Directed By: Joe Johnston
Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving
Old school, Saturday matinee fun, Captain America: The First Avenger is director Joe Johnston’s best since The Rocketeer (1991) and features some of the finest superhero genre costume design ever committed to film.
The assured skill of designer Anna B. Sheppard brings The First Avenger alive, blending potentially high camp ensembles into a believable story environment; one that is essentially a fantasy parallel of our own. It is childish and fun, but with a serious dramatic core at its heart. The 1940s backdrop is rich with costume and production design motifs; muted sepia with flashes of patriotic colour.
There is a sense of embracing the period for its all zealous optimism and dewy-eyed wonder at the possibilities of science. Even when Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) demonstrates his flying car at the Modern Marvels of Tomorrow exhibition and it crashes unceremoniously to the ground, his nonchalant pay off is enough to get the crowd cheering again. Such is the mood of The First Avenger.
Without irony, apart from a couple of in-jokes including a real air-puncher for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Johnston’s delightful throwback stands on the notion that we can all do something more. We can all be ‘better’, just like Captain America. This is why his exhibitionistic costume functions so well in context. It taps into the idea that deep down we all want to dress up and play hero. This is obviously a message for the young, so The First Avenger would have benefited from trimming its sometimes lengthy expositional scenes. However, the physical action is cleanly staged and exciting.
Evans is likeable as brave Steve Rogers/Captain America. He is a black and white protagonist, or rather red and blue. Troubled though apparently without a dark side, this is not Batman or Iron Man, but a hero you could leave in a room full of hookers and trust him to do the right thing (convert them to the value of true love and leave). Evans is surrounded by a strong cast who all seem to understand the material. His sincere but playful asides with Stanley Tucci’s good guy scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine are particularly important as they justify Captain America as a symbol; a beacon for peace.
Hayley Atwell too is charmingly aloof and certainly built for the fitted forties silhouette of narrow pencil skirts and a covered up but very clingy, siren red evening dress. Her romance with Rogers is believable and moving. There is no edge here, no indifference, just love and hate/good and bad. Captain America is a breath of fresh air for comic book fans and non-fans alike.
Captain America: The First Avenger is released in the UK on 29th July.
© 2011 – 2013, Christopher Laverty.