I wasn’t very interested in Captain America initially. I’m going against my nerdom by saying this, but other than the Iron Man franchise (and that’s mostly because of Robert Downey Jr.) I’m lukewarm about this whole Avengers thing. It most assuredly has the potential to be awesome, but it could also be crushed by the weight of expectations. Captain America: The First Avenger sums up those feeling just about perfectly. It’s a movie that does a lot of things well, but has a few problems that hold it back from being a great film. It does succeed in what is probably the most important thing though; I am more excited for the Avengers movie to come out. (Hint: Stay after the credits. It’s worth it!)
I wasn’t interested in Captain America until I saw the trailer. Before I start the review proper, take a look (and listen!) at some sweet marketing:
I’ll be honest, as soon as the Tool song kicked in, I was there.
The film is set during World War 2, and is centered around one Steve Rogers. He will soon be Captain America of course, but for now he’s just a small guy. A REALLY small guy. Chris Evans, who plays Rogers/Cap, is a buff dude, so it’s actually some CGI wizardry that takes him down to scrawny man size. It looked just a tad unnatural a couple of times, but I was impressed at how natural Evan’s face looked on a body that wasn’t his own. His performance as Captain America was solid, with the only blips on the radar being more the scripts fault than his. Evans is an actor I like (he was amazing in Scott Pilgrim and Sunshine) and he’s an excellent choice to be involved in what will be the biggest super hero movie ever in the Avengers.
The rest of the cast does pretty well too. The standouts are Stanley Tucci as Dr. Erksine and Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Phillips. Tucci’s character doesn’t have that much screen time, but he was memorable for truly creating a character without much to actually do. Jones stands out because he easily gets the best lines in the movie, and he’s pitch perfect as the tough as nails military man. The only Captain America villain anybody has ever heard of, Red Skull, is played expertly by Hugo Weaving. He does a wicked German accent and actually looks more menacing when it’s his own face vs. the iconic Red Skull. So it’s a shame that with loads of talented actors around, the script just isn’t quite there. Some of the dialogue feels forced and clichéd, such as Evan’s getting a close up and saying “…..My god” when he sees some bad Nazi stuff, or Weaving working his way through a very clichéd “I AM EVIL AND WILL TAKE OVER THE WORLD, MUAHAHAHAHA” kind of speech.
The visuals and special effects of Captain America work the same way as the script. Cap looks fantastic visually, with Evans pulling off a combination of the iconic red/white/blue suit and WW2 bomber jacket and helmet really well. His shield in particular is expertly done. Every time he hit somebody with it, or whipped it at a surprised nazi, it felt like it hurt and had some real power behind it. The probable surprise was my favorite part, if I was an evil Nazi I would be thinking like this:
“We have some sweet uniforms….what the, does that guy have a SHIELD? Hey, Henrik, look at this dude, he has a shield! It’s World War freaking 2! Is he afraid I’m going to bust out my broadsword and attempt to cleave him? Ha! What’s he going to do THROW it at me? OH MY GOD HE….” *Satisfying thud*
Sadly, this level of awesome isn’t maintained. I have two complaints. First is Hugo Weaving’s red skull make up. It’s too bright. His skull is red because his FACE BURNED OFF. In this movie he looks like the top of a cherry popsicle, and it makes him a tad hard to take seriously. A darker red and a bit more gore would have a long way to making him intimidating. Weaving seriously is better with his own face, which is a testament to him and also a testament to how great he was as Agent Smith, I just associate him with sort of lunatic evil.
The second complaint lies in the films editing, in particular the action sequences and pacing. I won’t spoil anything, but there comes a point in the movie where Captain America enters the war proper, so to speak. I was expecting some sort of small mission involving the small team they had introduced for him to work with, culminating in a sweet action scene because this is a super hero movie. Instead I got an almost 80’s style montage of Cap wreaking havoc on a bunch of Nazi’s, but with absolutely no context behind it what so ever. I’m not asking for the build up of something like Proof of Life (which is a drama for 86 percent of the movie, then turns into a badass action sequence for the rest) but give me SOMETHING to work with as far as where Captain America is and how exactly what he’s doing is helping the Allies win the war. Even in the action sequences themselves, the editing does the same thing. The scenes never really flow together. As an example, in one scene Captain America runs, jumps, and grabs a chain hanging from the ceiling to swing his way across the battlefield. It’s visually interesting, for sure. However it cuts from him swinging through the air directly to him running along the ground. There’s no scene of him landing, or establishing shot of the new location he’s now running in. It’s a small thing sure, but a two second shot of him landing, rolling, then getting up and starting to spring would have gone a long way. Scenes like this are sprinkled throughout all of the movies action, and by the end it was starting to be a tad off-putting.
Captain America is not going to make converts out of people who don’t dig comic book movies. But for those who do, it’s well worth seeing. It’s a movie that’s better than it was written thanks to the charisma of Evans and the rest of the cast. The period piece aspect adds to it as well, the World War 2 setting isn’t something we’ve seen done in comic book fashion before. It even has ties to the current Marvel Universe (Howard Stark as the Army’s top weapon designer anyone?) that make it an absolutely must see for anybody with even a passing interest in the upcoming Avengers film. Even with the flaws, I applaud Marvel for having the stones to make a bunch of movies and have them all interconnect, even just by strings right now. Captain America wasn’t great, but it delivers on good action, charisma from the cast, and inspiring confidence that even with a few flaws along the way, Marvel Studios might be able to pull this off.