Film Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger ticks all the boxes as far as comic book movies go. Whilst the film does not elevate itself above other good movies in the genre, it is at least distinguishable for its setting.

Despite his slight frame, plucky Steve Rogers is determined to enlist in the US army to fight the Nazis in Europe. Rogers is turned down four times, but still has his heart set on serving his country. At his fifth attempt, an army doctor sees the potential in Rogers and invites him to take part in an experiment to make him a super soldier…

Captain America: The First Avenger follows a fairly standard formula, in terms of Marvel origin stories. Sufficient time is allowed for the protagonist to develop before any super powers are introduced. A familiar narrative then follows, as the hero fights to save the day. The emphasis lies firmly on Rogers, his antagonist and other characters are undoubtedly secondary to his story. Unlike many other superhero films, little time is spent cultivating an origin story for the villain. Instead, Johann Schmidt’s story is told by brief flashbacks and expository dialogue.

Setting the film during World War II works exceptionally well. The patriotism angle is very effective, in a way which would not have been in a contemporary-set film. Captain America is after all the quintessentially American superhero, so it makes sense for him to appear at the most patriotic of periods. This is captured well by the wartime posters and stage shows, as well as his appearance in comic books, which is self-reflexive to say the least.

Joe Johnston directs Captain America with the fluidity it needs. Action sequences are bold and a lot of fun. The more serious or emotional moments are handled with care, but thankfully these are never dwelled upon too much. The film posits a very straightforward battle between good and evil at the centre, which is what this hero is all about.

Special effects in the movie work well, as does the sound. The soundtrack is also very in keeping with the 1940s setting. The use of 3D in the film is appropriate. It serves a purpose, balancing between overly gimmicky and hardly noticeable.

Chris Evans makes a great Captain America, fitting the bill of how this superhero should appear. Hugo Weaving is uncompromisingly bad as Schmidt, while Toby Jones is great as assistant Dr Zola. Tommy Lee Jones makes a convincing colonel, and Hayley Atwell looks perfectly of the period. Sebastian Stan is a welcome addition as Bucky.

It will be interesting to see how the character functions in The Avengers movie, but Captain America: The First Avenger is very entertaining as a stand alone film.

Film Review: The Wolfman

“Even a man who is pure in heart”, the remake begins, instantly impressing the weight of the original on this new version of the lycanthropic tale. In the current climate of the modern gothic in films such as Twilight and television series’ like True Blood, it is refreshing to see a Victorian-set gothic horror. Comparisons will be made to the recent Sherlock Holmes, of course, although The Wolfman feels distinctly unmodern.

Johnston’s film presents a highly stylised vision of late nineteenth-century Britain; all brooding mansions and London fogs. Much of the exterior London footage in CGI, however this does not detract from the fantastic realm that the audience is plunged into. The effect is heightened by the carefully controlled palette, contrasting the monochrome of the Talbot residence with the colour of the gypsies.

The story is inevitably predictable. There are no clever twists or shocks to surprise viewers. The film, however, does function as a gothic horror (as opposed to just gothic a la Bram Stoker’s Dracula), providing a handful of cheap frights that will easily unnerve jittery audience members. The transformation sequences fall on the side of grotesque rather than chilling, paying debt to the 1941 original.

Although the dialogue is at times grating in its attempt at the grandiose, Del Toro’s portrayal of Talbot is successful insomuch as it provokes sympathy. As the tragic gothic protagonist, Talbot struggles with the most seminal of the genre’s preoccupations: duality. The Wolfman invokes that traditional Victorian depiction of reservedness, which is most prevalent through the relationship between Talbot and Gwen. Despite their obvious love and affection for one another, the pair share a single kiss in the film; Talbot stares longingly at Gwen’s neckline rather than any further south.

The Wolfman is perfect as a slice of Victorian gothic escapism. But those searching for an intricate plot or a vein of originality are better off looking elsewhere.