Movie Review – Captain America: The First Avenger

I’ve already seen Captain America twice – something that would imply that I think the movie is great. However, this is a bit more complicated. So complicated that I am going to resort to the old pros and cons list to describe my feelings about this film.

The good:

The acting. Evans, who plays the titular character, and who just so happens to be an actor that I normally think of as mediocre (to put it politely) is actually quite well cast here. He plays Steve Rogers as earnest and determined without bordering on gung-ho patriotism and heroism (most of the time, but more on that later). He plays skinny Steve Rogers as a weakling, true, but also as someone brave and intelligent. We never really find ourselves laughing at pre-serum Steve because Evans plays a 90 pound asthmatic as a normal human being who realizes he is inadequate physically but who still exudes a sort of confidence that makes him likeable and real. As post-serum Rogers, he is humble but proud – a nice little hint of this is when he is watching a bad war propaganda movie featuring himself as Captain America and can’t help but smile at it – even as he develops a little cockiness, he still seems so down to earth that it isn’t aggravating.

Tommy Lee Jones is great as an old and quick talking sergeant who likes Steve but doesn’t really believe in him, even post-serum. He barks out orders and quips nicely and makes a role that might have been cliché and rote seem fresh and entertaining to watch.

Haylee Atwell plays the obligatory love interest, but the story makes a point of highlighting the connection she has with Steve as someone else who has always been overlooked or put down (because she is a woman in the army) and Atwell does very well in giving her some personality so that she does not just simply become the busty, vapid blow up doll that so many other women become in “guy” movies. It doesn’t hurt that she is shockingly pretty.

Last but not least is the great Hugo Weaving as the villain. Red Skull is not a three-dimensional villain a la the Joker or even that other little character Weaving portrayed by the name of Agent Smith. No, Johann Schmidt is the classic comic book villain. He has henchmen and evil plans to take over the world. He even has personal one-man air vehicles and a chair that spins. But Weaving plays him both campy and understated in a way that is hard to describe. He never devolves into maniacal laughter or cartoonish evilness, but at the same time he seems to relish having a little secret lab and classic music to listen to while plotting world domination. I honestly don’t really see anyone else being able to play this character without being overshadowed by the sillyness. Weaving seems to elevate almost everything he’s in by the mere force of his personality and charm. Weaving once said that he only enjoys playing a villain if the character has a sense of humor, and he brings that same sort of smirky bravado here. In some ways, you kinda like the Red Skull just because he is so vibrant. One of the best moments of the film is when he takes a moment to plan out the execution of some Nazi lackeys and actually counts the men he’s about to blow into oblivion. As to the voice (something that must be addressed with this actor), while I am certainly no expert at the accuracy of his German accent, the sibilant “s”s he adds on and the vaguely nasal tone makes this another voice that Weaving has created that will probably be talked about for some time.

The action. Johnston knows how to film action and use slow motion to draw out graceful movement. He also knows how to put two people together and have them punch each other in the face in an exciting way. The fight between Red Skull and the Captain at the end is rough and dirty and both men are agile enough to make it feel real.

The look and tone. This is not The Dark Knight. Johnston makes this movie feel retro in it’s color scheme as well as it’s tone. It may shock some viewers at first at how old-school this movie is. It is very classic looking and harkens back to the old comic books. But the movie is doing this consciously and handles it deftly. It is an extra nice touch to poke a little fun at the America-is-Awesome themes that permeate the Captain America comics and the one thing that could have drug this movie down. Captain America even joins a show to raise war bonds and sings about America and the war with chorus girls – the joke is addressing the propaganda that many could see in the image of Captain America. It is used to its full potential, though, when the Cap tries to take the revue to actual soldiers on the front lines and they are not amused by it at all.

The bad:

The look and tone. While it is one of the movies high points, it could also be a drawback to those who don’t get it or who simply do not like it. As I said, this is not The Dark Knight.

The music. At times I felt like I was watching a Disney movie during the fight/battle scenes (oh wait….). This is not a compliment. The music is just bland, or worse, too old-style heroic and seemed to contradict all the effort the director and screenplay writer went through to shatter the idea of this being a “go Hero!” kind of movie. The music actually almost ruined some scenes for me and make them cheesier than they were on their own.

The dialog. While I have already emphasized that Chris Evans exceeded my expectations, there were two or three cringe-worthy moments, mostly due to the script. When the Red Skull preaches to the Captain about a future with no flags, the lame response is “not my future!” – which no one could pull off. The same goes for Weaving, though he fairs better simply on the strength of his acting ability. However, these few moments don’t ruin the rest of the acting for me, so I can overlook it.

Suspension of disbelief. Captain America runs through a Nazi camp with an American flag-painted shield strapped to his back. And no one notices him….

The editing of the action. While Johnston seems to know how to film a fight scene, the editing felt abrupt. Instead of actually seeing battle, we see a montage of battle (something I don’t think I have ever seen in a movie before) and the idea of it is so weird. Battles are the good stuff, why would you speed through them so fast? Also, the last fight, while executed well by Evans and Weaving and choreographed well, also ends too quickly. I know the last Matrix movie was terrible, but the one thing it had going for it is that it was willing to give the hero and villain an epic fight at the end that lasted more than just a few minutes. It almost seemed like they were rushing the ending to get to the part where they connect Steve to the Avengers. In this case – and I rarely say this – I think this movie, despite its silliness, could have used a little longer runtime to give it everything it needed.

Overall, I found the movie entertaining, especially on the second viewing and I recommend it to hardcore fans and to those who are prepared for something different that what they may be used to.

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