Captain America: The First Avenger Directed by: Joe Johnston Cast: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Sebastian Stan Running Time: 2 hrs 5 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: July 22, 2011
PLOT: During World War II, the army recruits skinny Steve Rodgers (Evans) and turns him into Captain America, a super soldier. Meanwhile, Red Skull (Weaving) has plans of world domination beyond Hitler's.
WHO'S IT FOR? It's a throwback and I don't mean that just because it's set in the '40s. It feels like it honors the original version of the comic instead of trying to update like Christopher Nolan has done with Batman.
EXPECTATIONS: A super soldier, World War II, Tommy Lee Jones and Hugo Weaving ... that seemed like enough to put this flick over Thor, Green Lantern, and X-Men: First Class for superhero supremacy.
ACTORS: Chris Evans as Steve Rodgers/Captain America: The film starts with skinny Steve doing everything he can to serve. He's the underdog and we root for him. It's plain, simple and impressive visual work. Once Steve becomes Captain America it's hard to still see him as an underdog. While the film does entertain with the Captain as a successful defense bonds pitchman (yes, seriously) it doesn't ever feel like we get to spend much time with a superhero doing super things. Evans remains monotone as both skinny Steve and Captain, which is how I eventually felt about his performance. Score: 5
Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter: I never once cared about the potential romance between Peggy and Steve. That's not to say it's not entertaining when Peggy first lays eyes on Super Steve with all his muscles and cops a feel. It's just that I was never emotionally involved. I don't blame Atwell, though. She has the toughness down here. It's not a supermodel doing stunts (Transformers: Dark of the Moon). Atwell holds her own and then some. Score: 7
Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips: A tough as nails colonel, who takes no guff. Yep, Jones fits. It's not that he's given all the good lines, it's that he nails the delivery time and time again. Score: 8
Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull: "Mr. Anderson." It's one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies (Weaving as Mr. Smith from The Matrix). It's great because of that booming bass voice and that defined jaw line that juts about. Here, as Johann Schmidt, Weaving loses the deep voice and adds a German accent. Also, once he becomes Red Skull, the mask/makeup takes away his visual presence. What's the point of getting Weaving if you won't let him do all the stuff that makes him great? Score: 5
Rest of Cast: Sebastian Stan is Bucky Barnes. If you know the comics, that matters. Otherwise, you'll just realize he's Steve's good friend. Stan looks a little too much like an Abercrombie & Fitch model to take too seriously. Stanley Tucci is Dr. Abraham Erskine and is comical in this role whether he means to be or not. Tony Stark's dad Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) shows up as the way to fund this project and ties in the Avengers universe in a nice way. There's a rag tag group of soldiers that is added with Neal McDonough leading that group. The "rag tag" doesn't fit, but it seems typical of a movie like this, so it's just kind of thrown in and under-explained. Score: 6
TALKING: Almost everything out of skinny Steve is about being the underdog and wanting to help. Once he becomes Captain America, it's just wanting to help. It's earnest and that's it. He doesn't like bullies. We get it. There's a miscommunication involving "fondue" which oddly eventually becomes funny, but that means it's not the first three times. Jones is giving all of the fun lines (or again, maybe it's just his delivery). Colonel Chester calls Steve a gerbil, and says to Peggy, "If you have something to say, now's the time to keep it to yourself." Score: 6
SIGHTS: The uniform of Captain America is pulled off pretty nicely. It starts with a stage show (yes, seriously). It's never explained why Captain needs a mask. Even Green Lantern discusses that. Red Skull is even less explained. I guess he lost his skin in the accident. Also, Red Skull's flashback is pretty poorly executed. There is a giant plane at the end where Red Skull and Captain America battle. The plane itself is visually impressive, but not much action seems to happen. Score: 7
SOUNDS: I'll be very curious how fanboys react to the musical number (yes, seriously). When Captain is pimping bonds, there is a complete musical number ("Star Spangled Man"). I don't think that's what the comic book nerds envisioned when they had their Captain America daydreams, but it definitely fits the tone of the film. That song and the rest of the musical score is by Alan Silvestri and all of the music plays well in film's time period. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: Colonel Chester tosses a grenade to try and prove his point about soldiers. Steve steps up to the challenge. It showcases Steve's spirit better than any speech he gives in the film.
ENDING: The bookends mean we kind of know what will be happening to Captain America and the airplane. I didn't like this addition. More importantly than that, the romance between Peggy and Steve is the focus of the ending and since I never felt that, the ending was pretty flat. As for the final line before the credits roll ... ouch. "I had a date," doesn't feel like what I want Captain America to stand for.
QUESTIONS: Was the shield also a boomerang? Or is Steve suddenly really good at geometry and that's how he knows where that thing is going to end up? Also, where did Red Skull get that fake skin technology?
REWATCHABILITY: Actually, the Blu-ray is probably loaded with extras that I would enjoy. Especially watching how skinny Steve was filmed.
Director Joe Johnston made The Rockeeter and this film seems to capture that same vibe. It's not a period piece from the 1940s about how men really were during war time. That film is Saving Private Ryan. Captain America is the kind of film that used to be made in the 1940s.
Captain America wants to help. Asking "why?" seems to be like asking why does Superman believe in truth and justice. He just does OK? It's simple. It's a throwback. It's hokey.
The "hokey" part is on full display when a soldier screams out, "Let's here it for Captain America!" and they all erupt in cheers. It's the style Hollywood used to use. During the climatic finale, Evans shouts into the radio, "This is Captain America, come in!" In response, Peggy says, "Steve, is that you?" How many other captains does she know named America? This classic style of storytelling leads to feeling like you're two steps ahead. There are no real surprises. Even with the basic bookends of the plane crashing in the ice, you know where the story is going. It feels like a movie that already exists.
There's nothing awful about these moments, but then you put it together with average performances from the hero and the villain. It doesn't rise to something more, like a true hero should.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10