It’s not hard to envision an adaptation of Marvel’s Captain America going very wrong. From his overtly patriotic wartime roots to that star-
spangled costume, the Captain wouldn’t seem to lend himself well to a modern audience without major alterations. Even the comics
themselves lost much of their audience after World War II ended.
So it’s quite commendable that writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely along with director Joe Johnston are able to embrace the
character and produce a decent film that relishes its World War II setting and its title character’s spirit of loyalty.
But before he was the Cap, he was Steven Rogers, a puny string bean who wants nothing more than to fight the good fight against the Nazis
like so many of his peers.
The film does a great job setting up Rogers as a likeable underdog. He takes a beating for standing up to an obnoxious cinema attendee,
he’s completely hopeless with the ladies and he’s repeatedly rejected for military service thanks to his weak and sickly nature.
His persistence arouses the interest of Dr. Abraham Erskine, a defected scientist from Nazi Germany who is developing a program to create
the ultimate soldier.
Needless to say, the heart and spirit of Rogers make him an ideal candidate for Dr. Erskine. And a few vita-rays later, a superhero is born.
These early scenes between Chris Evans as Rogers and Stanley Tucci as the scientist are the best of the film. We genuinely feel for Rogers
in his failures and can’t help but admire his persistence.
Johnston also seems to be the most inspired here as the film moves with a good focus and flow; balancing humor and character
development very well.
The sepia-infused cinematography and Art Deco production design create a wonderfully nostalgic feel that blends itself perfectly to the
steady, character-driven first act.
Johnston gives the film a great retro charm here, rejecting the manic, scatter-brained pacing and visual style of most modern Hollywood
He even slips in a couple nice bits of visual foreshadowing for villain Johann Schmidt.
Unfortunately, this solid setup and execution doesn’t last much past the halfway point in the film.
By the time Captain America is forming his team to take on Schimdt’s evil HYDRA group, the film is losing steam. The screenplay abruptly
shifts from a fun period adventure to a loud, mindless action film.
The mayhem goes on and on, as if struggling to catch up to the quota number of action sequences a superhero film is supposed to have. It
sabotages the arcs of the characters and loses the unique tone it establishes early on.
Hugo Weaving struggles to draw any significant menace from Schmidt thanks to the completely stock villain writing. Thanks to this and
being completely action-numb, the final confrontation is very lacking.
The film only gains our interest back thanks to its bizarre twist ending that chooses to promote next year’s adaptation of The Avengers
instead of resolving its own story.
It’s a shame that Captain America couldn’t maintain the level of wit and character of its setup throughout its entire running time. It starts off
as a uniquely flavored superhero origin and quickly devolves into cliché-ridden action fodder.
One consistent contributor throughout the film is Alan Silvestri’s score, however. The main theme for the Captain is rousing and
triumphant and the bombastic orchestral action cues are thrilling (When they can be heard over the head-splittingly loud sound effects, that
Captain America: The First Avenger is decent enough comic book fare, but it should have been more. The film has a great setup only to fall
flat when it should be hitting its stride. Its character and unique tone are abandoned when the film ratchets up the action in its second half
and it never recovers from this fatal error.
Despite its wonderful retro charm and initially endearing characters, Captain America never delivers on it early promise. Although it still
makes for a mostly entertaining couple of hours, it could have been so much more.
* * ½
(out of four)
THE FIRST AVENGER
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan,
Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper
Cinematography by: Shelly Johnson
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Released: July 22, 2011; 125 Minutes