Captain America: The First Avenger
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Joe Simon & Jack Kirby (comic books)
Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, and Tommy Lee Jones
If you’re sick of super hero or war movies, it might be wise to avoid the inevitable screen adaptation of Captain America. Slated as the last prequel before next year’s The Avengers, Captain America: The First Avenger takes place the furthest back in time: during World War II.
What’s most curious about The Avenger prequels- Iron Man & Iron Man II, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, this movie- is how different they are stylistically. That’s because they were all headed by different directors with different talents. Thor was at its best when it showed the “fish out of water” aspect of its viking, while the Iron Man movies worked best as vehicles for Robert Downey Jr.’s motormouth delivery.
Captain America is most like The Incredible Hulk in that its hero is not particularly funny and it exists for its story more than its actors’ comedic timing, although Evans is much less tense than Edward Norton was. Its aesthetic as well as its spin on WWII history would be right at home in scenes from Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Aside from a few welcome montage sequences, though, this is mostly a straight-forward origin story.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is too small to enlist in the army but he’s got a heart of gold and nerves of steel. A German scientist (Steve Tucci) overhears him talking about his desire to help, and puts him in a special unit where he is selected to become a super soldier.
Though Evans puts his most into the scenes where he was digitally enhanced to look like a wimp, some of the effects are less effective than others. It all depends on the angle he is shot at, so when he finally becomes his actual size it’s a welcome change.
Once he’s Captain America, the story takes a welcome detour to him being forced to promote a senator’s agenda instead of actually fighting. Director Joe Johnston uses that great montage sequence to delay the cliches in the script as best he can. He also makes a montage sequence out of the conquering of enemy bases that could’ve needlessly taken up much larger chunks of the movie.
Though Captain America is most interesting when the hero is engaging in missions behind the back of the government that created him, he must have an actual foe. That would be Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a rogue Nazi who has taken control of dangerous magical powers that he believes make him a god. There are hints of The Dark Knight when he tries to tempt Captain America, but they seem forced and aren’t really effective. In fact, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely could’ve taken a few more pages out of Tarantino’s playbook and had the Captain just go after the Führer. Since this has big studio money tied up in it, that could only ever be wishful thinking.
As far as mindless fun that pretends to have meaning goes, Captain America is well-done, but a little overcooked on its own ambition. It tries to have a purpose, but is rendered mostly meaningless by its cliff-hanger ending. There are promises of a better movie when the banter between Captain America and love interest Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) springs into something more. Sadly, this franchise is on a deadline and makes no room for such pesky things.