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Captain America: The First Avenger

July 25, 2011

Captain America’s popularity saw rise and prominence in 1940s during World War II as the comic book emulated and uplifted a country in need of a hero during the Nazi Regime. Yet once the war ended, the comics almost immediately saw a steady decline through the 1950s never quite returning to its crowing popularity as the need for a Captain America was unnecessary. Perhaps this explains why overall I just couldn’t enjoy Captain America in today’s settings. The simple generic tale of good verse evil with strong territorial themes just doesn’t make for an interesting and engaging film in 2011, especially when considering the complexities in character and story from recent comic book films like Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Dark Knight, or even Thor. Captain America just isn’t able to stand on its own against its contemporaries, much like the fate of its comics. That isn’t to say that Captain America is a bad film, but it was hardly anything impressive at all. Far from being a rollercoaster thrill ride, Captain America just coasts along much like what I expect the Mad Tea Party ride at Disney World to be like.

It’s 1942 and the world is in the midst of World War II. Nazi officer Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) and his infantry break into a Norwegian Castle to steal a cosmic cube believed by Schmidt to hold the power of the gods. Meanwhile in Brooklyn, New York, a scrawny and sickly looking Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is attempting for the 5th time to enlist in the army only to be turned down once again for active duty. Constantly bullied and beaten up by his peers, Steve desires nothing more than to be a brave and honorable soldier even going as far as to reapply under a false name before attracting the attention of scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). He enlists Steve in an operation that will create a “super soldier” who can take down the now rising and powerful Schmidt and his group the Red Skulls. Steve is transformed into a tall, sweating hunk of man meat prepared to die for his country in order to defeat the biggest bully of all.

Director Joe Johnston does an intriguing job of portraying the alternate universe in which Captain America exists. Complete with authentic 1940s wardrobe, make-up and set design, the parallel universe also includes much more advanced technology, elaborate buildings and cars that are sleeker and superior to the ones of our own reality. The war has also been taken to new heights by the doing of the Americans, with the help of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), and Nazis whom are both making incredible advances in war machines and weapons. The authenticity of the 1940s despite these universal changes is commendable and one of the most impressive elements of the film.

Other than that, Captain America is pretty bland and its use of CGI is perhaps its most crippling aspect. While the pacing of the film is done surprisingly well as audiences fluidly follow a year in the life of Steve, neither he nor his life is all that interesting. Action happens, but it’s short and quick, taking a back seat to dialogue and exposition. Also most of the action lacks depth as it instead attempts to focus on the “coolness” of technology, therefore, never developing a fight scene enough to show how impressive the choreography and stunt work had the potential to be. Things blow and people go flying across the sky only for the sake of playing the action in slow motion as if desperately asking the audience, “hey, wasn’t that cool?”

The CGI at times is more distracting than entertaining throughout the film as well. In one particular scene, Steve runs on foot after a Nazi solider who is driving through a busy street. CGI is used so heavily that it loses its impact and becomes campy due to how rubbery and clean automobiles and people look against a gritty 1940s backdrop. Also the film’s cinematography was exceedingly dull and drab as everything appears brown and gray like the entire film was shot in England. The overall color and saturation of the film is dim and fuzzy, a portrayal of the 1940s that even films of the time didn’t possess.

Character development is also rather dull and weak. Steve is just a scrawny kid from Brooklyn who, due to years of bullying, wants to desperately defeat Hitler, the world’s biggest bully. He intends to do so by continuously enlisting in the army under false names and addresses despite being turned down numerous times. The film constantly reminds you of these facts by repeatedly having others mention his number of failed attempts as well as always having Steve announce to his attackers, “I could do this all day” while his attackers repeatedly ask, “you don’t know when to give up do you?” during a face beating. Sure Steve wants self-confidence and wants to be treated like his peers who are all being accepted and sent off to war, but his character still lacks the motivation or explanation as to why he’d jump on bomb for his peers or be prepared to die for his country.

Steve is a good guy and that’s it, there are no conflicting human emotions of pride or ego within him despite the fact that he becomes a national icon. Although serious Steve never seems to lose his temper, he never has moments of doubting himself and he has essentially no fear. Despite being just a kid from Brooklyn he possesses little realistic human emotion. His stubborn love interest, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is never truly understood as well. Where do her gonads come from? What makes this attractive woman who prefers to stay in heels and lipstick every day want to fight so badly against Nazi’s, even going as far as to run onto enemy lines welding a gun with no armor or protection?

Schmidt doesn’t become anything more than a one-note villain who has plans to take over the world. We don’t know why, or what he intends to do when he does, but he just wants it. Even Steven’s relationship with his best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian San) is shallow and underdeveloped. The film never explains how they know one another or what draws the extroverted Bucky to befriend the socially awkward and targeted Steve, or why the boys are willing to die for each other.

Too many things are left unclear by the film’s ending such as why Captain America’s shield prompts the such loud clanks when struck despite being made of vibranium, a substance that absorbs vibrations, or how his shield, a circular object, act as a boomerang. Also what does the serum necessarily do to the human body and what are the limitations of the abilities it creates? I’ll buy that through cell regeneration in the muscles a scrawny kid can become a muscular man hunk. But how does that affect the brain? Does it make the person smarter thus explaining why Steve can fly planes and other Ariel apparatuses since he’s only a boy from Brooklyn? How does he secure such intricate battles plans allowing him to go behind enemy lines, while the most skilled officers in the Army can’t quickly enough?

Also there is an entire important chunk of the film left unclear for the sake of a sequel. After a climactic moment the film fades to black and reappears with no explanation of the previous hour and fifty-five minutes. Steve’s reaction to his situation is oddly confused as opposed to taken aback and viewers are left with a subpar cliffhanger hoping to draw in dollars for the upcoming film, The Avengers, a movie that I wish would hurry and come out so Hollywood can stop milking this franchise to death!

I wouldn’t recommend Captain America to others but if you’re stuck watching it, just know you could be worse off. In a world where we’ve experienced three Spider-Man films, countless Batman’s, Iron Man, and every other comic book movie under the sun, Captain America seems to have no place right now. The film’s action isn’t that intense, the story isn’t memorable, and the performances aren’t spectacular and Captain America is a character that I feel could have been introduced more effectively for the first time in The Avengers as opposed to getting his own film. If Captain America was a boy band in the 90s, it’d be LFO, good for novelty purposes but basically it sucks.

AVOID IT. I’m sure you’re not missing anything that won’t be in The Avengers.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2011 1:59 AM

    Interesting take – I liked the film myself, but I find it interesting that you point out the concept of no inner conflict.

    I’m not a comic book person naturally, so I don’t know how this plays out in the Avengers, but I wonder if Steve Rogers not having this internal conflict will make for interesting story as leader of The Avengers as he might struggle with someone like Tony Stark, who on the opposite has tons of pride/ego.

  2. July 25, 2011 7:06 AM

    Thanks for the comment! I’m not too comic savvy myself, but if that’s where the film will take the story then The Avengers would have the potential to be one of the better comic book films. I hope they do something more with his character in The Avengers though and I sort of have faith that Joss Whedon will.

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