I didn’t have high expectations for this movie, I have to confess. The marketing campaign seemed completely focused on the Steve Rogers / Captain America origin story. How many times did I have to see that weird, CGI skinny Chris Evans getting beat up in an alley before I began to wonder what they were hiding from the rest of the movie? I truly began to suspect there was something wrong with the post-Captain America-transformation part of the film.
Nah. Nope. Not really.
“Captain America: The First Avenger” is a really solid, fun Superhero movie. It won’t crack my top ten in the genre, but there’s nothing for Marvel/Disney to be ashamed of here. It’s a fun summer movie, does justice by the comic book character, and serves to further set up the upcoming “Avengers” movie (as if it needed it.)
The reason the marketing spent so much time on the Skinny Steve Rogers is that that’s actually a substantial portion of the film. I guess I had thought that they’d want to get the obvious photo manipulation stuff over and done with as quickly as they could and thus the origin would just be wham, bam, thanks Uncle Sam. But no. The origin is actually quite a section of the film’s runtime. Which is good, actually, because it’s also where the majority of the character development takes place. Once the fighting starts, there’s very brief respites from it from scene to scene.
As you can see in the commercials, Steve Rogers is a skinny, but brave young man who wants to serve his country during WWII. Do to his physical condition, he is rejected by the enlistment board on multiple occasions. He never gives up though. Eventually, he is selected for a top-secret military project where he will be injected with “Super Syrum” in order to make him a more advanced physical specimen, and thus a better soldier. The experiment is a success, and Captain America is born.
None too soon, either. Across the sea in Germany, the Nazi’s secret science division, Hydra, has discovered a mystical artifact (The “Cosmic Cube”, although it’s never referred to as such) and has tapped its power to build extraordinarily powerful weapons. Headed by the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), Hydra has “defected” from Nazi Germany, if you will, and now has plans of their own for world domination. As such, they become the villains which Captain America faces, and not the Nazis.
Once the action gets going, it’s good, but not great. It’s not the fault of the production values (like “Thor”, which was so scaled down it was almost a stage play), it’s just that Captain America’s powers are best suited for hand to hand combat situations. As such, to me, there were times when it felt small. Cool, but small. It’s not that I didn’t like it, but there was nothing phenomenal about it, like seeing Spider-Man and Doc Ock slugging it out on the side of a bank, or watching Magneto flip a truck, or hell Batman flipping a truck. LOL.
The romance they work in is actually pretty decent. They keep it contributory, but unobtrusive. I still look forward to the day when a movie studio will make a Superhero movie without a romantic angle, but this wasn’t it. There’s some light comedy sprinkled throughout, including a sequence where Captain America does propaganda work selling war bonds and doing USO shows instead of fighting, but over all the film is pretty serious. This isn’t “Iron Man”, which benefits from Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark cracking wise.
And I think that that’s my main problem with the movie. I just didn’t get any spark off of Chris Evans as Cap. I know he can do it – I loved him as Johnny Storm in the first “Fantastic Four” movie (I had an expensive “Total Recall”-esque procedure to have “The Rise of the Silver Surfer” wiped from my memory). But I’m just not feeling it here. In the first half of the movie I just kept waiting for them to quit messing with his appearance, and in the second part, I think I wanted him to be… inspiring? Charismatic? Something was missing for me, I don’t know.
Finally, this paragraph is more of a bemused note, and not a complaint. I was really surprised over the degree to which they took “America” out of the movie. If it wasn’t for the fact that it’s the heroes surname, you might have trouble figuring out exactly what country it is he fights for. He doesn’t seem overly nationalistic or patriotic. Instead of the traditional values you’d expect Captain America to fight for, like Democracy, Freedom, Liberty, Justice – things we use as catchphrases – now Captain America fights “Bullies”. He’s big on sacrifice. I hope they stick to those guns when he wakes up in the 21st century, cause, LOL, he’s got some reconciling to do.
Ah well, that’s always a problem with Cap.
Aside from some minor beefs, I liked this film quite a bit more than I expected to. It lays out the story of a really brave runt who just wants to be given the chance to make the same sacrifices that everyone else is. It’s got a decent side romance, a couple of fun supporting performances from Tommy Lee Jones and Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark). The action is pretty cool, and the Red Skull is serviceable, albeit forgettable (in my book). It’s a good time at the movies, just don’t expect to leave having to re-rank your favorite Superhero flicks.