Directed by Joe Johnston.
Starring Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones and Stanley Tucci.
PG-13, 124 minutes.
Captain America: The First Avenger opens with two prologue scenes before introducing us to its main character. The purpose of doing this is, one, to set up the circumstances in which we can have this hero in the present day for the next movie and, two, to set up the Maguffin our characters will be fighting over, also for the next movie.
Right off the bat, the movie establishes itself, fairly baldly, as no more than a two-hour teaser for The Avengers, even more so than Thor was. And, because this is set seventy years in the past, there’s a strong case of prequelitis squandering a very promising first half. This is not to say that The First Avenger is a bad movie by any means. It’s escapist fun, setting us squarely in a fantastical vision of the 1940s from a director who’s had experience doing the same thing to fun results as well (The Rocketeer). It’s just, once the set up has been delivered, there’s not much else to do but sit idly by for the credits to roll.
Living smack dab in the middle of the World War II, Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) is desperate to do his civic duty and fight for his country. Only problem is, he’s a ninety-pound asthmatic who can’t clear a simple physical exam in order to enlist in the army. A chance encounter gets him the opportunity to receive a special serum and this weakling is turned into a super soldier going by the intentionally gimmicky name of Captain America.
His travels lead him from war bonds spokesperson to being the only guy who can stop the megalomaniacal Johan Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a former recipient of the same super soldier serum who’s hell-bent on proving he’s some kind of god because of it. Oh, and his face is red, too.
What sets Steve Rodgers apart from the other protagonists of these movies is the fact that he doesn’t have to go through any sort of journey or character arc. On a personal level, he’s the same person he was at the beginning of the film as he is at the end, despite the fact he’s a muscle-bound superhero who’s been thawed out in the future. Chris Evans does a great job portraying the “aww shucks” demeanor and charming naivete of this character, too, even if I still see him solely as Jake Wyler from Not Another Teen Movie.
I also like the rest of the cast. Hayley Atwell is great as Agent Carter, an outcast in the same vein as Rodgers, him being a scrawny weakling when they first meet and her, a woman. Both are made to feel like they don’t belong and bond over that, even if there’s a ridiculously clumsy “relationship drama” sequence about two-thirds of the way through the movie. Tommy Lee Jones is pretty good, too, despite the fact that it looks like he doesn’t want to be there. You can never get enough Hugo Weaving in your movie as well, so his chewing the scenery works to its advantage. Although his fate at the end of the movie feels a little rushed.
That’s perhaps the major quibble I have with Captain America. Everything that happens at the end feels contrived because the writers needed to get the characters to a certain point. It’s like they wrote themselves into a corner from the very beginning, with that prologue scene showing the shield in the ice, and they had to work backward to find some way to get him in there there. As a result, the last thirty minutes unfold clumsily. It’s a shame, too, because the pastiche of 1940s era iconography in a comic-book movie was perhaps the most interesting setting out of all the movies up to this point.
Captain America: The First Avenger is a fun movie that crumbles upon closer inspection due to its need to set up next year’s Avengers film. While it doesn’t do it as poorly as Iron Man 2 did, it doesn’t do it quite as well as Thor did, either.
Next up: The Avengers.
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