This one is a tough one for me. Despite my lack of knowledge of the lore of Capt. America, I admit that I was a bit excited by what I’d seen in the previews and went into this week’s entry in the Movie Monday series with some anticipation. It was a solid origin story that had a bit of heart, a bit of humor, a bit of romance, and even a bit of tragedy to it. But did it live up to the expectations that I had going in? Read on and find out. But first…
Cowboys & Aliens – Comes out next week. Thank goodness… I’ve seen this trailer too many times. They have one advantage… They underestimate Daniel Craig. If that’s really true, they’re screwed!!
Abduction – Some guy from Twilight tries to be Jason Bourne. Yawn… Wait, what the heck are Alfred Molina and Sigourney Weaver doing in this movie? Oh well. Yawn.
Mission Impossible 4 – Same preview from a couple of weeks ago.
Adventures of Tintin – Directed by Spielberg. But I spent the whole trailer trying to figure out whether or not it was entirely CGI (the first shots didn’t look like it). It was. I wasn’t captivated.
The Amazing Spider-Man – Um, didn’t we do this about ten years ago? Ten years is long enough for a reboot? Oh well… I’ll probably see it. Maybe.
John Carter – What is this I don’t even… Teaser trailer. Made no sense to me whatsoever. Is it supposed to be hype?
Before I get into the movie, I have to tell you that this was the worst moviegoing audience I’ve experienced in quite awhile. If you want to know my feelings on people who talk in movies, you can read a post I wrote a long time ago (aside: it seems I forgot to do any follow-ups with my moviegoing etiquette series. I shall have to think upon that.). Anyway, it was bad. I walk into the theater (the second largest at the cinema I attend for Movie Mondays) and am surprised that the theater has a decent number of people in it. Nowhere near packed or anything; just enough people that I didn’t have the row to myself. I pick a row and settle in for the pre-trailer entertainment. About five minutes later a couple enters, hikes up the stairs to my row, and ask me if the seats near me are taken. I politely tell them that the seats are free, thinking that the couple will take the seats two or three down from me. They don’t. They sit RIGHT NEXT TO ME. What’s worse – this is the work of the male half of the couple. Didn’t this guy ever learn the whole guys-never-sit-next-to-each-other-unless-there-are-no-seats rule? Good lord! The problem is, I’m trapped. I followed the aforementioned rule, so there wasn’t space for me to move over on my left. I suppose I could have relocated, but why should I give up my choice seat? It didn’t get better from there. The family behind me spent the first 45 minutes of the movie smacking and crunching on their snacks, loudly chatting to each other, and guffawing uncontrollably at the mildest humor. To top it off, there were no less than three toddlers in the theater, one of which babbled nonstop at the top of her lungs, completely unchecked by whatever guardian brought her to the movie. I expect this kind of audience at a weekend showing, but on a Monday? It was surreal.
Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. Where was I? Oh yes…
The movie’s setting is World War II, and as the introduction unfolds we’re introduced to our hero, a puny young man that is bound and determined to join the army in his father’s footsteps. The problem is that he’s tiny and has a laundry list of ailments that prevent him from being able to enlist. This catches the eye of the Einstein-esque Stanley Tucci, a German-born scientist helping the U.S. Army with its super-soldier program. Of course our hero would catch the scientist’s eye; I mean, nothing screams super-soldier like a 120 lb. athsmatic wimp, right? The movie’s exposition is a bit of a hot mess. We have some training scenes that show just how physcially unfit our hero really is, coupled with some run-of-the-mill basic training humor and a few genuine moments that draw us into the movie. We get to the transformation point where our hero is turned into Captain America, and suddenly the plot takes an unexpected – and unnecessary – turn for the boring. After a strange war bond tour, things finally pick up and the movie gets rolling quickly. I won’t spoil anything else that happens, but it follows a standard action scene/”emotional” scene formula throughout the rest of the film.
The action sequences were solid. The special effects were quite good, but the blending of future tech in a 1940s environment seemed a little bizarre. I didn’t flinch at laser rifles and mythical power sources, but the fact that everybody had surveillance video left me scratching my head. Then there was Captain America’s shield, a disc made of unobtanium (or the Marvel equivalent, anyway) that had mystical properties of its own. Lighter than steel and both bullet- and laser-proof, the shield also had amazing boomerang qualities as well, rebounding off of its target and sliding back onto the Captain’s arm as though it belonged there. Predictable and a little humorous, but I found myself enjoying it nonetheless. The best effects of the film, I felt, were in the first 30 minutes of the film where they borrowed a page from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings to make the Captain appear small and weak compared to the other actors. It was a good effect that had me believing that Chris Evans was actually that small.
Despite its predictability, I found myself thinking that it was a good summer movie. In this case, though, good is the enemy of great. The whole time I felt like it had the potential to be a really great movie, but on most fronts it failed to achieve that greatness. It had potential for some really gut-wrenching emotion, and while it achieved some success with a touching moment or two, the movie largely leaves the potential untapped. I just never cared all that much for any of the characters; it’s a shame because they made me want to care but failed to bring it home emotionally. In retrospect, I’m really disappointed in that. There was potential for some real emotion, but the film took the shallow, summer blockbuster route instead of exploring the depth of emotion that it could have.
Chris Evans did a fine job as the Captain, but it was the supporting cast that I enjoyed the most. Hayley Atwell is lovely in the female lead; her Peggy Carter is a strong female that feels a little bit before her time. Tommy Lee Jones is our cranky colonel and plays his role well enough. Hugo Weaving as a villain is refreshing to see again, and his turn as Red Skull is pretty good. Stanley Tucci’s performance was my favorite, though. His German scientist looking to make right his past wrongs is genuine and his caring for the pre-bulk Captain is believable. The rest of the supporting cast is standard summer blockbuster faire. We have our “band of brothers,” the Captain’s unit. They even got Buck Compton, who sported a thick mustache and… a bowler hat? That was a weird addition. The unit itself was a model of diversity: you had the rough-and-tumble Asian guy from Fresno, the Frenchman, the bowler-wearing Buck Compton (was he supposed to be Irish? He kinda looked it but I’m not sure), and the trilingual African American. It was classic summer blockbuster caricature; nice and diverse, and completely wrong for the 1940s.
I think caricature is a good way to sum up this one. It’s not quite so over-the-top as Transformers, and it’s good enough that you can see the potential the story contained. But wherever the choice between great & subtle versus good & caricature is presented, the movie always goes with the caricature. It’s still a good summer blockbuster and has wider range than Transformers. While I was left slightly disappointed, in the end I enjoyed myself and Captain America: The First Avenger has me looking forward to next summer’s full Avengers movie.