Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) Movie Review

image of a scene from Captain America First Avenger

Title: Captain America: The First Avenger
Year: 2011
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Play time: 2h 4min
Director: Joe Johnston
Screenwriters: Christopher Markus
Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Samuel L. Jackson

Captain America: The First Avenger is an attempt at a comic book movie as lighthearted romp. It’s certainly as weightless as one could hope. Disinterested in the angsty, morally fraught approach to the genre taken by Sam Raimi, Christopher Nolan, Bryan Singer, Ang Lee, or even the comparatively breezy Jon Favreau, the producers at Marvel Studios hired traditionalist Joe Johnston to produce 125 minutes of unremarkable hokum.  He delivers. But is unremarkable hokum really what you’re after?

Inside Captain America: The First Avenger

The first hour is at least serviceable charming. In a hilarious counterpoint to the CGI bulk-up of Eric Bana and Edward Norton in the various Hulk movies, Captain America downscales the buff Chris Evans into Steve Rogers – a brave, all-American kid who wants nothing more than to serve his country in World War II, but who happens to weigh 90 pounds and to have a page-long list of diseases and ailments.

On his fifth attempt to enlist, he is spotted by German-American scientist Stanley Tucci, who enters him in an experimental Army program that injects him with a serum to double his size and vastly increase speed and strength. This origin story is deftly handled – funny where it needs to be, with a sleek period gloss (lots of chrome instrument panels sparking and the like) and just a touch of the sentimental. I liked Rogers’ relationship with his battle-bound best friend (Sebastian Stan), and his determination to serve strikes the right balance between cheesy recruitment-film material and semi-substantive characterization.

Lot of Fights and Chases

Then the plot kicks in, and the action starts, and what can I say? There are a lot of fights and chases, and much costumed, German-accented mugging by Hugo Weaving as a Nazi mad scientist who wants to harness the power of the gods using a magic cube, or something. (What goods? The Norse ones, I guess; Odin is mentioned at one point.) A foxy English officer played by Hayley Atwell provides the requisite love interest.

Tommy Lee Jones shows up as our hero’s terse, no-nonsense boss. (Jones’ typically awesome line readings are a highlight –“General Patton! Has said!…”). Johnston directs the action with the unflashy competence for which he was presumably hired. The 3D is irritating, though not unbearably so.

It’s all fine. Captain America isn’t as aggressively stupid and contrived as Green Lantern, and makes marginally more sense than Thor. But there’s never the sense that any of it matters. The villain is bad and wants to do bad stuff. Captain America: the First Avenger is good and wants to stop the villain from doing the bad stuff.  There’s no sense of danger; the movie doesn’t even ask for an emotional investment.

The closest it comes to offering something to absorb us is the relationship between Steve and his best buddy, but that subplot is dispatched shortly after the halfway point.

I realize that there’s a bias at work here. I’m a fan of the superhero movies that give their proceedings some real weight – the work of Raimi, Nolan, Singer, et al. To hear someone like Devin Faraci call Batman Begins a “slog” is galling to me: the fact that a comic book film aspires to mean something doesn’t make it a slog.

Captain America isn’t interested in that, and it doesn’t have to be. But it doesn’t really do much else either. It’s funny, but only a little, and self-conscious cheese only goes so far.

The Impressions will Go Away Fast

The action goes down easy, but there’s nothing remarkable or particularly exciting about it. I was content to watch Captain America: The First Avenger, but I’ve already forgotten most of what I saw.

There’s a present-day wraparound sequence that serves as a trailer for next summer’s Joss Whedon-directed Avengers movie. It’s symptomatic of the problem that the film spends more time figuring out how to set up a different franchise than how to make us care about this one. Captain America is painless, and probably the second best of this summer’s woeful comic book slate, behind X-Men: First Class. But there’s no real good reason to see it.

Going behind producers minds and intent. Resorting to harsh, grotesque, comically, sarcastic & sensible evaluation.

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