Mark Reviews Movies

Captain America: The First Avenger


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Joe Johnston

Cast: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Kenneth Choi

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action)

Running Time: 2:05

Release Date: 7/22/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 21, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger falls into the same routine so many other introductory stories about superheroes do. It features an origin story of the titular hero and then quickly cuts into a plot about stopping a megalomaniac from taking over the world for nefarious but unclear reasons (Although it might be good enough reason for someone to climb a mountain, "Because it's there" is about as dramatically humdrum a motivation for world conquest as they come). This one is particularly hampered by the screenplay's need to hurry through the latter, as if the movie admits the entire second half is a perfunctory exercise in showing that, yes, our hero is important in a general sort of way.

The actual beginnings of Captain America—how a scrawny kid from Brooklyn with dreams of joining the Army to fight back against the bullies of World War II becomes an unstoppable force for truth, justice, and the American way (Or is that motto restricted to someone else?)—make up the movie's more successful section. After creating a hyper-stylized art deco backdrop and playing with a bit of straightforward character development that makes Rogers something resembling a human being before pumping him full of mysterious chemicals that transform him into a super version thereof (The irony of using genetic experimentation to create a race of supermen to fight the Nazis is lost on just about everyone here), the movie gradually loses its design flair and human element for hastily assembled sequences of derring-do.

As far back as he could remember, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) always wanted to be a soldier. His father fought and died in the Great War, and as a young man, he was and still is constantly bullied for his small stature and penchant for sticking up for himself and others. With fascism threatening to overtake Europe, Rogers knows its time to serve his country to stand up for the oppressed of the world. The only problem is that he's not only a lightweight but also afflicted by multiple medical problems, though that doesn't stop him from trying to enlist at every recruitment center he can find.

Finally, a German refugee and scientist named Erskine (Stanley Tucci) takes him in to be part of an experiment to engineer super soldiers. Erskine, later to be Rogers' mentor/creator (one guess as to his fate), believes that it's the kid's compassion, resourcefulness, and ability to recognize the corrupting qualities of power (being the victim of it so often) that make him the best candidate. Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) is skeptical. Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), a British agent working with the Army on this test, likes his resilience and, later, really likes his muscles.

The art design on display in Rogers' slightly alternative history of 1941 New York City is, at times, quite striking (Even the post-production 3-D conversion—one of the better ones—doesn't detract much from it, though the use of the gimmick is still useless). Before heading off to training, he and best friend "Bucky" Barnes (Sebastian Stan) stop at an exposition for technology, where towering monorails soar in the background and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, playing the father of the man who becomes Iron Man, in one of the few relatively subtle tie-ins to other parts of the Marvel universe (e.g., a glimpse of Thor's world)) shows off a hovering car prototype. Recruitment centers are littered with posters rallying for enlistment, and once it becomes clear that Rogers will be the only one of his kind, there's a clever montage displaying how the government uses him for propaganda purposes featuring elaborate stage shows and optimistic war movies.

There must, of course, be a villain, and he's Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving, doing an eerily spot-on Werner Herzog impression), nicknamed "Red Skull" for his, well, red skull, obtained after undergoing the same process as Rogers (hero's doppelgänger—check). He doesn't believe Hitler goes far enough in his vision (insanity—check) and is assembling an army (disposable henchmen—check) to take over the world (evil plan—check). Red Skull's hideaways and secret facilities are bland locales, especially when compared to what's come before them, and director Joe Johnston shows Captain America's raids of them in quickly-cut montages of explosions, stunts, and, of course, bashes and throws of the superhero's star-and-stripes shield.

As a result of this rushed narrative, Captain America comes across being as bland (though in a different way) as when he was just gangly Steve Rogers. While Captain America at least hints at an intriguing future for him—out of place and in the wrong time (The last line is just right in its simplicity and the implied sorrow therein)—with its coda, his transformation from commonplace but with personality to bulky but generally nondescript echoes the movie's own shift.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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