Captain America: The First Avenger (12A)
Cast: Chris Evans (Sunshine, Fantastic Four), Hayley Atwell (Brideshead Revisited), Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Lord Of The Rings) Tommy Lee Jones (No Country For Old Men, The Fugitive).
Director: Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park 3, Jumanji).
Screenwriters: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (Prince Caspian, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers).
Running Time: 124 Minutes
There are two things you have to ask yourself when reviewing a film like Captain America: The First Avenger. Of primary concern is just how much US-of-A based wordplay do you allow yourself? With a title including something as broad as an entire country, one could really go hog-wild with tired metaphors and painful puns. You’ll be happy to note this review stops itself at the above title.
The second question pinging round a critic’s mind (there is plenty of room for things to ping): ‘Is it best to set the benchmark of criticism at all films, or just superhero flicks?’ If you pick the former Captain America is a pretty flat and dull action flick, crammed full of talent that would be best suited elsewhere, with a few decent moments buried under a mass of spectacle. If you pick the latter category by which to judge it, well, it’s pretty much the same.
Kicking things off in the present day icy tundra, a ship is discovered by Arctic workers who proceed to call in the military. Upon boarding the vessel, the army types discover Capo’s iconic shield, setting up a flashback to 1942.
In the midst of Norway during WWII we find Hugo Weaving panto-ing the place up as a Nazi so dastardly and naughty even Hitler doesn’t invite him to parties, before we shoot over to USA-land to follow our hero of the piece Steve Rogers, a weedy 90lb asthmatic runt determined to give his all for Queens and country.
Before you can say ‘we need a super soldier to personally escort Adolf Hitler to the Gates of Hell’, Steve is transformed into a so-buff-he-must-be-uncomfortable, Hercules of a gent ready to win the war single fingeredly. And here is where, after a fairly neat set-up, things start to tumble downhill faster than Jack, Jill and/or a pale of water.
The chief error, is that the film-makers – most notably the screenwriters – have forgotten to set anything resembling a ticking clock, a device to move things along. Think Indiana Jones racing against the Nazis in order to find the Ark. Think the Na’vis land in Avatar set for destruction by Colonel Quaritch. This action movie staple may not be original, or that tricky to do, but it is pretty essential in making sure your audience is invested in the story.
Yes, it’s set up that we’re in the Second World War, yes Hugo has a powerful cube weapon (possibly the Allspark from Transformers), but we don’t get any inherent danger from either. It’s only in the last 30 minutes that we get an actual race against time action sequence.
Not that the film is lacking in action. If only it were. Instead we get fight after explosion after fisticuffs after blast, each one as yawn-inducing as the last. As a perfect example of the films lack of urgency, one scene sees Captain America leave a big plane via a little plane just to have a fight on the little plane and return it, moments later, to the big plane. 5 minutes of screen time gone. Plot static.
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But a lack of peril and originality has been steadily seeping into the Marvel movies for quite some time. What Captain America needed was something to make it stand out, something different from the rest. It might have found this USP if only it embraced the humour that stands out a mile. You might think the director was playing things tongue-in-cheek, having Steve Rogers ‘sneaking’ around a Nazi base with a great big feck-off American flag strapped to his back or the individually labelled bombs held by the enemy. Sadly, the mood is too straight for anything like fun to seep in.
For a perfect example of El Captain’s po-faced attitude look no further than its semi-tribute to the British classic, A Matter Of Life And Death, which closes the film. The opening of the film, (video below) is, potentially, the greatest opening sequence committed to celluloid. It mixes tragedy with humour, philosophy and religion, the essence of love and death and it lasts barely five minutes. When Captain America attempts something of a homage it barely manages to emote a little bit of sadness.
There are some plus points. Chris Evans does a decent job with a thankless task. His last foray into Marveldom had him playing a cocky, smooth, arrogant son-of-a-bitch that most wannabe stars would give their eye-teeth for. Here, he’s the exact opposite to The Human Torch. Modest, grounded, terrible with women, almost Superman-esque in his goodie-two-shows.
Thankfully, being the kind of self-sacrificing guy that would throw himself onto a live grenade for the greater good, makes him as likeable as anybody who wears wings on his helmet can ever be.