REVIEW: Captain America: The First Avenger

21 07 2011

The bookend of a four comic book/superhero summer, “Captain America: The First Avenger” was given the onerous responsibility to keep audiences from succumbing to genre fatigue.  Luckily, it’s one of the better of these four – but that’s not saying much given this summer.  Joe Johnston’s take on the classic character actually gets some of the basics right, having the narrative storyline that “Thor” lacked and the decent visuals that “Green Lantern” didn’t bother to have.

But just because it’s an improvement doesn’t necessarily means it good, especially taking into account how poor the aforementioned movies were.  “Captain America” is barely bearable, so middling and nondescript that you can’t help but wonder how smashing “The Avengers” could possibly be with all these sub-par buildup movies.  If it’s lucky, it will be equal to the sum of its parts – and Chris Evans and company do about as little to fix the existing Marvel deficit as the President and Congress are doing to fix our national deficit.

Evans has remarkably little charisma despite being devilishly (albeit guiltily) entertaining in the “Fantastic Four” series, neither as a CGI-enhanced shrimp nor as a P90X-enhanced “Men’s Health” cover model prototype.  Playing Steve Rogers, selected to become the superhuman Captain America thanks to his tenacity in the face of bullying, he never really gives us a reason to get invested in the movie – something crucial for a lackluster summer blockbuster in need of some distinguishing feature.  He hits one note the whole movie: dull.  At least in most action movies, the main guy seems to be enjoying kicking butt … and Captain America gets to fight Nazis in World War II!  What more could an action hero ask for?!

The bang for your buck certainly doesn’t come from anyone else in the acting corps.  Hayley Atwell’s love interest military agent of unexplained British origin doesn’t excite with beauty or spunk, which are pretty much the only two things that comic book movie women ever have going for them.  Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips seems to be doing a bad impersonation of himself.  Stanley Tucci’s German defector scientist, Dr. Abraham Erskine (get it, his name is like Albert Einstein!), is forgettable in spite of the fact that he creates Captain America!  The film’s villain, Red Skull (AKA Johann Schmidt), played by perennial movie menace Hugo Weaving, looks like Voldemort with a nasty sunburn yet lacks any genuinely terrifying attributes.  Despite being a former Nazi, convinced that he has harnessed the power of the celestial being, he feels cartoonish and laughable.

There’s very little action here, which is fine by me given that less violence is justifiable in an origin story (and “Transformers” provided way too much this summer).  When it does come, it’s insipid and not very fun.  However, if you’ve been keeping up with your action movies, it inevitably feels better than it actually is since it doesn’t make you want to tear your eyeballs out.  Between the horrendous “Wolfman” remake and the sell-out “Jurassic Park” sequel, “Captain America” may be one of Joe Johnston’s best movies in the past two decades – but again, that’s not saying much.

So although it’s not the worst of the bunch, “Captain America” may be the one that makes you feel the worst about the state of movies in 2011.  A flop is a flop in any moviegoing climate.  But when an average, lifeless comic book movie with no creativity or character feels better than average judged on the standards of similar recent releases, you can practically see Hollywood lowering its own standards right in front of our eyes.  C+ / 

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10 responses

22 07 2011
Harry

I was hoping to hear better, but it has actually gotten decent reviews, so I’ll probably see it.

One note: the President is trying to solve the deficit. It’s the Congresspeople who are being jerks and not negotiating in good faith. Not trying to start a debate. Although I suppose I’m kind of asking for it.

Political statement finished.

22 07 2011
Marshall

I don’t want to start a political debate either, but name-dropping was a necessary evil to get some more unsuspecting Googlers to find my review (because most Americans probably have to use a search engine to figure out what the national debt is). Mainly I was drawn by a parallel between two deficits that, as of July 21, haven’t been reversed.

22 07 2011
Fitz

No one negotiates in good faith in public. That is why we have meetings behind closed doors. That’s why transparency doesn’t make for resolutions. No one wants to look like the bad guy/wimp.

22 07 2011
Marshall

Again, I don’t want to get too into politics – just tried a lame attempt at SEO because my views have been down recently. But you are totally right.

P.S. – I spent a good two minutes trying to figure out how this related to “Captain America.” And then I realized … and felt stupid.

22 07 2011
Duke

Saw it on Wednesday at the press screening. Audience loved it. I … not so much.

We share pretty much the same feelings. The film entertained, then just kinda left my mind haha.

Forgettable.

Nice review.

22 07 2011
Marshall

Totally had the same experience. There was applause when he emerges all sleek and toned from the chamber, and I was just like … why?!

1 08 2011
Fitz

I had the same question. The woman three rows behind me was yelling, “He looks like a f_cking Ken doll!”

1 08 2011
Marshall

Exactly. Ken is much better suited for the “Toy Story” series.

28 07 2011
Andrew

I’m proudly in the minority on this one, I guess. I loved it. Apart from the opening and the climax, it hits every note that a Captain America movie needs to hit and lets fantastic set and costume design hold up the spectacle end of a low-action superhero film whose real cornerstones have to come from performance by default. I appreciate that a summer blockbuster– by definition “hollow”– has the opportunity to comment on armchair patriotic jingoism through its hero while also allow Stanley Tucci to muse on the Holocaust in a way most Holocaust-related movies never do.

Evans and Weaving, I think, really make the entire movie, with the supporting cast more than pulling their combined weight thanks to Tommy Lee Jones and Tucci.

28 07 2011
Marshall

Hey, I’m glad someone can enjoy it because I just didn’t.

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