(Warning: this is a comprehensive review therefore may contain spoilers.)
A lot of pressure was riding on Captain America: The First Avenger. If done well, Marvel could have their best movie yet, whilst generating huge hype for The Avengers. If done wrong, plans for The Avengers would have taken a huge hit. Has director Joe Johnston truly managed to bring the magic to one of Marvel's most iconic characters?
Based on the iconic character from WW2, The First Avenger follows a brave young Steve Rogers from Brooklyn, New York (Chris Evans), as he deemed unfit to serve for the military. With nowhere else to go, Rogers volunteers for an operation that will turn him into a super soldier, led by Dr. Abraham Erskine. The operation is a success but Dr Erskine is quickly killed, along with the secrets of the super soldier formula. Realizing their only living super soldier is too much of a risk for combat, the US military decide to parade Rogers out on USO shows to boost morale and gain funding. However when an evil plot reveals itself lead by the evil Johann Schimdt / Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), Rogers must step up to the task and become Captain America.
The movie handles the hardest part well. It is successfully able to avoid turning a flag wearer into a flag weaver. Instead Evans comes across a well likeable character, who hates bullies and isn't afraid to stand up for himself. Steve's character is given proper treatment, before he becomes the Nazi bashing super soldier, as Evans proves he can handle more than just comedy putting any confusion over him being The Human Torch to rest.
Hayley Atwell gives us a convincing performance as the strong, but sensitive Peggy Carter, and Tommy Lee Jones is on scene stealing form as the cocky Colonel Philips who is prone to one-liners. The rest of the cast either struggle to impress or are not given enough time to do so. It's been a tough summer for Bucky Barnes. He suffered a cheap death in the comic books recently, and his treatment in The First Avenger fairs little better. Sebastian Stan tries to make the most of what he is given, as it's evident that Steve and Bucky are long-term friends. Once Barnes is quickly dealt with however, he's soon forgotten. Captain America's support group The Howling Commandos (although they are never actually called that in the film), cry out for their own spin-off as they provide some of the films more fun scenes.
Several disappointments I had with this film were Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). The Howard Stark portrayed in this film had little charisma, and it often felt forced how many times the name Stark was mentioned, as if to keep re-enforcing the fact that he's Iron Man's dad to the audience. Weaving's Skull is so fanatically unhinged, he even disgusts other Nazis, but it's sometimes difficult to see where his intentions lie. Is he simply just obsessed with being a god? The Red Skull certainly isn't the diabolical villain I read in the comics. I also hope we see more explanation behind the Cosmic Cube in The Avengers. Ordinary cinema viewers would have perhaps found it difficult in this film to understand just what is the cube's power.
That's where the film loses a star. The main threat HYDRA, the Nazi deep science division, only really has two main figureheads, therefore never really feels like a world threat. Perhaps if we had seen more classic cap villains such as Baron Zemo and Baron Von Strucker, HYDRA might have looked more of a threat.
Did the film work as a period movie? Easily yes. Whilst maintaining enough historical ground to make it work, but not bogging it down too much until it becomes boring, Johnston mixes the perfect amount of history and fantasy to create a truly unique superhero movie. The special effects were actually a welcome surprise. Despite my initial fears Chris Evans's head would look awkward on a skinny man's body, Marvel pulled it off fantastically well. The battle scenes all look convincing, and they easily rival the effects seen in Thor.
To conclude Marvel can look back at Captain America: The First Avenger as job done. A great performance from it's lead character, good action, good special effects and a great story all round. Captain America isn't a classic by any means, but full credit should be given to Johnston and Marvel for making this happen.