July 23, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger (07/23/2011)

Lettergrade: C+

I drank a pretty large Coke during the afternoon showing of Captain America: The First Avenger that we caught, and yet the movie still had me feeling kinda sleepy toward the end. It's a shame because it had a lot going for it for a while there: A charismatic title character with a great backstory... cool WWII era sci-fi sets... a gorgeous British dame played by Hayley Atwell... a nifty Indiana Jonesish Nazi villain bent on world domination... and some pretty bad-ass action scenes that consist of stunt men duking it out rather than CG junk blowing up.

There is a really engaging 40 minutes or so at the beginning, after which the movie starts to slow way down. I think it's the segment where then Buck-Private America, having gained super powers by taking an experimental serum, takes a gig fronting USO shows and pitching war bonds before, you know, getting into all the jingoistic ass-kicking stuff. By the end, Captain America: The First Avenger feels like its primary function is not to get The Captain's own story to a satisfying conclusion as much as it is to put the pieces in place so he can appear in next summer's Marvel superhero circle-jerk The Avengers (and there's a post-end-credits teaser to prove it!).

But man... that how-Captain-America-became-Captain-America segment at the beginning sure was a breath of fresh air compared to other recent superhero movies, wherein the background stuff often feels rushed and half-assed. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has the brave heart of a true patriot soldier, but the body of Neil Patrick Harris after a month-long fast. He's been rejected for military service several times due to his puny size and flat feet. Luckily, a German-but-good scientist played by Stanley Tucci catches on to what he's been doing and allows him to join a small US military unit, the members of which are auditioning to be part of a top-secret experiment. These scenes are highly reminiscent of similar beats from the first Men In Black, not only because the soldiers submit to endless tests with unclear objectives, but also because Tommy Lee Jones observes sternly from the sidelines in both films.

The climax feels weirdly non-climactic, though. I'm not all that sure what the evil plot even was, to be honest with you. And come to think of it, what seemed like an interesting bad-guy at first in Hugo Weaving's Red Skull started to feel more and more like one of those third-rate heavies from movies like The Shadow, Masters Of The Universe or the first Hellboy once I realized that there wouldn't be much to him.

It's weird to say all this because America seems like a perfectly well-made and professional movie, but one that gets into maudlin territory a little too often for me to really recommend it or want to revisit it again myself. Unlike the other two Marvel movies this summer, Thor, which I greatly enjoyed, and X-Men: First Class, which ran a lot of familiar plays, but somehow kept it all fresh and interesting, Captain America mostly feels like one of those C grade summer pictures that you pull the trigger on because the other movie you wanted wasn't playing anymore, and which you can barely even remember after a few months. It's alright, but you could probably do better.

Here's my entry on director Joe Johnston's previous movie, The Wolfman (2010), which was pretty awful.

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