I’ve really enjoyed Marvel’s road to the Avengers so far. In the same year that DC released The Dark Knight, a dark, intelligent superhero movie, Marvel released Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, two movies that focused on one thing: being fun. And they were. The Dark Knight was definitely the better movie, yeah, but Marvel’s movies were everything you’d want out of a superhero movies. The sly references to the comics continuity, a nice dose of humor, some big action sequences against some big villains, and excellent special effects. And this has been kept up through Iron Man 2 and Thor. So it’s with some disappointment that I end up feeling like Captain America is the first mis-step so far.
Set in World War II, Captain America has the origins of the hero, starting with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), the weakling Brooklyn kid who wants to join the army but is too weak to. His luck changes when he gets picked by Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) to participate in the Super Soldier program and stop Johann Schmidt, aka the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) from using a Norse artifact to create weapons that could win the war for the Nazis.
Since I feel the movie is pretty evenly split between good and bad, I’m going to split my review in the same way. Starting with the good, we have the cast. Not Chris Evans. Between Push and Fantastic Four, it’s like he so badly wants to be an action hero, but he’s so unremarkable. He fits the suit and the look well, but he just never pops off the screen. Instead, he gets completely overrun by the supporting cast, starting with Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull. He hams it up a little, but not so much that it overwhelms. He spends half the movie in a (really good looking) makeup job, and yet his personality always comes through. He’s powerful and intelligent, but you feel he could snap right into pure madness at any point, which is how the Red Skull should be. I also like how they handled his origin in this movie. I tried to figure out how the Red Skull got his skull a while ago, and I just ran into a wall repeatedly before giving up. It’s simple here: He was given a early dose of super soldier serum. This gives him a good enough dynamic with Cap as a villain, and it doesn’t overcomplicate things. We don’t see the villain develop next to the hero, but instead we see a villain that’s so far ahead the hero has to catch up. I think the movie could’ve just been about the Red Skull, and I would’ve loved it. Some of the other supporting cast that really stood out was Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, who’s rather charismatic, and the Howling Commandoes, who just basically overtake any action scene. It helps that they’re led by Dum Dum Dugan, with his distinctive bowler hat and mustache. While I can’t speak for non-comic fans, for me, it’s a total fanboy moment to see him on screen.
I also really love the style and the art direction of the movie. It looks like it has a filter applied to it to give it the right look, and it feels like the 1940s when it’s in the US. A very stylized 1940s, but that’s the fun part of the movie. It’s really World War II as it would’ve happened in the Marvel universe. My dad was pointing out how the tanks are actual German tanks that have gotten ray guns attached to them, and some of the vehicles used were blueprints that never got made. Hydra ends up overtaking the Nazis for most of the movie, and they’re kinda a cheesy villain (in modern comics, their constant catchphrase shouting of “Hail Hydra! Cut off one head, two more grow back!” gets made fun of by anybody they fight), but they’re also a villain worth rooting against.
Now the unfortunate part of the film, and it mainly comes down to the pacing. The movie spends way too much time in the US. It takes a solid 30 minutes to get Steve Rogers serum’d, and then even more time is spent with him as a propaganda vehicle. Eventually, they put him on the frontline, and then the film takes off way too fast. One action montage had my head spinning and me going “Wait, hold on, slow down!” It was like they suddenly had to stuff as much slow-motioned, overblown action as they could in once they got him fighting Hydra. And oh yes, there is slow motion. Every punch and kick has to be slowed down and has the enemies flying back 30 feet. It gets ridiculous fast. The movie also makes some rather unfortunate choices with how it handles subplots. Bucky’s character is never really developed in a satisfying way (hell, I don’t even know if they called him Bucky at any point in the movie), and (spoilers to a 50 year old comic here) the way they kill him off just isn’t very emotional, changed in a rather unsatisfying way from his original death. They should’ve either worked it in better with the climax of the movie, or gone the Ultimate route and had him just not die. Either way would’ve been much better. The movie also tries a romantic subplot, and compared to Thor, it falls flat on its face. There’s no chemistry, and it just feels like Cap fell in love with her because the movie said so. There’s other problems with the movie I can point out, although some of that has to be put on other media. We already know Johann Schmidt is the Red Skull from the trailers, but the movie plays up what his appearance is going to be a lot. I read one article that said shield throwing would be reserved for epic moments, and instead Cap gets his shield and starts throwing it all over the place. Can I put the blame of these problems on the movie? Eh, maybe, but they’re small points compared to the big ones.
Captain America succeeds in parts, fails in other parts. Does it stand on its own while also leading into the Avengers? Yeah, it does that well enough. Is it a big, fun summer action movie? Yeah, I guess it does that well, too. Is it a bad movie? Not at all, it’s just a movie that needed to be tightened up a bit and given a new lead actor. If somebody was offering me a free movie ticket to see it again and had nothing better to do, I would go ahead and see it again. As a movie to pay money to see, you could do worse, but you could also do better.