They had to get around to it eventually. They had to make a movie adaptation of the superhero who has the distinction of possibly being simultaneously the most important and least interesting Avenger. Of course, the hero in question is featured in ‘Captain America: The First Avenger.’
The year is 1942. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a sickly young man who dreams of being in the Army. His physical state prevents him from being accepted, though he has the necessary courage and heart. He captures the attention of Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a scientist on the cusp of being able to create a super soldier. Rogers agrees to take part in the experiment and is indeed transformed into something special. The device needed to make more soldiers is destroyed (along with Dr. Erskine) by a Nazi spy, so Rogers is the only result of the undertaking. Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) doesn’t know what to do with a one man army, so Rogers is paraded around to inspire people to buy war bonds. British agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) has her eye on the young test subject and feels that he has the potential to do more.
It’s a good thing, because Nazi officer Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) has just found an artifact that will power the creations of his scientist Dr. Zola (Toby Jones). Schmidt, who underwent a procedure similar to Rogers, has ambitions far beyond those of the Fuhrer’s and if left to his own devices (pun!) he just might blow up half of the world.
Will this villain who we all eventually come to know as the Red Skull succeed? Well, we’re all alive, aren’t we? So that answers that, but watch anyway!
As has been said before, Captain America isn’t especially interesting to most of us in the modern age. He may have been meant to be an updated nationalist figure and he certainly has more going for him than Uncle Sam, but he seems tame compared to the other Avengers. He’s a bit stronger, faster and can heal better than a normal human. He also has an indestructible shield that sometimes acts as a boomerang. Nothing too out there. He lacks the firepower of Iron Man, the mythological angle of Thor and the transformative power of the Hulk. He’s just a bland, square-jawed do-gooder.
Since that’s what the role requires, Evans is perfect in the part. He is as dull as an old spoon. Early scenes in the film feature his head superimposed on a scrawny chap’s body. In some scenes it looks alright, but in others it’s sort of bad. Really, Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, and Tucci are the only actors who bring any life to their characters.
There are some silly parts. Rogers sneaks into Hydra’s headquarters alone while brandishing a huge stars and stripes shield? Way to be subtle. Wounded soldiers march well over 30 miles (maybe 40 or even 50 miles) back to camp in only a few hours (maybe less)? Hitler didn’t know Schmidt was doing all of this right under his nose?
Also problematic is that while the first half is very generous with Rogers’ back story (it’s more interesting than many other heroes’) the middle portion of the film is too rushed and uses montages of the Captain beating up baddies instead of setting up any sustained conflicts. The end rights the ship and delivers on most of what you would expect.
What the plot lacks in excitement and surprises it almost makes up for in human interest points. The friendship of Rogers and his old Brooklyn pal Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is a recurring theme and the closeness of Rogers and agent Carter eventually pans out. By the very end, the circumstances our hero finds himself in opens the door for his future, but at a very great cost. Steve Rogers is a more intriguing normal person than he is as a fighting machine.
It is nice to see the film make fun of some elements of the comics’ past, namely, the outfit. His classic look is used in silly shows for potential investors, but it is often the subject of ridicule. The final product is updated for today’s audiences in a way that is much more practical, but lacking a certain something. Maybe it will evolve further still in ‘The Avengers’ because this is an origins story. As only a casual comic book fan, there is something strange about seeing Captain America running around shooting people like a common soldier. It’s much different than the glimpses we usually get of the character.
Special features include: commentary, a look at the costume design, a peek at ‘The Avengers,’ a trailer for the ‘Captain America’ video game, a trailer for the animated ‘Avengers’ series and some previews.
The worst thing you can say about ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is that it is sort of a superhero paint-by-numbers. There are very few missteps, but also few truly memorable moments. The truth of the matter could be that the hero just doesn’t translate especially well to film. After all, in 70 years, this is the first watchable cinematic incarnation of him. It may be a matter of personal taste but blandness aside, this wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. This was a story that needed to be told so we could progress to something greater.
As always, wait for stuff after the credits. There is an inconsequential exchange between Captain America and Nick Fury, but more importantly, there is a glimpse at ‘The Avengers’ in the form of a trailer.
Rated PG-13 123 minutes 2011
This post was written by:
J.J. Ellis – When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!