Movie review: ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’

In theaters

“Captain America: The First Avenger,” written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Joe Simon (comic books) and Jack Kirby (comic books), directed by Joe Johnston, 124 minutes, rated PG-13.

“Captain America: The First Avenger,” Marvel’s latest installment leading up to 2012’s “The Avengers,” fits into the mold that Marvel has created, but it doesn’t have the ingenuity to break out of it. It’s a problem that has plagued fellow Avengers since 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk.”

Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, a scrawny kid from Brooklyn determined to join the military. He has asthma and a number of other disqualifying factors, but his resilience is as admirable as it is foolish. His moral compass is strong, but he doesn’t have the brawn necessary to stand up for what’s right.

While out at the Modern Marvels of Tomorrow exhibit with his best friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan), Steve takes another shot at signing up for military duty. All signs seem to point to another rejection, until he is approached by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who questions Steve about his motives for enlisting. Does he want to kill some Nazis?

Of course not. He wants to stand up to bullies. Right answer.

And just like that, Steve is approved for service, signing his life over to Erskine as an experiment to create a super soldier. He goes from 90-pound Steve Rogers to ultrabuff Captain America, with a physical prowess that could quash any professional athlete.

His enemy, Johann Schmidt aka Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), has power that rivals Rogers’, and his goal is world domination.

With blaring horns sounding the alarm of patriotism, director Joe Johnston finds himself at home in “Captain America’s” WWII-era setting. After all, he’s been there before with “The Rocketeer” in 1991. It’s the time period, full of military bravado, moral responsibility and adventure, that helps distinguish “Captain America” from the slew of recent comic adaptations.

The movie’s script is a different matter. The writing in “Captain America” isn’t particularly bad, like in “Green Lantern,” but it’s not particularly good, either. It has no personality, wallowing in indifference with black-and-white characters that prevent it from reaching a higher level. Quelling Chris Evans’ humor should be a telltale sign for any film that there’s a problem.

Here, much like the screenplay, Evans is just OK. He’s a beefy boyscout who’s a true hero in every sense of the word. But it seems that in this role, Evans has sacrificed his voice as an actor, which he has consistently put on display since his breakthrough in “Cellular.”

Tommy Lee Jones phones it in as the gruff Col. Chester Phillips, Tucci is convincing enough as Erskine, and sadly Hayley Atwell just blends into the background as Rogers’ love interest Peggy. The only actor who really stands out is Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark. No surprise there.

“Captain America” is another middle-of-the-road entry from Marvel – a stepping stone to get to “The Avengers.” Unfortunately, as a standalone movie, “Captain America” could be a little stronger.

Grade: C+

Another opinion

By Anthony Crabtree, Guest Blogger

The summer season is winding down and unfortunately most of the films have been a bit of a letdown. “Super 8” was in a class all by itself, going beyond the typical blockbuster and creating an excellent piece of science fiction. Beyond that, I enjoyed some of the comic book movies, and avoided most of the blockbuster sequels, and had yet to be truly blown away by the endless attempts that came to the local multiplex. It was about midway through “Captain America: The First Avenger” where the realization hit me that this was what I had been waiting for all summer.

There is a great deal that differentiates this film from other comic book movies this year and the first is the depth of the cast. Many comic book films have one or two great actors, and the supporting cast becomes a bit muddled and questionable. If you look at the roster that was assembled for “Captain America,” there is not a single weak link in the chain all the way from Chris Evans to Toby Jones. It’s a stacked cast and each performer bring something to their character. Even the minor characters, such as those played by Neal McDonough or Derek Luke, have more to them than the traditional supporting cast.

Director Joe Johnston is also in top form with this film. The style that he is able to create with the WWII-era setting is magnificent, taking a lot of history and mashing it with that comic fervor. It is similar to what Johnston did in his 1991 film “The Rocketeer,” but here he seems to have mastered the approach. Naturally, the use of technology, the bigger budget, and the 20 years of reflection have probably allowed him to hone in on his WWII-era style, but he certainly puts his signature on the time period and creates a unique vision.

The only issue some may take with this film is that the story is too straightforward. It’s very much a classic good versus evil story with the occasional detour in between. There are few surprises in terms of what happens in “Captain America,” but at the end of the film this is entirely forgivable because it is enjoyable to see these classic plot devices unfold.

I can honestly say that “Captain America: The First Avenger” was a pleasant surprise and one of the most enjoyable films I have seen all summer. Even for those who feel comic book movies have become dull or that blockbuster films have nothing to offer, the artistry that Johnston brings to the screen will feel refreshing.

Grade: A-

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2 Responses to Movie review: ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’

  1. Pingback: Movie review: 'Captain America: The First Avenger' | Joel Talks Movies | Have You Seen This Movie

  2. Wooden Bed says:

    Chris Evans is properly cast in the leading role, as he not just embodies the physical character but embraces his patriotic attitude with complete conviction.

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