The full title is of course Captain America: The First Avenger. That also tells you everything that’s wrong with the film. Though it certainly has strong moments, the film feels like a template strategically filled out to get us to the Avengers movie.
The right elements are there. Steve Rogers is a classic underdog. He has the heart of 10 men but lacks the body to back it up. Nevertheless, he courageously seeks a way to join the fight against Germany. He has a friend named Bucky and can’t seem to talk to girls. That’s literally all we ever know about Steve Rogers.
Ouch. As the credits rolled, I realized I didn’t know anything about Rogers at all. You’d think a comics company that embraced character depth could come out with a script with a bit more complexity. Where is Steve’s family (beyond his parents)? Why is he so single-mindedly insistent on fighting bullies?
To compound matters, the few things we DO know about Rogers aren’t fully developed. Rogers the underdog plays well before he gets the super soldier serum. However, once he’s in action, we never really feel like he’s in peril. The Red Skull is the perfect antagonist, yet he barely even slows Captain America down. The final action sequence is just far-fetched and dull. There’s a big difference between having an edge in combat and being in God mode.
I don’t mean to be too negative. The script got some things right along the way. The creation of Captain America as a marketing tool was excellent. Tommy Lee Jones had some killer one liners, and Stanley Tucci filled more depth into Dr. Abraham Erskine than most of the other characters combined.
Then there’s also the issue of setting. It never really feels like the ’40s. So much of the weaponry is advanced beyond the time period and so little time is spent on day-to-day living that it feels like a modern superhero story. When Rogers wakes up from his 70-year sleep at the end and rushed out into New York, it doesn’t feel that out of place at all.
It’s clear that the script wasn’t designed to embrace the culture of America in that time period. Other than using the word “dame” once, most of the dialogue could sit just fine in a modern movie. I don’t even remember seeing anyone smoke (which would have been prevalent during the period). It all adds up.
The only thing treated worse than Rogers and the time period in turns of development is the Red Skull. He wants to rule the world. That’s it. All of the cliches are there, but when you wipe them away, you’re left with Hugo Weaving doing an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression. The Red Skull is supposed to be one of the greatest threats to America and humanity, but you never feel it.
It’s not a bad film. I peg it as slightly less interesting than Thor. Captain America is really just … unremarkable. Other than Hayley Atwell, there isn’t much worth seeing on the big screen (maybe one or two shots of random action here and there).
I guess when I left the film I found myself thinking, what makes this a Captain America film? What happened that required Steve Rogers to defeat it as opposed to any random action hero? Think about the action…
First, Cap parachutes into Germany, infiltrates the base (with a brightly painted America shield on his back), knocks out a few guards, and tells the POWs how to escape. (It should be noted that the following battle leads to many of their deaths). He saves his friend Bucky without incident, and then trades a few punches with the Red Skull. He only really needs his superness to jump through some fire.
Second, Cap leads various raids on Hydra installations. The montage primarily consists of him smacking dudes with his shield. I’m pretty sure anyone would win if they caved someone’s head in with a giant hunk of vibranium.
Third, Cap tries to take a moving train which ends with his buddy falling out of it because Cap didn’t make sure an enemy was secured. The train is actually stopped by another soldier who was smart enough to realize that there was no need to sneak through the train. He could simply sneak over it.
Finally, Cap attacks the final base where his life is saved multiple times by everyone else. Primarily, his shield does the work by magically deflecting everything. Cap throws his shield around, but a gun would’ve worked the same. Cap jumps on the Red Skull’s plane (thanks to Tommy Lee Jones’ driving). Cap DOES take out some guards, but again, it’s nothing no one else could accomplish (especially if they had a gun instead of a shield).
It all wraps up with the fight we’ve been waiting for… super e super … Red Skull vs. Cap. And it looks just like any other fight scene. Come on, I thought these guys had superstrength!? And Cap eventually saves the day by not understanding that planes can turn around. I’m starting to think Captain America is an idiot.
As I said, the film had a few decent moments. It just feels uninspired. Too many missed opportunities.