Movie Review Monday - Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger is a pretty solid comic book adaptation. However, following on already this year from superhero films Thor, X-Men: First Class and Green Lantern, Captain America is deprived of a sense of freshness. Feeling vanilla for the most part, the film doesn’t do quite enough to distinguish itself from its 2011 genre predecessors, and in terms of comparison to this year’s other big Marvel Comics adaptation – before all heroes ensemble in The Avengers next year – Thor is more entertaining, and offers more onscreen fun.

Coming across as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade meets GI Joe by way of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Captain America is the most comic book-feeling and looking of the pre-Avengers films. It’s also a mixed bag of positives and negatives.

Plot-wise, Captain America provides what you’d expect of a film based on the comic, and more specifically the character’s WWII origin tale. Frail and sickly Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is Determined – with the capital “D” – to defend his country. Especially since his dashing best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is heading off to Europe, leaving Steve behind. Fortunately Steve’s courage, innate goodness and hatred of bullies is recognised by scientist Stanley Tucci, who chooses the young man for a Super Soldier experiment designed to steer the war in the Allies’ favour. Meanwhile, over in Europe, Johann Schmidt (AKA Red Skull) – played by Hugo Weaving – is the head of Hydra, the Nazi’s “deep science” division. Disdainful of human weakness after his own brush with the Super Soldier serum, Schmidt casts aside his loyalties to Hitler in pursuit of a mythological artefact that will grant him unlimited power.

In terms of Captain America’s positives, there’s plenty enjoyable about the movie. Chief of these pleasures are the refreshingly unlaboured references to the Marvel cinematic universe (in preparation for The Avengers film), ranging from the technological importance of Tony “Iron Man” Stark’s inventor father to the re-emergence of the magic-science debate so important in Thor.

Apart from a couple of very entertaining surges of action – including a saboteur chase and a motorcycle pursuit – it’s the little things that please most. At one point Captain America is forced to become a political and propaganda tool, and there’s a fun little montage that doubles as a nod to the comic character as he was originally used in our reality. It's also fun to see that while Rogers may now be an example of human physical perfection, he’s still a completely incompetent dork around women.

It’s worth noting at this point that in The First Avenger, Evans is likeable as always, but here he’s not Fantastic Four’s Johnny Storm, goofing around for laughs, or flaunting his abilities to pull women. Steve Rogers is a very serious-minded, driven character... although importantly not a stickler for the rules.

In terms of performances overall, everyone is competent although the obvious standouts are Weaving as German-accented Red Skull, Tucci’s warm-hearted scientist and Tommy Lee Jones’s scene-stealing colonel – a gruff, cynical soldier in no mood for babysitting Rogers.

On the negative side, The First Avenger’s plot is a bit heavy on coincidence, Cap’s squad of commandos is never properly introduced or developed, and the audience receives the impression that so much energy was spent on “wimp-ifying” Steve Rogers physically that the special effects in the rest of the film have been neglected. The CGI in Captain America is surprisingly quite poor for the most part.

Of course Captain America: The First Avenger’s biggest weakness is its apparent insistence that it remain “emotionally mild” at all times. Granted Marvel films have always been more about having fun than probing deep psychological and social issues, but this film requires, and deserves, more emotional weight.

Thor happily expressed his rage, despair and arrogance. Here, Steve Rogers is permanently subdued. He never seems to react – either to his life-changing new abilities or the consequences they have for his loved ones. Frankly Rogers needs more of a response. Those familiar with the comic character know that of the Marvel heroes, Rogers has one of the most tragic tales because he can’t get his life, and world, back. As it is in the film, even Rogers’ final line is flat, despite it being a powerful moment of self-realisation about his loss.

If you’re in the mood for a fun night out I can happily recommend Captain America: The First Avenger as colourful and undemanding entertainment. It’s not much more though, and you certainly won’t be pondering it days later seeing as it’s rather short on memorable, wonder-filled scenes or ultra-cool moments.

As a final note, when watching the film don’t forget to stay in your seats for the post-credits sequence that, in this case, is a tight little teaser for next year’s all-star, all-superhero The Avengers adaptation.


Cleric said…
Good to hear it's worth watching, but sad to hear it's not all that awesome as we've hoped. I think I'll still want to go check it anyway :)
Ramon Thomas said…
I used to read the comic version... i am glad that there is a movie now on one of my favorite character.
Dan O. said…
In the era of the tortured superhero in movies, it's refreshing to come across one with enthusiasm and a pure spirit. Good Review!

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