One of the most easily recognizable superheroes ever created, and easily one of Marvel Comics’ best loved superheroes, Captain America has now joined the likes of Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, and The Hulk, and been granted his own big-budget Hollywood movie; which is currently doing the rounds at cinemas nationwide; the only problem is it’s a luke-warm affair that brings nothing new to the table whatsoever.
Set during World War II (mostly) it follows a 90 pound asthmatic named Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Scott Pilgrim) who’s desperate to join the army, but keeps getting refused on medical grounds, until a scientist (Stanley Tucci, Burlesque) recognizes his inner strength, bravery, and decent attitude, and decides to give him a shot at joining a new specialized unit.
After joining Colonel Chester Phillips’ (Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black) experimental unit, Rogers fails to compete physically, but is selected to be the scientists’ first test subject for his latest serum; a drug which not only enhances every personality trait held by the taker, but also takes him instantly to the peak of human physical conditioning; and after a Nazi spy (played by Spooks’ Richard Armitage) blows up the lab, the scientist, and the rest of the serum, it’s clear that Rogers will be the only super soldier the scientist ever created.
Across the pond in Europe, a German officer nicknamed The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving, The Matrix) is in charge of a unit known as Hydra (the Nazi deep science division, which runs almost in opposition to Hitler), and has managed to harness the power of an artifact left on Earth by Odin, to create some truly advanced weapons that he plans to use to remake the world; something Rogers will undoubtedly have something to say about.
So after first being used as a promotional puppet, Rogers; who’s been nicknamed Captain America, and used to sell war bonds for a few months; heads out to Europe, tricks himself out with a new, star-spangled, uniform and shield (courtesy of Iron Man’s father, Howard Stark; Dominic Cooper, The Devil’s Double), and decides to, almost single-handedly, take the fight to Hydra, and The Red Skull.
It sounds like a simple, yet fairly decent, plot for any fictional war movie; the idea of turning any wheezing little wimp into the ultimate human specimen, and a one-man, war-winning, army, is an idea that any geek is bound to love, and it is quite interesting watching the determined Rogers push himself, and then having to come to terms with using his new talents as nothing more than a walking billboard; but where Captain America: The First Avenger falls apart is in the lack of any believable or threatening enemies.
The Red Skull not only looks daft (surely they could have designed a better mask than that, explained the condition, or created a more gruesome Two-Face effect ala The Dark Knight?), but never seems to pose even the slightest threat to Captain America, or any of his men (in part due to the film’s woeful lack of tension or heart; as every single character onscreen, especially each of the villains, is a pantomime, overblown, underdeveloped, cliche, and will leave you numb to whomever lives or dies), and all of his faceless minions are even worse; dressed up in psuedo-Nazi, sci-fi, ninja gear that looks fucking stupid, seems to serve no practical purpose whatsoever, and appears onscreen for mere seconds; as they’re of less use than the classic James Bond villains who simply walked onscreen to get shot (or in this case hit in the face with an, admittedly cool looking, shield), and it seems as though The Red Skull would have had more success in halting the Captain’s advance if he’d replaced his soldiers with a cardboard cutout of a nice fluffy rabbit.
However given the poorly developed character; a man who’s seemingly presented as worse than Hitler (a bold position to aim for), yet finds his worst action being the shooting of a couple of Nazi officers (which equates to a crime as terrifying as jaywalking); Hugo Weaving does the best he can with the role, and delivers as adequate a performance as he could.
Captain America’s best performances come from Stanley Tucci; who portrayed the scientist brilliantly; Tommy Lee Jones; who’s always a great watch, and suits the role of the Colonel perfectly; and to a lesser extent Chris Evans; who’s more than adequate as the titular do-gooder, but could probably have been replaced by any number of young, half decent, muscly actors; and unfortunately not Hayley Atwell; who was instantly forgettable; or Dominic Cooper; who failed to bring the same weight to the character of Howard Stark as John Slattery did in Iron Man 2.
The recreation of 1940’s America is superb and presents a nicely nostalgic look at the period, though seems to become forced out of memory by the larger set pieces that could make any viewer forget that the film was set during World War II (tanks the size of skyscrapers, and blue laser weapons which instantly vaporize any man aren’t exactly indicative of the period), and in the end (particularly given the final scene, and post credits trailer) Captain America feels like nothing more than the opening act of The Avengers; a segue movie that’s been designed to do little more than further milk the Marvel cash cow, and has been given a ridiculously unnecessarily post-production 3D conversion that adds nothing to the movie whatsoever (but will undoubtedly give the studio’s profits a nice little bump), and is far from essential viewing.
Maybe we’re suffering from superhero fatigue; even so, this is far from the fun-filled and just-about-believable world of Iron Man, or the brilliant Dark Knight; but if you’re still dying to see Captain America: The First Avenger at the cinema, make sure you do so in 2D (or else you will seriously regret it), don’t be afraid to take a little nap during the latter half of the film (after Cap’s transformation is complete, and he’s off to fight The Red Skull), and stick around until after the credits to watch the newly released teaser trailer for The Avengers; which is undeniably the best part of the movie; or save yourself the admission fee, and watch Captain America’s final scene, and The Avengers trailer, here.