Plot: As World War 2 continues to unfold, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) wants nothing more than to join the ranks of the those on the battlefield, but he has been turned down countless times. He has the heart of a warrior, but his physical limitations are such that no one thinks he should be put on the front. But after yet another rejection, he is approached by Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) and told that while he can’t promise much, he will give Rogers a chance. Soon he is put through a rigorous training process, under the watchful eyes of Erskine and Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), who are looking for a special soldier for a one of a kind experiment. As it turns out, while he lacks the brawn, Rogers outshines his competition and is selected thanks to his immense heart. This leads to a grueling experimental process that is known as the “super soldier project,” designed to gift a soldier with massive physical prowess that would be impossible to attain under normal conditions. But even with his new physical gifts, will Rogers find himself making a difference or just part of the military’s circus?
Entertainment Value: A competent origin story and a solid superhero movie, The First Avenger is one of Marvel’s better pictures and avoids some of the usual issues that plague the series. The narrative here is drawn out and bloated at times, but delivers when it counts and despite the overly long duration, rarely feels dull, just padded out in some stretches. I appreciated that The First Avenger took time to develop Steve Rogers and the circumstances around both his transition to Captain America and his eventual return to the world decades later. This ensures that in later volumes, the focus can be on forward movement and given that Captain America is central to the MCU, the foundation laid here pays off down the road. I didn’t mind the lack of action in this one, given that the narrative elements were effective and mostly interesting to watch. This is a shift from most of Marvel’s movies, which prioritize wisecracks and dad jokes over any kind of development. I think this could have been streamlined into a more kinetic, but still flesh out movie, but in the roster of Marvel’s output, The First Avenger is one of the better installments.
I have to admit, while I dislike the choice of Chris Evans as Captain America, he is one of the better Marvel leads. I don’t really think he ever feels like Cap, but his wooden, Boy Scout performance seems to work well here. I know it might sound odd to praise a wooden effort, but Evans’ lack of range pays dividends in that regard, making Cap feel one dimensional. If Marvel had a more dynamic take on Captain America, I wouldn’t feel the same way about Evans, but since he is portrayed as more of a cardboard vision of a hero, his work is fine. While Evans is passable, Sebastian Stan turns in some terrific work here and steals a number of scenes. He outshines Evans thanks to his charisma, which makes sense, since Cap is shown as a rather dull, nondescript character in terms of personality. Tommy Lee Jones is solid in a limited role, while Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, and Domini Cooper also have good turns here. This isn’t the way I would like to see Captain America handled, but in the grand scheme of how Marvel has approached these iconic heroes, I think Cap got one of the better shakeouts. I still can’t praise it as much more than a solid superhero movie, but that is enough to push it in front of most of Marvel’s pictures.