Captain America: The First Avenger

What it's about:

Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans) is a brave but physically weak and frail young man, and is deemed unfit for military service during World War 2. His determination to fight for his country at the height of the USA's involvement in the war leads to his volunteering for a top secret government programme that will turn him into Captain America, a super-soldier and the living and breathing embodiment of American idealism.

What we thought:

It's not for nothing that Captain America comes with the subtitle "The First Avenger". Unlike the Marvel superheroes that we have so far seen our screens, Captain America was created a couple of years after Superman, rather than a few decades. Unlike Spider-Man, the X-Men, Thor or Iron Man, Captain America was not created by Stan Lee (not that that stops Stan The Man from having a typically fun cameo in the film) but by Joe Simon and Lee's frequent collaborator, Jack Kirby.

I bring this up not just as a history lesson but because it sets Captain America apart from Marvel's later heroes. His early adventures made ample use of the Second World War as a setting but, more importantly, because Steve Rogers is a character that's far closer to the Superman model of the great, square-jawed "Ubermensch" fighting for "truth, justice and the American way" than to the troubled, every-man heroes that Stan Lee excelled in creating later on.

By far the best thing about Captain America: The First Avenger is that - through its star and its director - it plays up both of these aspects that are so unique to the character and his place in the Marvel Universe. The decision to hire Joe Johnston to direct the film may have at first seemed like a dubious choice (his last three films - The Wolfman, Jurassic Park III and Hidalgo - have been almost universally panned) but going back to the beginning of his rather small filmography, it quickly becomes clear just why he is the perfect choice to bring Captain America's origins to life.

In the early 90s, Johnston directed The Rocketeer, a rather underrated film that is a mix of straight-up superhero action with a pulpy 1930s period setting. Captain America may be set a few crucial years later than The Rocketeer but it evokes its setting with all the colourful vividness and attention to detail that made Johnston's earlier film such a delight. The two films share a very similar heady concoction of adventure, superhero action, comedy and romance – not to mention the scenery-chewing bad guys who knock the high-camp levels through the roof. And, of course, they both feature old fashioned superheroes whose sole motivation is simply their need to do the right thing.

That, inevitably, brings us to Chris Evans. Here we have a film that is stuffed to the gills with great actors - Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones and newcomer Hayley Atwell whose mixture of sultry, Old-Hollywood beauty and post-feminist-post-Buffy badassey makes her the perfect romantic foil for the good Captain – but it is Evans who carries the film. His performance may not grab you as strongly or as quickly as Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr did in their respective roles as Thor and Iron Man, but his relatively unflashy turn allows the quiet charm and moral fortitude of Captain America to shine through.

Whether its the impressively scrawny, CGI-enhanced Steve Rogers of the early parts of the film or the superhumanly buff super soldier that he becomes later on, Evans never puts a foot wrong. And, lets not kid, the dude clearly has range: this is the fifth comic-book adaptation that he has starred in and his Steve Rogers is absolutely nothing like The Fantastic Four's cocky Johnny Storm or Scott Pilgrim vs the World's ego-inflated douchebag, Lucas Lee.

The film is not entirely without flaws, though. More so than Thor, Captain America does feel like two hours of set up for The Avengers – good, engaging set up but set up nonetheless – than a complete story in its own right. It's also true that the less you know about Captain America's story the better. Not only was I unsurprised by most of the film's plot turns but I was actually anticipating them as I understood precisely where this film needed to go in order to allow Joss Whedon to hit the ground running with The Avengers.

For comics fans, prepare to have your breath stolen and your mind blown by the post-credits sneak-peek at The Avengers, which will see Downey Jr (Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Samuel L Jackson (Nick Fury) and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) reprise their roles opposite newcomers Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) and Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner) in a supersized superhero movie.

The wait for that May 2012 release is going to be agonising.


We have 5 fantastic Captain America hampers to give away, which include a super-cool retro radio with iPod dock, branded frisbee and keychain.

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