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In the present day, scientists in the Arctic uncover a circular object with a red, white and blue motif. In March 1942, Nazi officer Johann Schmidt and his men invade Tønsberg, Norway, to steal a mysterious Tesseract possessing untold powers. Meanwhile, in New York City, Steve Rogers is rejected...
Should any readers know me, they know that my standards when it comes to all things superhero-related are much higher than the average moviegoer's. Virtually everything must correspond to the source material, or else I find it hard to treat the film in the manner that I personally believe that the superhero myth should be treated: critically and with respect. To change fundamental aspects of the already well-established storyline is tantamount to disrespect of not just the character, but the creators as well. Granted, it increases in popularity, but it does so in such a way that, for lack of more eloquent phrasing, it just isn't the same. However, 'Captain America: The First Avenger', does the star-spangled superhuman justice.
The majority of the film is set in 1942, where Steve Rogers, a diminutive man with a sense of patriotism many times larger than his person, tries and fails multiple times to enlist in the Army and join the war effort. But, due to health problems and his frail build, he is rejected. Instead, he is found by Dr. Abraham Erskine, a scientist in charge of the Super-Soldier program, and given a serum that enhances his entire body and mind, amplifying his musculature as well as his indomitable will and patriotism. The plot of 'Captain America' deals with the Red Skull (played by Hugo Weaving) and his attempts at world domination using the mystical Tesseract, which will be further explained in Joss Whedon's upcoming 'Avengers'.
What I thought was the best aspect of this film was the pacing of it. The beginning scene consists of S.H.I.E.L.D agents (a division of the US Government that deals with meta- and super-human affairs) finding a downed aircraft somewhere in the Canadian ice. This scene is perfect to begin the film with because it is so subtle in its revelation of the plot; you as the viewer know what is going on and why this find is so important, but no unnecessary details are given. Samuel L. Jackson's much-anticipated character Colonel Nick Fury is mentioned only as “the Colonel”, and all the viewer sees of Captain America is a portion of his shield before the scene shifts to 1942 in a completely different time and place. This transition is repeated at the end of the film, when Rogers wakes up in what looks like a hospital room in the 1940s, but later discovers that he is in the year 2011. The final scene shows Rogers' face as he stares, bewildered, at the New York City he grew up in but no longer recognized, setting the scene for 2012s 'The Avengers' as well as giving the audience one last piece of character development before the credits roll. To me, 'Captain America: The First Avenger' could not have been better paced.
The performances by the major cast were much better than what I expected. After seeing Chris Evans in the ill-received 'Fantastic Four' movies, I was at once skeptical. But as Evans delivered his first line, I was immediately swayed. His deep voice complements Steve Rogers' impressive frame without being too overbearing (Christian Bale, I hope you're reading this), but is mellow enough to emphasize his patriotism, zeal, and compassion. Samuel L. Jackson, despite having only about two hours of screen time in every Marvel film to date combined, was phenomenal. Hayley Atwell, who plays Rogers' love interest Peggy Carter, adds a touch of quirky romanticism to her character that I think strengthens her beyond her role in the original comic books.
However, the actor whom I really felt stole the show was Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips, Fury's predecessor. Jones fits the role perfectly. Joe Johnston, the film's director, described the character as "the one you've seen in a thousand movies: the gruff, skeptical officer overseeing a team of talented, slightly sarcastic, specially talented soldiers". Given Jones' already impressive history of playing this type of character ('The Hunted', 'U.S. Marshals, and 'The Fugitive' just to name a few), it was easy to see his expertise at work.
Overall, 'Captain America: The First Avenger' is the most accurate, entertaining, and true-to-source superhero film made to date, and this isn't just me saying this. Roger Ebert, a well-known and respected film critic, said "I enjoyed the movie. I appreciated the 1940s period settings and costumes, which were a break with the usual generic cityscapes. I admired the way that director Joe Johnston propelled the narrative. I got a sense of a broad story, rather than the impression of a series of sensational set pieces. If Marvel is wise, it will take this and Iron Man as its templates". Such a review from Ebert alone is enough to give the film worldwide acclaim, and it has. Worldwide, 'Captain America: The First Avenger' has grossed a total of $339,719,952, beating out 'Thor', 'X-Men: First Class', and 'Green Lantern', solidifying its place in not just my book of well-made films, but a lot of other people's as well.