Some directors have been in the game long enough that eventually they’ll stop pulling punches and wind up delivering their masterstroke. While there are also other kinds of directors who continually dish out one level of dreck after the next (Uwe Boll), thankfully, Joe Johnston has finally come into his own. While it may all be part of Marvel Studios’ master plan of tying a string of films together into one cohesive story, Captain America: The First Avenger, is a truly welcome addition as we wait out for May 4, 2012, when Joss Whedon finally unleashes The Avengers upon us.
There’s always been a sense of fun first when it comes to Joe Johnston’s resume. Just look at it – Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer, Jumanji, even Jurassic Park III and The Wolfman were still pretty solid guilty pleasures. It’s a good thing his screenwriters (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) finally pulled their heads out of their asses with Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s creation. When you’re main credits are all three of the dreadfully boring Chronicles of Narnia flicks I wasn’t holding my breath. But with assured direction and a studio that cares about their own universe standing behind him, there’s no doubt that Captain America will proceed with great box office returns.
With a modern day prologue set somewhere in a random snowscape, an obvious Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) has been lead to an icy tundra where some kind of ship or plane has been discovered. Within he finds a frozen over shield before we’re whisked away to 1942 Germany. Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) is hunting down the almighty Cosmic Cube. Meanwhile, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has just been rejected from signing up for the Army for the fifth time. All he wants to do is fight for the little guy, something he knows all too well as he weighs about 90 pounds and fights one kind of chronic illness daily including asthma. Rogers’ best friend “Bucky” (Sebastian Stan) has just been sent out to fight and when Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) overhears them talking about Rogers will to fight for his country he enlists him as part of a special project.
It’s off to boot camp where Rogers meets the love of his life in British Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and his biggest proponent Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). Or so we think, until Schmidt involves Dr. Arnim Zola in finding a way to harness the unlimited power of the Cosmic Cube to develop a new weapon to take over the world but not before Rogers has become a super soldier and now the two are each others arch nemesis and now Schmidt has become Red Skull, aka HYDRA’s very own version of Hitler. And Rogers is now officially “Captain America,” who’s rounded up his own band of brothers in Timothy ‘Dum Dum’ Dugan (Neal McDonough), Gabe Jones (Derek Luke), Jim Morita (Kenneth Choi), James Montgomery Falsworth (JJ Field), and Jacques Dernier (Bruno Ricci) to fight for what’s right and bring down the evil HYDRA.
While you could nit pick all the homages Johnston throws into his pot, I suppose it was his way of being able to put his own stamp on Captain America. Ranging from Hellboy to Raiders of the Lost Ark to Return of the Jedi, sometimes it’s nice to see a director wear his influences on his sleeve. It’s worked for Quentin Tarantino for 18 years so why can’t anyone else do it, right? Some of the film even plays out like a mash up of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and War of the Worlds. You’ll see what I mean.
However, the real glue to everything has to be given credit to Chris Evans. If you’re expecting him to approach Rogers with the machismo that oozed forth from his role in the criminally underseen Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, he’s definitely not aping his Lucas Lee persona here. And he’s particularly come a long way from his performance as Jake Wyler in Not Another Teen Movie. He infuses Rogers with a true goodwill and a lot of heart, because after all, that’s why Dr. Erskine handpicked him for the project to begin with.
But in the end, it’s Joe Johnston proving he’s more than just a “shooter” here. He’s become a true craftsman with Captain America. While the summer may have already given us one piece of the Avengers puzzle with Thor, now we get The First Avenger who’s far from a slouch. Worry all you want naysayers, Joe Johnston has knocked it out of the park with this one and even manages to give the PG-13 rating a real run for its money. Calling one scene “splattacular” is an understatement and I’m still amazed they pulled it off. It’s also of note that even while being converted to the 3-D format, it finally managed to make me actually dodge something that really looks like its about to come flying at your face. Bravo indeed.
Note: There is supposed to be a final “scene” after the credits but for some reason it was not attached to our screening. Hopefully it finds its way online this weekend. But for everyone else, I think I’ve given you enough reason to step up and buy your tickets for the best action film of the summer.
Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures