Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Here is something that doesn't come up too often outside of geek conversations. I don't like Captain America very much. Oh it's not the perceived jingoism that comes with him, though I certainly have no taste for jingoism, but that's rarely accurate to his character. It's just...his personality of complete goodness without any temptation or compromise makes me perceive him as...well boring. It's not that a hero has to be Dwight from Sin City, but flaws, doubts and issues are what make a character well rounded and give him interest and humanity. It's ironic therefore that this movies desire seems to be to take that aspect of Captain America and ramp it up to 11.

Which isn't a deal breaker by any stretch: I still like Superman and Superman II despite a similar main character (I don't like Superman much either) but it doesn't help. For those 3 of you who don't know, the plot is concerned with underweight asthmatic Steve Rogers, who wants to join the army. He is refused for being...an underweight asthmatic, but gets a chance at joining after being injected with a super-soldier serum, but sabotage leaves him as the only super soldier, left to fight ex-Nazi scientist the Red Skull.

The Avengers lead in films have been getting gradually shorter on brains, so all I really required out of this was a solid action flick, and on that note it certainly delivers. The fist fights and coregraphy are both excellent, the CGI delivers, the cinematography and editing are both great. If The Incredible Hulk hadn't happened, I'd say it has the best action scenes of the Avengers films so far, though I will say it's odd seeing a supposedly serious film having Captain America's shield bounce around like Xena's chakram. And the technique used to make Chris Evans look like a 90 pound weakling (not sure what it is off the top of my head) works well.

Of course, the place where it falls short is in the story department. Oh the story isn't bad, it's well structured up to a point, even if it is exactly what you're expecting, but it seems to be lacking any real depth. Captain America himself is so deeply fixated on being 'good' that he's almost entirely without an arc. There's no interest in watching a guy be good if he has no compulsion to be otherwise, because there was never a question of whether he would be good.

A lot of important things seem to happen off screen, a biproduct of it taking place over the course of years as opposed to weeks, but that never really hurts the film. Where it does start to crack is the third act, which amounts to an abbreviated sequence of action scenes, relegating a major part of the plot to the blink of an eye. It pulls itself back together for the final battle, but by then the damage is done.

The acting is mostly good. Chris Evans does what he can, but absent a character arc, all he can do is stand around looking serious and intone his lines with great pathos (makes you wonder why they didn't just hire Mark Whalberg). Hayley Atwell does alright as...well The Girl (which is really all the movie presents her as). Tommy Lee Jones shines in a minor role as what amounts to a softer version of R Lee Ermery from Full Metal Jacket (what would drill sergeants in movies do without him?) and Hugo Weaving chews every bit of scenery he can get his hands on as the villain.

The script is...well it's not BAD persay, but it's underwhelming and unsubtle. Most of the good lines of dialogue are given to Tommy Lee Jones. Many of the characters are under characterized, especially Captain America's anti-Hydra team. And while this is a minor complaint, part of the problem with the inter-movie continuity is that they feel they don't need to explain anything. A BIG part of the plot hinges on the Red Skull having a magic thingamajig that never gets explained at all. And while many geeks might disagree with me, expecting your audience to have seen a movie that isn't a direct prequel to the movie you're making is really bad form.

At the end of the day, Captain America is a solidly made film. I doubt it'll be on my Best Of The Year list (unless I don't see anything else good for the rest of the year) but it's a solid summer action movie and certainly better than a lot of things this year, so if you're so inclined, give it a look.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders why is Union Jack not in his costume? His costume is awesome.

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