Jeromy's Movie Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
Published: July 20, 2011 - 2:02pm
Pat yourself on the back. You’ve done it! You survived this summer’s onslaught of comic book movies. Sure, we’ve got Cowboys & Aliens coming at us next week but as far as mainstream superhero fare is concerned, Captain America: The First Avenger wraps it up. I wish I could say that it ends the CBM run with an exclamation point, but unfortunately it's more of an ellipsis…
Studios should be getting better at making comic book movies but as this summer has blatently demonstrated, they seem to be just be getting lazier. Case in point, Captain America: The First Avenger may be the most phoned-in production to date in Marvel’s library of Avenger tie-in movies. Since the original Iron Man, subsequent films have been on a gradual decline in quality. Captain America offers nothing but more of the same but like all Marvel films it pays just enough action, laughs and fan service to keep those who want to like the movie from being dissuaded. Most won’t hate this movie or even dislike it because, like Thor before it, it never gives you a solid reason to. A little objectivity however and its faults become more apparent.
This movie feels like a live-action version of Saturday morning cartoons. The dialog is incredibly weak, falling into cliché after cliché. The jokes are funny but mainly because they’re mostly delivered by Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci. The set pieces look cheap, with one scene at Hydra’s mountain resort particularly bad, during which the destruction going on in the background almost looks like it’s projected on a wall.
The good news is that Marvel has safely secured their Steve Rogers. Chris Evans does an excellent job of filling the suit and throwing the shield. He plays the dutiful, eager, and courageous soldier exceptionally well but he doesn’t really have a chance to explore any of the character beyond that. True, those inner conflicts mostly come into play once he’s thawed out in modern day but the writers have given no dimension to his WWII version. He’s a 90 pound weakling who wants to fight, then he’s a super soldier who gets to fight and that’s really all there is to him. To stress again, none of this was due to Evans' performance and is solely a critique on the writing.
The rest of the cast is essentially playing to their strengths and do so as well as they were expected to, with Dominic Cooper (Devil's Double) as Howard Stark and his reunited The Duchess co-star Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter being the two real standouts.
That brings it down to the most egregious offense. Those of you hoping that Hugo Weaving portraying Red Skull would be a performance ranking up there with the best in the genre may be in for quite a disappointment. First of all, after seeing Red Skull briefly in trailers and photos, I was in the camp who thought the makeup job looked incredibly well done. After watching it on screen for an hour and a half, I have to say it does not hold up to scrutiny. The way light often reflects off of it makes it look entirely synthetic and as a prosthetic application, aside from the nose, a $50 trip to a makeup supply store and an air brush could provide the same application.
As far as character goes, Red Skull doesn’t do anything. Yes, he’s evil. We know this because he and everyone else tells us so repeatedly and… he has plan. A villainous, villainous plan. We know he must be stopped, but he never does anything that allows us to feel any real stakes. We’re told but never shown what he’s capable of so the threat he poses never seems palpable. He’s got the Tessaract (Cosmic Cube), which he uses to create weaponry, but that’s about it. What he does have is a plane with bombs on which he (or an evil minion) has conveniently hand painted their respective target cities. Weaving could do this role in his sleep and with the dialogue he was forced to deliver, very well may have. It really crosses into the realm of hokey. The writers seem to hope that if he talks evil enough (cast fan favorite Hugo Weaving) and looks evil enough (come one, he’s got a red skull) that we’ll buy that he’s evil. Instead, all we’re given is a one-dimensional caricature of a comic book villain.
The action in the film is adequate if not unimaginative. Running, jumping through fire balls and a few shield smashes to Hydra faces and you can easily forget the film's faults. If you accept the fact that along with the Super Soldier transformation came an inherent knowledge of hand-to-hand combat and other fighting skills, it’s good fun watching Cap take out Hydra soldiers one by one (or two by two). Also, one has to admit that it’s difficult not to get excited when Cap throws the shield for the first time, but after the first few tosses it would have been nice to see more creativity with the choreography. If all you want to see in this movie is Captain America fighting, even if you have to wait a while in between those scenes, you’ll be satisfied.
Overall, Captain America: The First Avenger was a disappointment. X-Men: First Class was a nice touch of class but with my brain still utterly conflicted about Thor and my mouth forever unclean with the taste of Green Lantern, I really wanted Cap to compensate for their shortcomings. There's not enough to hate it but not nearly enough to like it. Serving more as an origin story for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it feels like Marvel just wanted to get this out of the way so they could get to the good stuff. As per usual, they didn’t screw anything up that would jeopardize Avengers which is, after all, their number one concern. They simply short changed another flagship character’s first major cinematic debut by playing it safe in order to achieve that goal. The payoff better be worth it because, for me at least, they've run out of good will.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, Captain America: The First Avenger stars Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Haley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones and Neal McDonough. The film is directed by Joe Johnston and is scheduled for 2D and 3D theatrical release on July 22nd, 2011.