I finally saw Captain America: The First Avenger last week.
I’ve never been a gigantic Captain America fan, so I really didn’t think I had any expectations going in. And yet, somehow, I still managed to find it disappointing.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny little weakling with a heart of American gold. He’s desperate to join the army and serve his country in World War II, but the military keeps rejecting him for medical reasons. That is, until Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) recruits him to be a part of his super soldier experiment, and Steve Rogers is turned into Captain America.
Meanwhile, Evil Johann Schmidt/Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) tries to use some glowy blue stuff to take over the world.
1. The best thing this movie has going for it, in my opinion, is Chris Evans.
A lot of people were worried that Captain America would be too much like the Human Torch, smirky instead of sincere, cocky instead of confident. But Steve Rogers acts nothing like Johnny Storm; moreover, Evans plays Captain America relatively straight. He’s earnest but not over-the-top, patriotic (obviously) but not a parody. Keeping Captain America from being a campy caricature takes a bit of talent, and I really appreciate how understated Chris Evans is here.
2. Actually, I like most of the acting in this film, or at least, I don’t have any serious problems with anyone in particular. I do have problems with certain characters, though. Let’s take them one by one.
2A. Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci)
The creator of the super serum. Also, easily one of the best side characters in the movie, less because Erskine is so three-dimensional or amazing and more because . . . well . . . he’s Stanley Tucci. He’s just awesome. He also gets some of the best schnapps-related humor.
Steve (about to drink): “To the little guys!”
Erskine: “No! No! Wait, wait! What am I doing? You have a procedure tomorrow. No fluids!” (Grabs Steve’s glass and pours the schnapps into his own cup.)
Steve: “All right. We’ll drink it after.”
Erskine: “No! I don’t have a procedure tomorrow! Drink it after . . . drink it now!”
2B. Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper)
The other most likable character in this movie. I’m not exactly sure why, but there’s just something very enjoyable about Howard Stark, and it makes me really interested to see how Captain America and Iron Man will get along in The Avengers. (Although, I have to suspect that everyone on the team will try to punch Tony Stark in the face at least once. I highly suspect Tony’s better in small doses, you know?)
I can’t pinpoint one specific thing that I loved about Cooper’s performance, just that I found him really fun to watch. I was way more interested in him than Captain America’s actual sidekick, Bucky.
And speaking of Bucky . . .
2C. Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)
Now, as I said before, I have very little knowledge of the Captain America comics. Before this summer, I mostly associated the superhero with Marvel Vs Capcom 2. (And you know what? He’s an annoying little shit in that game. Stars and stripes, bah. You just want to take Cable’s gigantic gun and beat Captain America over the head with it. And then maybe shoot him out a window for good measure.)
Anyway, from what I understand, Bucky Barnes is Captain America’s sidekick in the comics. Also, he’s like twelve, or something equally ridiculous. I can see why they might have changed that for a WWII movie. But there’s something about Bucky that I find really boring. Stan’s performance is decent enough, but the character seems to have no actual depth, and the sidekick ultimately seems kind of wasted here. Either give him an actual personality, or cut him out entirely.
2D. Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell)
Ah, the love interest. For the most part, I enjoy Hayley Atwell in Captain America. She’s crisp, direct, British. She doesn’t look absolutely ridiculous punching somebody, and some of her line deliveries are fairly amusing. I think the actress does a decent enough job with the material.
That being said, the material itself could use some serious work at key points during the movie. Let’s just gloss over the part where Carter stops everything to kiss her man, damn the fact that he needs to go catch the bad guy before he destroys the world and that they’re currently in a car that’s about to go over a fucking cliff. Let’s just ignore that for a moment.
Instead, let’s talk about the difference between a spunky-don’t-mess-me-with-me woman and a woman who needs to be taking medication for rage issues. There’s a scene in the film that’s been in several of the trailers where Peggy Carter decides to test out Captain America’s shield by trying to shoot him in the chest four times. In fact, if you’d like, you can just watch the scene here.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s kind of a funny moment. . . until you realize what a total psycho Peggy Carter must actually be. She’s pissed at him because of one of those forced, romantic comedy misunderstandings (I swear, she kissed me!) but Peggy and Steve aren’t even together yet, just sort of occasionally flirting with one another. I’m not saying you can’t be icy and jealous with a man you’ve been making eyes at, but trying to shoot the guy four times is hardly an acceptable response. But for some reason, I’m supposed to think her homicidal tendencies make her independent and awesome?
Writers, may I refer you to this list? Pay attention to number five in particular.
2E. Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones)
Okay, let’s be honest: Tommy Lee Jones pretty much just plays Tommy Lee Jones here, doesn’t he? It’s not exactly what I’d call a stretch. Then again, does it need to be? The grumpy colonel is one of the main comic reliefs in this movie, and even though he doesn’t have much to do but glare at people, he’s still fairly enjoyable to watch. And his scene with Toby Jones, wonderful. Tommy Lee Jones owns this scene. There’s an energy to it that’s sort of missing from the rest of this lackluster film.
2F. Johann Schmidt/Red Skull (Hugo Weaving)
Okay. I love Hugo Weaving. I do. I like him as Elrond in LOTR. He’s sinisterly awesome in The Matrix. And V for Vendetta . . . I adore him in that movie. If you’ve cast Hugo Weaving as your villain, and he comes off as boring? Yeah, there are serious, serious problems with the character.
And Red Skull? Man, he’s just . . . so . . . boring. Every time the movie went back to his storyline, I was disappointed. The character’s flat, one-dimensional, just . . . blah. He has no personality. He’s not even particularly menacing. How the hell do you cast Hugo Weaving and not manage to get a menacing performance from him? There are a couple of decent lines here, but for the most part, it’s pretty underwhelming.
3. Of course, it doesn’t help that the whole HYDRA storyline is sort of sloppy, and the Legend of the Blue Glowy Cube is severely underdeveloped. I’m sure fans of the comic books were all in the know, but for the rest of us . . . the whole mythology of it is so flimsy and ill-explained. Where the hell does this cube come from again? Who decided to hide it in the first place? Why can it do the things that it does? I’m not asking for these explanations to make complete sense, mind you. I just want a couple lines of damn exposition.
In the Spoilers Section, we’ll talk a little more about the Blue Glowy Cube. We’ll also talk about unsatisfying film resolutions, which I’m starting to think is something of a theme for 2011 summer movies.
4. Other than a lousy villain, bad storytelling, and a kind of crappy ending . . . yeah, the film’s balance just seems off somehow.
One of the things I’d heard several times about Captain America was that it’s not just another superhero movie; it’s a war movie that just happens to have a superhero in it. And I am certainly not an expert on the war movie genre, but from the ones I have seen . . . no. No, this is an uneven origins story that just happens to take place during a war.
In my experience, the best war movies are about a group of soldiers who have to live together, fight together, die together . . . there’s a camaraderie there, a trust, even if the characters don’t like each other very much. They have to have each other’s backs. They’re all they have to depend on. Even if they don’t exactly see each other as family, there’s usually some understanding of these men as a unit.
So, maybe it was an unreasonable expectation on my part, but I kind of wanted to see Captain America as the leader of said unit. I wanted to see what he was like with the men, how he interacted with them, how he functioned as a commander. Did his team respect him? Resent him? Were they friends? Were they distant?
And this kind of happened, sorta . . . Captain America rescues a bunch of soldiers, and they become his team for, like, a second . . . but it’s almost like an afterthought, like maybe it’s something in the comics that they didn’t have the time to really develop here? I get Captain America is not an ensemble film, but even so, the team feels criminally underused. They seem to have a natural chemistry together that I was interested in watching. I mean, I want to see more of “Fresno.” And Neal McDonough, dammit. I like Neal McDonough. Seeing how they looked at Captain America could have been an interesting way for us to see Captain America.
But maybe I’m asking for a lot here. This is an origins story. I know they have a lot of ground to cover. Maybe I’m asking for more depth from this movie than it ever intended to give. I could possibly accept that . . .
5 . . .except for the lack of awesome battles.
If it’s one thing that most war movies have in common, it’s battles. I mean, you think war, you think fighting, right? Gun battles, ship battles, hand to hand combat . . . I mean, something. But Captain America is surprisingly and depressingly short on action, I think because they’re trying to fit too much material into their movie. After all, they take, what? An hour just getting Captain America into the fighting? And then there’s, like, three action scenes all together, none of which are that impressive and one of which is exceptionally anti-climactic. There’s just very little sense of danger or tension or excitement. I mean, I want to see Captain America do stuff.
But between the skinny Steve Rogers bit, the flirting with the love interest, the constant (boring) villain scenes, and the propaganda stuff—which, admittedly, is pretty clever—there’s just no time for the grit and blood that’s supposed to come with a war movie. And even if you’re not judging it under that genre . . . it’s still an uneven action film that feels drawn out in some parts and ridiculously rushed in others.
6. I should mention that the controversial CGI “skinny Steve Rogers stuff” is actually really well done.
I read online somewhere that the filmmakers were often forced to use green screens in order to make the whole effect work, and you know how shitty those things can look, but honestly, I don’t remember noticing them at all. Unfortunately, just knowing what Chris Evans normally looks like drove me crazy as I watched the film. Even though the CGI was actually good (for once), I found it really distracting because I knew it wasn’t right, even if I couldn’t exactly see it.
Probably just my hangup and not necessarily a serious critique of the film, but I personally was very relieved when Captain America buffed the hell up.
7. Finally, while I wasn’t look for a cynical or ironic Captain America film, some of the dialogue in this movie is painfully obvious and corny. There’s a line—I wish I could remember which one it is—that made my friend Chris and I start cracking up pretty hard, and it’s definitely not supposed to be a funny line.
Actual examples, you say? Well, how about, “There are already so many big men fighting this war. Maybe what we need now is the little guy, huh?” I mean, gah. Like, dude, I already bought the ticket. You don’t have to sell me the dream, all right? And then when Red Skull (and also a bully earlier in the film) tells Steve, “You just don’t know when to give up” . . . like, ohmygod. WE GET IT, okay? We get it! The moral of the story is already pretty obvious just from the basic plot. You really needn’t remind me of it every five seconds.
Dialogue isn’t the worst problem Captain Ameica has going for it, but it certainly doesn’t help. Though often funny, the writing is overall fairly weak, and the ending? Weaker still.
If you want to hear about, continue on.
First, the movie begins in modern day with an expedition team finding some kind of plane or something buried in the ice. You see a bit of Captain America’s shield. And then you go back in time to . . . the 1940’s!
I’m not going to go over this whole movie scene by scene. I don’t wanna. Steve Rogers becomes Captain America. He gets a gig doing propaganda films. He wants to be a real
boy soldier. He saves his friend Bucky from the prison camp, only to lose him off the side of a train (and off the side of a cliff) later.
And this might be kind of emotional if the audience even remotely cared about Bucky, but . . . come on. He’s got like fifteen minutes of screentime, and he doesn’t do or say anything interesting at all in those fifteen minutes. I was much more depressed when Erskine was killed off. Bucky, meh. Oh well. C’est la vie and all that. The train scene’s okay enough, as action scenes go, but it could have been really moving or tense or surprising if we got to know Bucky even a little bit better.
Anyway, Bucky’s death means that Captain America is really, really going to kill Johann Schmidt this time. (Spoilers: he doesn’t.) He jumps onto Johann’s super cool plane and fights some guys for awhile before duking it out with the Red Skull. The fight takes about four minutes, and it’s not terribly impressive. Somehow, the container for the Blue Glowy Cube gets damaged, and when Johann holds on to it, he goes BOOM. I expect Johann is supposed to be physically unable to drop the cube, but it really just looks like he’s staring at it like a jackass for forty-five seconds until he poofs into a bunch of blue glowy light.
And this . . . this is unsatisfying. This is a poor man’s version of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I’m not even 100% sold on how Raiders of the Lost Ark handles this type of resolution. Maybe if the fight between the two of them had been more exciting. Maybe if Johann had any semblance of personality. Maybe if the Blue Glowy Cube was explained even a little, but as is . . . the final battle between Captain America and The Bad Guy is vastly underwhelming.
After Johann is dead, Captain America realizes he can’t stop the plane, and it’s heading for New York. (If I remember correctly, there are other planes heading for other destinations, but Cap only cares about New York. I mean, I get it’s his home and all, but it comes off a little, you know, fuck the world. Save New York! I bet Fresno wouldn’t agree with that.)
Captain America’s only solution is to crash the plane into a shitload of ice. (I’m assuming it’s somewhere in the Arctic? Geography may be my very worst Jeopardy category of all.) As he’s going down, Cap and a tearful Peggy talk over the radio, making a date to go dancing next Saturday. And this isn’t a bad scene, exactly but it’s basically the same scene that’s used in the beginning of Star Trek 2009, only that scene is far more emotional. Which is a little sad, when you think about it, because Chris Hemsworth and Jennifer Morrison barely have five minutes to develop their love and grief. Peggy and Steve spend the whole movie flirting with one another, and yet my heartstrings? Not significantly tugged.
Well, Captain America crashes into the ice. Then he wakes up in a hospital bed. Everything appears to be normal, at first, until Captain America realizes that he’s listening to a radio broadcast of a baseball game that’s already played. (Good going, guys. Way to do your fucking research.) He breaks out of the hospital and finds himself in the middle of modern day New York. Samuel L. Jackson is there to be all, “Yeah, sorry about that, but you’ve been asleep 70 years. Hey, you cool?” And Captain America’s responds, “Yeah. I just . . . I had a date.”
And . . . fin.
While I kind of like the sort of downer ending (wow, everybody Captain America’s ever known is dead, dude, that must suck) the actual last line . . . er . . . okay, look, I actually like the line itself, but when it comes after about ten seconds of processing a 70 year nap? Excuse me? Captain America gets to freak out for approximately .07 seconds before it’s like, Okay, I’m going to be stoically disappointed about losing my girl, my friends, and everything and everyone I have ever known. And that, that’s just silly. 70 years. 70 YEARS. I think even Captain America would need more than a minute before he got to stoicism, sorry.
Not to mention . . . uhhhh . . . was he just frozen or something for 70 years? Was this a part of the metabolism thing they mentioned earlier? Does a fast metabolism really affect your shelf life for that long? Or does it have something to do with the blue glowy cube’s influence? How the hell is Captain America still alive? Shit, I’m not even asking for a rational explanation. Just, you know, give me some BS line of something.
Usually, movies are burdened by too much obvious exposition. This film? This film could have benefited from just a little more.
Decent to good acting. Some funny dialogue, some lousy dialogue. Subpar villain. Shitty mythical object. Weak, uneven story. Could have been a lot more intense, exciting, moving, anything.
Don’t be a bully. All you need is heart. Sometimes it’s up to the little guy. Blah blah blah, let me just get this American flag here and poke myself in the eye.