Entertainment Magazine

Review #2920: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Posted on the 25 July 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Henry T.

Screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Directed by Joe Johnston

WARNING: This review contains MAJOR SPOILERS!

I think it’s ironic that “Captain America” has the word “first” in its title. Technically, he is the last Avenger to be introduced before the what-is-sure-to-be-epic “Avengers” film next summer. Within its Marvel film universe, yes, Captain America is the first “Avenger” in Nick Fury’s “Avenger Initiative” that was introduced in the first “Iron Man” film. As such, the origin story of Steve Rogers and Captain America is more complete than many that have come before it. Since the film spends most of its running time firmly embedded in the past — World War II Europe, to be exact — it isn’t beholden to setting up the coming “Avengers” film as both “Thor” and “Iron Man 2″. It is, however, far from a perfect film, one that can’t seem to overcome its predictable plot, hamstrung by its origin story status, and has a sort of video game mentality that doesn’t raise the stakes one bit.

Review #2920: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

For those unfamiliar to the story of Captain America, the film lays it out pretty simply. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) starts out as a 90-lb. weakling of a boy who desperately wants to join the fight against the Nazis in Europe during World War II. He is chosen to participate in an experimental Army super soldier program, of which uses a serum that makes him stronger, faster, and basically invulnerable. In time, he becomes Captain America and his sole task is to take on Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and HYDRA, a secret Nazi science and military division. Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) are on Captain America’s side in this fight against the growing forces of evil threatening to take over the world.

This should sound all too familiar to those fans out there who have seen many of these stories before. The good and interesting ones at least try to make the origin a little more interesting. Here, much of it feels so rote. Rogers is your bland All-American hero with humble beginnings. There isn’t much personality there (and I don’t think the writers, director, or vanilla overly handsome actor Chris Evans even tries to give him one) and that kind of carries over to the other characters in the film. Evans’ face seems painted onto the body of a weakling, which was my impression from watching the trailer and the complete film did little to change that thought. It isn’t until Rogers gets the serum that he gets his full physique and Evans looks anywhere near “normal.”

Also, I found it odd that his “powers” aren’t so easily defined. He’s stronger, faster, and can apparently leap great distances. His invulnerability is enhanced by his iconic shield, which is made of vibranium, a near-indestrutible metal used by billionaire inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper). I guess it just isn’t easy to show what physically happens to Rogers once the serum is in his body. People spend much of the film noting how much Rogers has changed physically, beating what could have been a funny character trait into the ground. He doesn’t have much else you could note otherwise, simply because he isn’t an inherently interesting character. It made the film harder to invest in because the title character is so colorless.

The characters around Captain America are hardly given as much depth as the title character. It is his show, though it wouldn’t be very interesting without your usual stock characters. Garden variety gorgeous newcomer Hayley Atwell tries to give some spunk to Agent Carter, but there isn’t much chemistry between her and Rogers. The ending is effective, though it somehow felt hollow and under-developed. Both are clearly attracted to each other, but rarely act on the impulse. Tommy Lee Jones actually played my favorite character in Colonel Phillips, the gruff Army Colonel Phillips who somehow has a great quip for nearly every situation. He seems to be the only person in the film who gets how ridiculous all of this is, and gamely embraces it. He doesn’t try to do too much with the character and there were times when it felt like he came from a different movie.

Red Skull is your usual character who screams evil from his introduction onwards. Weaving does what he can with it, scenery chewing with the best of them. His character uses an atrocious German accent (as does every German character in the film, oddly) throughout (though everyone in the film speaks English and the accent becomes less pronounced by the end) and he has his sights set upon going beyond the shadow of Hitler and taking over the world. Since, of course, we all know who won World War II, he isn’t successful. The thing that most bothered me about the Red Skull character was that the film doesn’t even give him the decency of a good death. He isn’t beaten by Captain America. He’s beaten when Captain America accidentally releases the Cosmic Cube and he disintegrates. I realized afterwards that the plot seemed like a re-dressed James Bond film.

The more interesting story is what happens at the end. The serum practically renders him ageless so Rogers ends up in the present day world, recruited by Nick Fury into S.H.I.E.L.D. I think it would’ve arguably been more intriguing to show what an anachronism Captain America is living in today’s world. There is so little of that presented here (no doubt to be touched upon somewhat in the coming “Avengers” film) however, and that’s a shame. The film drags, by and large, then lurches forth awkwardly into its conclusion. There is fat that could have been excised (I could’ve done without the sequence where Captain America shills for the USO, for instance), and some of what was there didn’t work. Captain America is in no danger of dying so there’s no suspense. The myriad of HYDRA soldiers are just speed bumps in the Captain’s way as he gets to fighting Red Skull. As an origin story, “Captain America: The First Avenger” does its job, no better, no worse. For a timeless hero like him, it just shouldn’t feel so ordinary.

Grade: 7/10

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