Imagine a stirring Marvel Comics movie where a violent bully breaks away from his boss Hitler and threatens the entire free world. A scrawny, heroic American boy risks his life in a secret experiment. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) emerges a muscular Mr. Universe with superhero powers. His mission: to track down the demonic Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).
Now imagine watching the entire movie wearing dark shades. Captain America: The First Avenger, a set up for next year’s comic book feature The Avengers, is now playing at Palace 17 and Odyssey Theater, Hartford, CT.
The story is exciting at first. World War II is underway. Hitler wins victory after victory. Rogers, a gaunt asthmatic with a brave spirit, is turned down by the Army. He applies again and again. When research scientist and former Nazi Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, fascinating here) spies Rogers at the World’s Fair in Queens, New York, he sees great potential.
“Do you want to kill Nazis?” Erskine asks Rogers. “I don’t want to kill anyone,” Rogers replies. “I don’t like bullies.” The scientist recruits him for a top-secret training program. Rogers will become the first of a new breed of super soldiers. “Why me?” Rogers asks. A weak man knows compassion, Erskine tells him. Skeptical Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones, very good here) must admit that lightweight Rogers has loads of bravery and character.
A gray pall covers the entire 2-D version of Captain America. The movie is so visually dull that its story grows lackluster. Reviewers who saw the 3-D version have complained about an even darker effect. Too bad director Joe Johnston didn’t take a cue from Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight), who married noir with occasional daylight. Johnston’s film isn’t noir, though. It’s just gray.
Transformation is overshadowed by special effects. Captain America loses energy in its second half. Repetitive action, stiff formality and a disconnected feeling among cast members don’t help. Oh, for the heart and pizzazz of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man! Absent is the rich character and interpersonal sparring of the X-Men: First Class!
Johnston (Jumanji; Jurassic Park III; October Sky) could have filmed Captain America in black and white. This would have been more interesting and lively. He does capture beautiful 1940’s detail here.
In emphasizing period detail and computer-generated effects, the director neglects character development. Often lacking are the complexities of authentic interpersonal tension (achieved so well in X-Men: First Class). The rapport between Evans and his love interest, training officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), feels forced and underdeveloped.
Evans creates a strong, brave, soft-spoken hero (combining shades of Superman and Clark Kent). Sebastian Stan plays his best friend Bucky Barnes. Weaving (Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy) is fun to watch as dastardly Red Skull, a power-hungry villain almost incoherent with hatred.
Red Skull is backed by an army of robo-soldiers who make up the Nazi research group Hydra. “Hail, Hydra!” they cry. “If you cut off one head, many will grow it its place,” a dying spy warns Captain America.
A twisted reference to the tree of life symbol (a tree that joins heaven and earth) is shown as an invasive, sinister “Tree of the World” emblem for Hydra.
Why mask the red, white and blue with unrelenting gray? The choice reflects America’s widespread national cynicism. A languishing economy, natural disasters and terrorist acts have made such cynicism popular. Captain America is doing extremely well at the box office.
Promising inspiration, Captain America doesn’t deliver. Thankfully, this marvel comics movie ends with a dash of hope. Samuel L. Jackson reminds us that this tale merely sets up the future adventures of The Avengers (2012). Starring will be Evans, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Jackson as Nick Fury, and many more. The Avengers is being directed by Joss Whedon.
If you like Captain America, you might enjoy: X-Men: First Class; Thor; Iron Man 2.
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Captain America 2011 / PG-13 / 2 hours, 4 min
Cast Overview: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Ken Choi, Stanley Tucci
Director: Joe Johnston
Genre: Comic Book, Adventure, Fantasy