Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Captain America: The First Avenger is a generally mediocre superhero film with a few flashes of greatness appearing throughout. It cements Chris Evans as a star, but don't expect to remember anything about it after you leave the theater.

Based on a Marvel Comics series that goes all the way back to World War II and has survived in various comic and cartoon incarnations since, the movie goes through the general motions of the origin story leading into the hero's first adventure.

The movie was directed by Spielberg/Lucas protege Joe Johnston, best known for The Rocketeer, October Sky and the third Jurassic Park.
There's some excitement, one truly impressive use of special effects and an unapologetic air of patriotism, which is sort of refreshing. But the movie fails in the areas of plot, character and visuals, hurt especially by the worst 3-D presentation of any movie this summer.

Evans is Steve Rogers, an exceptionally skinny Brooklyn boy in the early '40s who looks like he's about 17 years old. Repeatedly rejected from miltary service, Rogers eventually stumbles into a top-secret government program to create supersoldiers—at which point he becomes the titual hero.

While he's first pressed into service selling war bonds, the Captain eventually does battle with the villain (Hugo Weaving) a Nazi mad scientist who is, literally, worse than Hitler. (He's a contemporary and countryman of the Fuhrer, but has even more grandiose, evil plans.)

The CGI used to make Evans look scrawny is far and away the most impressive thing in the movie. I honestly had to wonder if they'd hired another actor, or Evans' younger brother or something, to play the part, which is how convincing the CGI was.
Unfortunately, the effects very much fall short in just about every other way.

The movie has cultivated a unique and believable look of a 1940s film—but it's very much undercut by underwhelming action sequences and, even worse, the most atrocious postproduction 3-D transfer of any film this summer (which is really saying something).
Not only is the 3-D totally unneeded, but the glasses add a degree of darkness that undermines the movie at every turn—especially when we can't see character's faces. 

The movie is also full of characters, often played by strong actors, given very little to do.
Weaving, the villain of the Matrix movies, is the heavy here, and the character chugs along just fine until a moment that seemed lifted from an old Scooby Doo cartoon.
Toby Jones played Karl Rove in Oliver Stone's W, and I can't picture him as anything but Rove since—especially when he's playing someone's evil henchman, as he does here. Tommy Lee Jones is welcome, but doesn't get a lot of character depth, while Stanley Tucci is gone way too soon as another mentor character.
Truly making an impression is British actress Hayley Atwell, perfectly channeling 1940s movie cool as Peggy Carter. And of course, the plot has to take a huge detour just to shoehorn in yet another in-movie preview of next summer's Avengers film, in this case literally altering the laws of times and space to do so.

It's been a long summer of movies about second-tier superheroes presented in less-than-stellar 3-D. Hopefully by next year, when Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the Avengers all return, Hollywood will either have this whole 3-D thing figured out, or they'll have moved on from it.

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