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As patriotism is reaching a high at the time of the Second World War,
Steve Rogers is eager to join with a corps,
Since freedom and goodness are worth fighting for,
But since he is sick, he is not their first pick
And simply could not get his foot in the door.
One Abraham Erskine, a German defector whose serum can better a man,
Gives Rogers a chance at the Army’s new plan:
This serum could take down the whole Nazi clan.
Although Steve is weak, he’s courageous and meek,
And Erskine picks him to do what few men can.
Assisted by Howard Stark, Erskine transforms the weakling he’d luckily found
To quite the he-man, unimpaired, muscle-bound.
They praise his success until Erskine is downed;
The serum’s destroyed by an agent employed
By the evil Red Skull, who is now gaining ground.
The Red Skull, who once used the serum himself, has found the arcane Tesseract.
He’s planning to harness its power intact
And conquer the globe and the Third Reich, in fact.
Meanwhile, Steve’s stuck selling war bonds with luck
But hopes to make more of a worthy impact.
He hears his pal Bucky was captured by HYDRA and sadly is most likely dead.
Both Stark and the fair Agent Carter are led
To get Steve past enemy lines with no dread.
He frees prisoners and his friend is no worse
So Steve’s private team gets the glad go-ahead.
Brave Captain America, Bucky, and team attack the Skull’s depots and bases,
But when they catch one of the Skull’s science aces,
Arnim Zola, poor Bucky falls with no traces.
Then Cap’s purposeful to take down the Red Skull
And rid the world of his most dreadful of faces.
Assaulting his headquarters, Cap follows closely aboard an explosive-filled plane.
The Skull is dissolved by the Tesseract’s strain,
But Cap sees his efforts to land are in vain.
Despite the steep price, Rogers crashes in ice…
And wakes up years later where S.H.I.E.L.D. must explain.

Yes, I consider Captain America: The First Avenger the best pre-Avengers Marvel film, as does my dad. Director Joe Johnston had already attempted a retro superhero flick in 1991’s The Rocketeer, and his treatment of Cap’s origins feels both familiar and fresh. The cinematography and the recreation of 1940s New York have the faded nostalgia of an old photograph, and the spectacular explosions and stunts set against this background (plus an Alan Menken musical number) make it uniquely entertaining.

Plus, the film boasts the unexpected star power of Chris Evans, whose gung-ho patriotism and intrinsic goodness are surprisingly convincing following his bad-boy impudence as the Human Torch in the lackluster Fantastic Four films. His goody two-shoes persona could easily have been boring, yet another hero we ought to cheer for just because, but the ways in which his character displays his selflessness gain the audience’s sympathy even before the famed experiment that transforms him into a beefcake. The effects used to diminish Evans’s physique are impressively seamless. Supporting players are alternately amusing and poignant, including Stanley Tucci as the Yinsen-esque motivator Dr. Erskine, Tommy Lee Jones as swift-tongued Colonel Phillips, Hayley Atwell as love interest Peggy Carter (who will soon have her own mini-series appropriately titled Agent Carter), Dominic Cooper as Iron Man’s father Howard Stark, Toby Jones as HYDRA scientist Dr. Zola, and Sebastian Stan as fallen friend Bucky Barnes. As far as comic book villains go, Hugo Weaving excels as the Red Skull, whose makeup could easily have become absurdly cartoonish but succeeds as an outward manifestation of his sanguinary intentions. The Matrix proved Weaving’s talent for villainy, but here his German accent and Nazi origins enhance his malevolence. The film also features an assassin played by Richard Armitage, who would go on to play Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy.

In addition to Barnes’s sorrowful fall from the train, the thrilling climax aboard the Red Skull’s plane is deftly imagined. The villain’s “death” from the Tesseract is sufficiently ambiguous to make one wonder if he was really killed or perhaps transported elsewhere (you never know), and the film ends with one of the most credible instances of the he’s-dead-no-wait-never-mind cliché. I’ve mentioned this cliché before: used in countless films, many animated, it milks often contrived pathos from a character’s apparent death before resurrecting him, sometimes right away for a cheer, sometimes near the end as a deus ex machina. This doesn’t necessarily hurt a film overall; it just hampers its originality. The reason Captain America’s version of it works so heartbreakingly well is that, from the perspective of everyone he knew, Cap really did die, just as most of them had died by the time he was awoken. The final scene brings him up to speed with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the contemporary Avengers, but his sense of loss provides a somber conclusion to an otherwise rousing adventure. As the last film in Phase One of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, Captain America: The First Avenger completed the cast for the subsequent Avengers team-up (even though Cap was not a founding member in the comics; just sayin’).

Best line: (Colonel Phillips, after Cap kisses Agent Carter and glances at him) “I’m not kissin’ ya!”

Artistry: 8
Characters/Actors: 8
Entertainment: 9
Visual Effects: 10
Originality: 7
Watchability: 9
TOTAL: 51 out of 60

Next: #106 – Air Force One

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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