Captain America: The First Avenger
Action, SciFi-Fantasy; U.S.; 2011; 121 minutes; directed by Joe Johnston
Medium: Netflix Blu-Ray (Available on DVD)
Rating: 3.5 (5-point system)
I thought perhaps that maybe, just maybe, Marvel Studios had finally hit their stride when they came out with the exceptional Iron Man and followed that up with The Incredible Hulk all in the same wonderful year—2008. I mean, after all, what’s to argue with Robert Downey, Jr’s, exquisitely narcissistic Tony Stark or Edward Norton’s brooding portrayal of Bruce Banner? And real scripts with actual character develpment? Had Marvel finally rediscovered what Warner Bros./DC Comics had unearthed before with Batman Begins (2005), and then followed up with the superlative The Dark Knight (2008)—that real characters with real emotions and real problems will sell real movie tickets and real popcorn with fake butter, even when the subject is a comic book hero?
Alas, if 2011 is any indication, then no. The lessons we all hoped Marvel had learned just three short years ago were apparently soon lost. First we had the passable but effects-overburdened X-Men: First Class. Next up was the tepid and overbearing Thor. And finally this year we got the best of the bunch which, unfortunately, isn’t saying a whole lot.
It’s not that Captain America wasn’t entertaining. It was, in a silly, retro sort of way reminiscent of the movie serials of the 1940s. It’s just that I was expecting so much more, especially considering the favorable reviews this movie garnered. Unfortunately, it appears that this film only looked good in comparison with this year’s previous two Marvel offerings.
The back story was actually pretty good. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) wants to enlist in the darkest days of World War II, but the asthmatic weakling with the irregular heartbeat who gets pummeled by assorted bullies with distressing regularity keeps getting rejected for service (hey, Stevie boy, don’t mouth off to someone twice your size, telling them to shut up in the movie theater; it’s bad for your health, dude). But European refugee scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) sees in Rogers an internal fortitude that others lack, and thus chooses the scrawny kid from Brooklyn to partake in a research program to develop the ultimate super soldier.
Obviously the procedure worked, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
From this point on, things start out a bit slow. Not necessarily a bad thing if the slow points are used to advance some cinematic objective such as, say, plot or character development. Alas, they do not. When the film finally reengages the viewer, the momentum is lost and the subsequent action seems out of context with the rest of the movie. Further hampering the film are the silly high-tech weaponry and delivery systems that are far too advanced for the era in which the movie is set.
There are things to like about this film, however, such as the acting. Chris Evans does an adequate job, but he pales in comparison to such heavyweights as Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci, perhaps the most underrated character actor of this generation. Even Hugo Weaving manages to outshine our intrepid hero as the film’s properly menacing villain Johann Schmidt, aka, The Red Skull. In comparison, all I can say is that Chris Evans is all dressed up with no place to glow.
As with the past Iron Man films, the last Hulk movie, and this year’s Thor, Captain America is merely a buildup to the main event—next year’s The Avengers, which ties together all these Marvel heroes into one ensemble blockbuster.
But a word of warning to Marvel: Don’t forsake what made the first Iron Man and the last Hulk so entertaining. Try to throw in some actual plot and character development this time. Yes, Captain America was better than X-Men: First Class, but just barely. Indeed, I gave both a 3.5, but that’s only because I don’t give 3.75s and the Captain just wasn’t worthy of a 4.0.
He never should have been promoted from private.