Movie Review - Captain America: The First Avenger

This is the last big comic book movie of the summer and from my standpoint it's the best of this year's superhero adaptations. The problem is Captain America is probably the least super of the superheroes.

As we've learned, Captain America will join the team of superheroes known as the Avengers, but, he starts out as Steve Rogers, a scrawny, asthmatic, practical dwarf who's not much more than skin-and-bones living in the 1940s. Professor Erskine gives Rogers a serum that doubles his muscle and bone mass and improves his health and healing, but that's it, and that still doesn't make him half as powerful as any of the other Avengers so far introduced.

Director Joe Johnston (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Jumanji) plays the transformation scene of scrawny Steve Rogers into the hulky hunk Captain America like a scene from a 1930s monster movie where you have a wild scientist creating some spectacular invention or even brand new life-form. With his angles and editing here, aside from the color, you'd think you were watching James Whale's Frankenstein. Johnston makes this moment very much in that style.

After that moment, Johnston directs a fairly fun, foot chase, which initially had me thinking that Steve Rogers is not unlike Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man. Instead of bionic limbs, Rogers merely has super steroids that don't wear off. Unfortunately, we learn Steve Rogers is not as strong nor as fast as Steve Austin.

If you put the Avengers side-by-side with the Justice League, Captain America is comparable to Batman, only nowhere near as dark in personality or temperament. Like Batman, Captain America really only has his buff body and unwavering fighting spirit to get him through tough situations. Captain America doesn't have all the gadgets that Batman does, but Howard Stark, played by Dominic Cooper in the same vein as Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man, does provide him with weaponry and assessories like the iconic circular shield, which Captain America yields in often times the way Thor did his hammer.

Unlike Batman, Captain America doesn't really have the smarts, the wits or the intelligence of the Caped Crusader. Rogers really only has uber-patriotism, a boldness and perhaps an arrogance that drives him into battle. Besides that, I'm not really sure who Steve Rogers is. When we meet him, Rogers is persistently trying to be recruited in the army. If it weren't for his initial scrawniness, Rogers would be the ideal candidate for a soldier of war. He has this notion that you have to stand up against bullies with Hitler being the ultimate bully, but I'm curious as to what would Rogers be doing if there weren't a war. Who would he be if not this super soldier?

With other comic book heroes like Batman or Superman, we get a sense of who they are outside of their superhero persona. We get a sense of who they are when they take their masks off. We don't get that with Rogers. Captain America isn't his secret identity. It's his only one and he doesn't care. That's all he is. This makes Captain America a pure hero for whom you can't help but root.

In almost absolute contrast to his role in Fantastic Four, Chris Evans plays this character, at least for the first hour, so humbly, so much like an underdog and so sweetly yet quietly persevering that again you can't help but go with him. Yes, you'll go with him on his never-give-up adventure, but he's simply not as interesting or as deep a character that's epically written. He's the consummate good guy whose only flaws or limitations are physical ones and those flaws are fixed after he gets the super steroids. There's no real emotional, spiritual or psychological journey to take.

In as much, I don't feel as though the writers had anything to say. There was not an overall message here. Nothing to learn, nothing new to see! Therefore, we are either sustained or carried by the movie's popcorn value, and admittedly I was sustained. I was sustained mostly because I found a great deal of what I saw to be comical. Hugo Weaving who was the villain in The Matrix movies is again the villain here doing the same character but with a Nazi-German accent. Instead of being Agent Smith, he's Agent Schmidt, but, after the first hour, Weaving does his best impression of Skeletor but only with a red face.

Stanley Tucci also does a German-accent that was quite comical, but Tommy Lee Jones stands out here, offering the most levity. He throws out some great one-liners, particularly in the first hour where the theme was make fun of Rogers' short and skinny stature. Joke after joke was about that. But, Tommy Lee Jones was my favorite actor here because he isn't sidelined as most men his age in movies like this are. He gets to be involved in the action, which I enjoyed. Tommy Lee Jones also has a great scene with Toby Jones that I enjoyed, which was simply a well-acted scene, one Jones against another Jones. Johnston won an Oscar for doing the Visual Effects for Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is interesting because Tommy Lee Jones' character is very much like Indiana Jones but meets General Patton.

Hayley Atwell plays Peggy Carter and is the only female in the cast. She isn't sidelined either. She isn't merely the damsel-in-distress. She's actually pretty handy with a gun. The action scenes in general were all pretty handy. I was impressed wtih a particular war montage, even though the filmmakers lost or abandoned all context with World War II. There was an excellent, if brief, shootout sequence on a train that rescued me from a growing boredom that I had around the half-way mark of this movie. In a motorcycle chase, the filmmakers ripped off a similar chase in Return of the Jedi, and I thought the final action scene in what looked like a huge stealth bomber had a resolution less exciting than the final action scene in Pixar's Up.

The motion picture never feels like a complete picture. Like with the penultimate Harry Potter film, this movie seems like just another piece of the puzzle building to The Avengers (2012), but it's a piece I found vastly more entertaining than the two previous pieces. That and the idea in this movie that the persona of Captain America was not a creation of Rogers, much in the way that Spider-Man or Batman were costumes those two guys made for themselves. No! Captain America was a U.S. propaganda character created by government ad men put on a Broadway or Hollywood-like tour, which was true to the comics.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 5 mins.


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