenes felt montaged, and the climax was shoe-horned in, just so that they could have Captain America in The Avengers.
All in all, Captain America: The First Avenger was an enjoyable blockbuster with a good quality of acting. It’s just a shame that the film’s final third or so felt rushed and it left unused characters with such potential. But hey, that’s what sequels are for, right?