Captain America has been thwarting Nazis, championing virtue, and embodying American exceptionalism for just over 70 years, and yet somehow our nation’s greatest fictional hero has not managed one breakout big screen adaptation in that time. The 40s offered a film serial and the 90s gave us a less-than-stellar, straight-to-VHS feature film, but for the better part of his history, Cap has been stuck on the printed page, waiting for an age when movie studios would treat comic crossovers with a mature audience in mind. The latest attempt, Captain America: The First Avenger, is indeed more nuanced, more intelligent, and more grown-up than past efforts. Still, it never quite lives up to the character’s potential and ends up leaving a lot to be desired.
The film opens with a fair amount of character development, and rightly so. This is, after all, an origin story; and despite the fact that nearly every red-blooded American could pick Cap out of a lineup (were he ever arrested for, say, shoplifting shield wax), a surprising number of moviegoers are unfamiliar with his back story.
The year is 1942. America is at war with the Axis powers, and scrawny-yet-scrappy Brooklynite Steve Rogers wants to do his part for Uncle Sam. The only problem is that his fragile form and debilitating medical history put him well below the Army’s physical standards. Disappointed but ever-determined, Rogers tries his luck at a number of different enlistment centers until he eventually runs into Dr. Abraham Erskine, chief scientist on a top secret super-soldier project. Erskine sees Rogers’s potential, and with a special serum turns him into the epitome of valor and muscle mass.
But as the experiment ends, so too does the film’s complexity, leaving us with a number of stock character interactions cut between stale fight sequences. Instead of diving deeper into Rogers’s psyche or his relationship with love-interest Agent Peggy Carter, we’re given age-old whimsy and sitcom-y romanticism. Instead of a handful of technically stunning action scenes, director Joe Johnston sandwiches a montage of clichéd action tropes between two rather anticlimactic battles. Watching Captain America kick Nazi ass is by no means unpleasant; it just isn’t executed as well as it should be.
The acting is hit-or-miss, with Golden Age interplay translating to corniness for some and earnestness for others. Hugo Weaving is solid as always in the villain role and Chris Evans actually pulls off the lead, which is a relief considering he’s slated for at least three more outings as the Captain.
The good news here is that the film could have been much worse. While Captain America: The First Avenger doesn’t meet the high standard set forth by Iron Man, it is an entertaining, albeit lacking, summer blockbuster