USA saves the world again

Film
CAPTAIN AMERICA – THE FIRST AVENGER
Cert: 12A

HAVING run through all the other superheroes, to the extent that obscure ones known only to hardcore comics buffs are being rolled out – is it really a surprise that the Green Lantern bombed? – Hollywood has finally addressed the trickiest of the lot. Captain Americ, that pop culture symbol of US swagger, shield-carrying crusader against foreign threats and irony-free beefcake in Stars-and-Stripes spandex, probably isn’t the easiest sell outside the States.

So it’s frankly a surprise just how watchable this film is, and – though this isn’t that much of an achievement – it’s a better superhero film than most. It’s an awful lot better than the Green Lantern, for starters.

The character was originally developed in 1941 as America joined World War II, and the filmmakers have smartly returned him to this era. It not only takes the political edge off, but gives things some rich period atmosphere.

Brawny B-lister Chris Evans stars as Steve Rogers, a short, skinny weakling (thanks to impressive CGI modelling) who’s too puny to be accepted into the army. He’s got the heart of a lion, though, and is picked to be the first person in a scientific experiment to create an indestructible super-soldier, being changed in an instant into a muscle-bound chunk of American whoop-ass. Time to find some Nazis to smash up, and luckily there’s a crazy Kraut general with a red face, called the Skull, developing some terrifying new weapons technology. Game on.

Tommy Lee Jones gives excellent value as the gruff general behind the project, and our own Hayley Atwell adds class and beauty as a sultry intelligence officer. The action sequences are good, there’s plenty of pace and you can almost forgive the daft coda which brings Captain America into modern times for a future link-up with other Avengers, Iron Man and Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson).
Timothy Barber

Theatre
JOURNEY’S END DUKE OF YORK’S THEATRE

I LAUGHED, I cried, and I left the theatre feeling moved, if emotionally drained.

And that’s exactly the kind of reaction that Journey’s End, RC Sherriff’s famous play about life in the World War I trenches, should elicit. This play isn’t spectacular. It won’t thrill you, and it certainly won’t surprise you. Journey’s End does what it says on the tin: it offers a realistic, heart-wrenching look at life on the front line. It is the dreadful inevitability behind what takes place that makes this play so great.

Written between the wars and set entirely in the officers’ dugout in an English trench, Journey’s End is centered around the character of Stanhope (James Norton), a much-respected captain reaching the end of his emotional tether. Into the dugout comes Raleigh, a lieutenant straight out of school, where Stanhope was once his senior and hero.

Director Dan Grindley’s production is subtle, nuanced, and almost distractingly understated. Dialogue, while pacey, isn’t hurried or thrown away. The chemistry between the actors is fascinating, and their comic timing excellent. All at once, the characters are scared, excited, and desperately sad – and always with an undercurrent of stoic British humour.

Norton conveys Stanhope’s inner turmoil and emotional exhaustion superbly. When Lieutenant Osborne (Dominic Mafham) tells Raleigh (Graham Butler) that he’s pleased they are going on a dangerous raid together, it is a hugely moving moment.

This is a superb production of a play that reaches beyond mere messages of army life to talk truthfully about human nature.
Tabatha Leggett