Action-packed with a charming under-dog story, Captain America: The First Avenger does justice to its titular character’s long history. (7/10)
I’ve never actually been the biggest Captain America fan. Like Superman, I found him to be a little too vanilla if not outright boring. Both heroes have the whole ‘super boy scout’ image around them that I could never get myself too excited about. Based on this movie, I honestly don’t think I was all that wrong. Now, I’m not saying that The First Avenger is boring but it is hardly edgy. It is faithful, as far as I can tell to it’s comic book origins but given that the comic was itself written in a time of very conservative fiction, I guess there was little enough room to play with for director Johnston. One of the things that this movie in particular had to be careful with was the whole blatant, in-your-face patriotism and general pro-American feeling that came along with the comics. Now, I don’t have anything against America, but not being American prevents me from really supporting someone called Captain America (I’m not too sure what I would think about a Captain India. Probably not much). Captain America isn’t my super-hero the way he would be for a 5 year old kid growing up in Kansas (or wherever Americans grow their kids). I can’t cheer him on the same way I can’t cheer an (American) Independence Day parade (or fireworks/whatever). Johnston’s take on it was interesting in that regard because it was set in the past (WW2) and thus any overt patriotism felt much more natural to the plot. Given that the sequel takes place in the modern day, it will be interesting to see how they handle selling that kind of Pro-American sentiment to a global market.
The story is very much a standard super-hero plotline, but with the unusual addition of showing the audience the end beforehand. Even the script managed to toe the line between comedic self-parody and tense one-liners surprisingly well. I particularly liked Tucci’s performance as Erskine. His line of ‘You have procedure tomorrow; no fluids’ cracked me up when I heard it. I also really liked the ending scene, after Cap Am ‘died’. Not too long, (blissfully) un-angsty, no so-called-strong woman breaking down like a little girl (in fact, Atwell’s character may just be the only chick in a super-hero movie to not be hired for either making out with the hero or screaming for help. She’s like the anti-Lois Lane) and it even had Cap’s men pouring some out for their big homie. Best of all, Amanda Righetti. That’s how you end a movie. So having said all that, there were some big gaps that could have been filled much more satisfactorily. First of all, why didn’t Cap Am just turn the plane around? In the summary, I assumed that the bombs were timed to explode, but the truth is that there was nothing in the movie to suggest that (especially since the plane hadn’t blown up in the arctic even after crash landing). Even if the bombs were timed, if he just turned the plane around 180 degrees, the plane would have exploded in mid-air and he could have taken one of those mini-planes to safety or used a parachute or something. That whole part just seemed contrived to me and an altogether unsatisfactory resolution to the central conflict of the movie. Similarly, contrived were the deaths of Erskine and Bucky. In fact, after Erskine died, I was quite confident that the movie would suck; it didn’t suck but it wasn’t quite a fun after that either. Bucky’s ‘death’ (he’s definitely not dead. You know the comic book rule – no body means no murder/death) was totally lame; sure he could have died at any point but kicking him off a train seems odd and unnecessary. If Bucky is in fact, dead, then he should he gone out riddled with gunshot wounds with a wench in one arm and a bottle of whiskey in the other. Cos that’s how he rolled (I’m assuming all this. Quite why there would be either wench or whiskey in the middle of a high-pitched gun battle, I haven’t quite figured out). As far as I’m concerned though, these aren’t debilitating weaknesses, rather they are just small little details that nag you as you walk out of the movie theatre.
The acting was also generally on point, though I cringed when I saw Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull. Elrond Smith as a Nazi and all arguments are invalid apparently. Actually, my real first thought was “Why does Weaving keep doing this to himself?”. Weaving’s EVUL-ness was a little over the top for me, but I guess there’s no helping it in a super-hero movie (you’re not supposed to wonder who the bad guy is unless the hero is really fucking up bad). I found Chris Evans’ acting to be very hit-and-miss mainly because he seemed too plain to be Steve Rogers. He wasn’t what I’d call handsome nor did he come across as very interesting. To his credit, I think he delivered most of his lines pretty well, and I can’t hold his looks against him. Hayley Atwell’s acting was pretty good too, as I mentioned above. She came across as a genuinely strong woman, not one whose strength is an Informed Ability (TV Trope link. You have been warned). I have to say, Tucci’s acting was a lot of fun – he accent was off and so was his English (possibly on purpose) but his humour was pretty good. It’s a real shame his character was around for such a short time – I was convinced that the movie was over for all intents and purposes when his character got killed off. Luckily the rest of the cast managed to pick up the slack from there on. I wasn’t a big fan of Tommy Lee Jones’ acting, though. He tried to be funny and sometimes he was, but I felt that went against his role. He’s supposed to be the seasoned veteran, the gruff soldier, the unyielding wall. Any respect he dishes out must (by LAW) be grudging. To be sure, it was grudging here too, but the humour made him seem friendlier than I think his character was supposed to come across as. I also found there was a certain dissonance between the Howard Stark (Cooper) we see here and the one we see in the Iron Man series. I think some of that is because of the director – this movie was lighter and Cooper’s role here was to be the tech geek, which is almost always a comedic-ish role. His role in Iron Man was more serious so that’s what came through there. Or maybe Cap Am’s death sent Stark into a depression and he became mean and cranky for the rest of his life. I don’t know if they’ll even address it in the movies, but I hope they do. I don’t have a great deal to say about Bucky, mainly because he was on-screen for such a short-time. The only opinion that the audience can form about him is that he is good soldier, a loyal friend and pretty much an all-round nice guy. But that’s not enough to make the character memorable since much the same can be said about Dugan. Before I move, here’s some interesting trivia. At one point, Steve Rogers was making out with Margaery Tyrell (from the ‘A Game of Thrones’ series) and my inner nerd squealed.
I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of effort they took to re-create the New York of the early 1940s. The backdrop felt fresh even though it didn’t look all that different from the generic Atlantic City/New York/Manhattan cityscape of the 1940s that we expect to see in period pieces.The special effects behind the creation of Scrawny Steve were also pretty neat. Chris Evans is by no means a small man (at least not that small) so it must have taken some work to make him the smallest kid to ever emerge from Brooklyn unscathed. Apart from that, I liked the Red Skull’s humungous plane. Even there was nothing really special about it, it still looked pretty cool while still not looking too anachronistic. However, none of the action scenes were actually interesting/exciting, which is a shame because I expect they cost a bomb (heh) to make. The music didn’t sound too great to me either. I found the overly-American show-tune music to be more than a little annoying and over-the-top. Especially since that’s all they played throughout the credits scene. I almost didn’t stay for the end mostly because of that tune. And now I can’t get it out of my head.
All in all, Captain America: The First Avenger is solid movie and probably the best of the Avenger movies so far. It’s entertaining enough that you’re never bored and it has an attractive enough cast that you always have someone to look at, but just don’t think too hard about the hows and the whys and the what-ifs.
Chris Evans – Steve Rogers/Captain America
Tommy Lee Jones – Colonel Chester Phillips
Hugo Weaving – Johann Schmidt
Hayley Atwell – Peggy Carter
Sebastian Stan – James ‘Bucky’ Barnes
Dominic Cooper – Howard Stark
Neal McDonough – Timothy ‘Dum Dum’ Dugan
Derek Luke – Gabe Jones
Stanley Tucci – Abraham Erskine
Toby Jones – Arnim Zola
Metacritic – 66/100
Rotten Tomatoes – 77% Fresh