We’ve all been waiting for a Marvel Universe film to be as good or better than Iron Man, and after seeing Captain America: The First Avenger last night I can report that we’re still waiting. But don’t misunderstand me: Captain America is another enjoyable entry into the Marvel Universe saga which begin with the 2008 Robert Downey Jr. movie, and is an overall better movie than May’s Thor.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know the story: In 1942 Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a sickly Brooklyn native, wants to join the military to fight against Germany but is rejected over and over again for his size and health. It isn’t until Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci), an expatriate German scientist, recognizes Rogers’ heart and fortitude and offers him the opportunity to become America’s first super soldier. Dr. Erskine’s previous experiments produced Germany’s Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), also known as the Red Skull, who is tasked by Adolf Hitler to create otherwise impossible super weapons for Germany through his HYDRA division using the seemingly all-powerful Cosmic Cube.
Speaking of Downey Jr., however, reveals one of Captain America‘s major flaws: Chris Evans. Evans is fine action actor — as Chris Hemsworth is in Thor — but neither can equal Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in terms of charisma or acting ability. In fact, the real scene stealer of the film is Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Phillips. Nearly every line Phillips has is hysterical with his stern, military officer delivery, similar to the humor Downey Jr. has shown in the two Iron Man movies. But of course, unlike Downey Jr., Tommy Lee Jones isn’t the lead actor here. Again, Evans does well in the role — in particular, the special effects that turn the buff Evans into the pre-Super Soldier procedure skinny weakling are phenomenal and Evans is very convincing as the “90 pound” Rogers. Evans isn’t out of place, but like Hemsworth he seems to have been cast more for having the right “look” than for his ability to deliver a good line.
Another weak character in the film is Peggy Carter, played by Hayley Atwell. Carter, who is supposed to be a British military agent, is unimpressive, especially since she transforms from being a stern military officer to fawning over Captain America after her first graze of his pecs. By the end of the movie it’s easy to forget that the now-weepy Peggy was introduced by punching a solider in the face for making sexist remarks to her. It’s an awkward transition and though Atwell cuts a gorgeous figure in the military uniform it’s almost like she is being forced to play two totally different characters. That’s not a knock on Atwell, but on the script, which doesn’t give her much to work with.
It’s the supporting cast that really helps move the film along: the aforementioned Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Phillips, Stanley Tucci as Dr. Erskine, Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull, along with Toby Jones as the Red Skull’s right-hand man Dr. Zola and Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, the father of the future Iron Man. All of them turn in great, memorable performances, though that could be because they collectively all have more experience than the movie’s two leads. They help carry the film between the great action sequences that we’ve come to expect from superhero films (although it takes over an hour to get to some real combat), which certainly do not disappoint. In particular, there is a great montage of Captain America and the Howling Commandos taking it to HYDRA which gives us the idea that the events of the movie went on for several years. It was actually a bit surprising to see them actually kill their enemies — it’s World War II, after all — which you might not expect in a PG-13 movie. Actually the World War II setting is refreshing, although obviously the weaponry involved is far beyond anything our troops faced in World War II.
Be aware, however, that the film’s subtitle does betray the truth: this is just as much an Avengers prequel as it is a Captain America movie. Howard Stark is a major character and the filmmakers make sure to tie the Cosmic Cube’s power to Norse mythology. That’s not necessarily a bad thing,
but it reminded me a lot of how the first X-Men film was more-or-less a setup for the much better X2.
My only major storyline complaint (and this is definitely spoilerific, so highlight to read or scroll down now!) is
that the death of Captain America’s best
friend, Bucky, is not handled with the gravity that
you would expect being how much guilt Captain America feels about Bucky’s death in the comics. The film’s story shifts Bucky from kid sidekick to Cap’s childhood best friend which would otherwise suggest that Cap would feel his friend’s death on an even deeper level, but Bucky’s death, which happens about two-thirds into the film, is forgotten after a brief mourning scene. Considering that Bucky’s death is always used as one of Captain America’s deepest motivations and sources of guilt in the comics, it was very odd to see it brushed aside a bit, as if the filmmakers knew they had to kill Bucky and tried to shoehorn the scene into the film even though they wanted to get on with the Captain America/Red Skull conflict.
(END OF SPOILERS)
So should you see it? Well, you’d probably see it anyway no matter what I write here, and that’s fine because you should. It’s a better superhero film than this summer’s Green Lantern or Thor, although I didn’t like it as much as the ultra-fun X-Men: First Class. But as I said in the beginning, we’re still waiting for the next great Marvel Universe film, and it’s looking like we may potentially get that with next summer’s The Avengers. But Captain America: The First Avenger will definitely whet your appetite for The Avengers — which is what it’s supposed to do, anyway.
Rating: 8/10 One of the better superhero movies we’ve seen lately and worth the ticket price.
Additional Notes: The preview screening I saw DID NOT have a post-credits sequence. I don’t know if there will be one included once the film is actually released on Friday, but it was a bit of a bummer. Also, the 3D does not add much to the film except for a few shenanigans with Cap’s shield, so I’d recommend that you avoid the higher ticket price.