Most nerds would agree that Captain America: The First Avenger was the most promising of all the superhero films coming out this summer. I personally have always enjoyed Cap as a character. His costume is classic and his shield is a lot of fun to throw. (By the way, go out and buy the Frisbee shield. It’ll be the best $8 you spend).
So I was relatively excited when this film came out. I sported a classic Jack Kirby style t-shirt at the midnight showing. As a whole, I enjoyed the film, but I felt that there was something missing. Like in all my movie reviews, I’m going to break down Captain America by strengths and weaknesses.
Chris Evans was perfect as Captain America. So good, he did not remind the audience at all of his portrayal of the Human Torch. He captured Cap’s boyscout persona without making it overly cheesy. Seeing Evans as the short and anemic Steve Rogers makes him relatable and even endearing. The special effects used to make Evans so emaciated was remarkable. There were only moments when I questioned the realism of it, but these were no more in number than when Red Skull looked cartoonish.
While Evans’ performance was solid, Tommy Lee Jones stole the show. While his role was no stretch for Jones, he got all the best one-liners. Hugo Weaving, no surprise, captured the Red Skull nicely. Unfortunately, Red Skull is not a very interesting villain.
Setting the story in the 1940s is a perfect idea. The costumes, sets, cars, and even the lighting gave the film the look of those fantastic World War 2 propaganda posters. I particularly liked the adaptation to Captain America’s costume. I loved that he first goes into battle with the classic shield but ultimately switches to the round version. The use of the shield in the fight scenes and the portrayal of Cap’s super soldier abilities were right on the money.
I also especially enjoyed how the women portrayed in the film. The dancing girls, Peggy Carter, and every other woman in the film were, of course, Hollywood gorgeous. But they had the Hollywood look of a woman from 1942. Instead of stick figures with melon breasts and collagen lips, they had proportional and natural curves. Their skirts were the right length and they were not showing an absurd amount of cleavage. Peggy is no shrinking violet. Although it’s difficult to buy that the Army would allow a female special agent, it’s fun to watch her punch a guy out and shoot Captain America’s shield.
I loved seeing Steve Rogers don the ridiculous version of the star-spangled costume to raise bond money in a traveling show. This self-reflective parody of its earlier film and how comic book costumes don’t always translate well to film was also a nice tribute to the character’s real life influence on the real World War 2.
The plot of Captain America’s origin is just good story-telling. Everyone likes to see the underdog become a hero: “A weak man knows the value of strength.” However, the film took a bit too long to get Captain America into action. As mentioned above, I enjoyed the parody of Cap socking Hitler but it went on too long. Then, once Cap does go into battle, the audience gets a montage of battle scenes until the final battle with the Red Skull in a flying wing. Ultimately both battles with the Red Skull are disappointing. I wanted to see much more bashing bad guys with the shield.
Why set a film during World War 2 if Captain America isn’t going to fight actual Nazis? Having Hydra be a special division of the Third Reich that specializes in weapon development and the search for occult icons fits perfectly into what we know of Hitler’s obsessions during the war. Instead, there is a ridiculous plot line that has the Red Skull split from the Nazis. I love that he has captured a weapon from Odin’s armory. Though instead of turning it into one giant “death ray” to terrorize the world, he develops several smaller laser guns and tanks. This leads to laughable fight scenes and takes away from what would otherwise be a fantastic period film. The laser guns continually remind the audience that this is a “comic book” movie (in a negative, GI Joe way).
While Captain America certainly should not be on level with Saving Private Ryan in it’s realistic portrayal of the horrors of war, having Hydra agents running around in high tech ski masks with glowing blue guns takes from the potential of this film. It failed to capture the classic images of Cap busting some Nazi skulls. Why no Nazis? Were the producers afraid of offending Germany? Was it because Marvel didn’t want to risk selling action figures with swastikas? Whatever the reason, it was to the detriment of what could have been a great superhero period piece.
While I have my complaints, I really did enjoy this film. It was on par with Thor in action and story. It was better than X-men as a period piece. It was better than Green Lantern.
I give this movie four out of five skulls.