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Review: Captain America – The First Avenger (2011)

August 1st, 2011

Unfortunately, Captain America was not as bad-ass as this Private Ryan meets Steve Rogers poster portended.

So I broke my normal rule and went and saw a highly anticipated movie on its opening weekend (or at least I think it opened this past weekend). After a full day of playing basketball and sweltering at a Yankees game, I headed out trying to get hydrated and air conditioned at a jam packed theater for Captain America.

I had pretty high hopes for Captain America. It is one of the follow-ons to one of the better superhero adaptations, in Iron Man. Indeed, in some ways this serves as a prequel to Iron Man, with Tony Stark’s father playing a prominent role and edging further toward the awaited Avengers series of films.

Captain America also featured some pretty solid casting. If you thought of one actor who could best serve as an action star and embodiment of what Hollywood would imagine as the truly American look, you’d probably end up with Chris Evans. Toss in Tommy Lee Jones as his grumpy commanding officer and Hugo Weaving (of Matrix Agent Smith fame) as your bad guy and you’ve got a start for some good scenes. Brits Dominic Cooper (as Howard Stark) and Haylee Atwell (as Agent Peggy Carter) rounded out the principal roster.

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Visually, the movie is stunning in providing a solid war era New York City mixed against pretty thrilling fight and action choreography. As a note, I chose to see the movie in 2D, eschewing the 3D option primarily because of showtime. Most of the movie stays set outside of period New York, moving to large “bad guy” factory settings and one gripping, yet entirely ridiculous train fight.

Where the movie falls short is in creating any kind of emotional impact with any of the characters. Sure, Evans’ Steve Rogers is very likeable as the pipsqueak who just wants to fight for his country; however, neither the Captain America incarnation of Rogers, nor really any other character has any emotional grasp on the audience. There are a couple of principal good guy deaths and we really don’t get any true sympathy despite the potential for emotional impact. At the same time, the love interest in the film is also entirely anything but gripping.

Perhaps most shocking is the absolute lack of any sort of patriotic vibe to Captain America. The lack of rah-rah is perhaps intentional, with the selling of War Bonds serving as a sidetrack to Rogers’ voyage to glory. But where you really feel this is in the lack of any sort of patriotic vibe to the battles. Without any giving away the plot, this is less tied to World War II than X-Men: First Class was to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The non-glossy version of Captain America apparel was a solid upgrade. Much like the X-Men, the outfit on Captain A was pretty cool.

The two areas in which the movie does succeed is in staging visually stunning battle scenes. The second is in putting together some comic lines that actually work pretty well. These aren’t really the traditional action hero one-liners made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. They are separate from the fight scenes and work to try to give pace to the movie.

Ultimately, though, Captain America: The First Avenger really serves only to promote and lead up to the Avengers film series. I can’t say that I really enjoyed this one all that much, but I will continue to watch these and do expect to catch Thor and the other movies when they’re on Netflix, if not in theaters.

Trailer

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