Captain America: The First Avenger FILM REVIEW

Wartime spirit

Release date: 29 July
12A • 124 mins
Distributor:
Paramount Pictures
Cast: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving

As true-blue as its pure-hearted hero, Captain America is a film out of time – a modern Marvel blockbuster with an authentic Saturday matinee soul.

Maybe it’s the fact that director Joe Johnston served an apprenticeship in the house of Lucas and Spielberg (he storyboarded the matchless truck chase in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and there’s a drop of that film’s bloodline in Cap’s occult-plundering Nazis and tangible, two-fisted action sequences). Or perhaps it’s the period setting – as invigorating a twist for the Marvel canon as Thor’s other-dimensional realms – that allows Johnston to expel the moral ambiguities and tainted patriotism of the 21st Century and revel in a clear-eyed, sepia-tinted idealism that’s as far from the smart-ass zing of Iron Man as it’s possible to imagine.

Leading from the front, Chris Evans is note-perfect as the sickly pipsqueak transformed into weaponised beefcake by the US military (his initial appearance as a “90lb asthmatic” is a triumphant piece of FX sleight-of-hand). He’s humble, sweet, soulful, tenacious, as if all cynicism has been surgically purged from his body. Even reborn in flag-draped supersoldier form he remains a Brooklyn innocent, a golden god who doesn’t know the meaning of fondue.

Evans’ high-charm performance gives a real romantic voltage to his relationship with Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter. She may look like a recruitment drive pin-up but she’s an admirably proactive ’40s heroine, a crackshot who packs a jaw-shattering right hook.

Peggy’s role as rescue object is taken by Bucky Barnes, Cap’s kid sidekick in the comic books, now recast as an older brother figure in the burly form of Sebastian Stan. It’s a surprising, not entirely successful bit of myth-tinkering in a film that otherwise shows a remarkable adherence to four-colour lore, recreating everything from Simon and Kirby’s 1941 origin tale to Nick Fury’s Howlin’ Commandos with fanboy-pleasing fidelity.

Johnston clearly relishes his Roosevelt era playground. One of the film’s more soaringly larkish moments finds Captain America employed as shameless propaganda tool – “The star-spangled man with the plan” – awkwardly fronting an all-singin’, all-dancin’ musical revue number. It’s a bravura sequence that also homages the character’s birth in Timely Comics and cliffhanger serials. Elsewhere Johnston captures the spirit of the classic war movie, echoing The Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare as Cap and the commandos face down the gimp-goons of HYDRA, Hitler’s tech-fetishising “deep science division”.

Hurling us from Blitz-ruined London to the alpine fortress of the Red Skull (a teutonically sinister turn by Hugo Weaving, in pursuit of a cosmic MacGuffin first glimpsed in Thor), filled with moments as tiny as the face of the girl you love in a locket and as huge as a monstrously-winged orbital bomber on course to devastate Manhattan, Captain America is a medal-worthy joy, the best Marvel movie in years and the film that deserves to win the war of the summer box-office. Top that, Joss.

Nick Setchfield