I must say I feel sorry for Captain America: The First Avenger. If this movie had come out before Thor (2011) and X-Men: First Class (2011) I would have given it a standing ovation, but now the standards have gotten higher. Compared to the awful Fantastic Four movies, the embarrassing Daredevil movie, and the waste-of-time Elektra movie, Captain America is a masterwork, but unfortunately it’s still not a very good movie. And here’s why…
As with Thor’s movie, Captain America: The First Avenger is an introductionary story for the Avengers (2012) film. Therefore the story’s plot is quite simple: it tells how Steve Rogers became Captain America. I must admit, I’m not very familiar with his past in the comics, but to my knowledge the movie took quite many liberties with the comics (I will return to this later).
In the movie Steve Rogers is introduced to us as this small, feeble guy with multiple serious ailments making him unfit for the army. He tries to pass muster again and again even though the doctors are pretty much telling him they are in fact saving his life, keeping him out. Finally he gets the attention of doctor Abraham Erskine, who finds Rogers’s mental abilities (honesty, standing up for others, and unyieldingness) just what he’s looking for, and helps him to get into the army. In the army Steve Rogers becomes the first and finally the only person to be injected with super soldier serum, which makes him exactly that – a super soldier.
But he’s not Captain America yet. After an attack from HYDRA, Rogers is left alone. The propaganda department hires him for a show, where he tours the country with showgirls selling war bonds. He makes movies. He has his own comic book (the cover is the real 1st issue cover). Finally his show takes him to the front line entertaining the troops and he finds out his old friend Bucky has been captured by the Red Skull and HYDRA. Against his superior’s orders, Rogers goes on a rescue mission and saves the captured soldiers. Hurrah, Captain America is born!
But that’s not all. After the successful rescue mission, Captain America gathers around a group of soldiers including Dum Dum Dugan and Bucky and they go after HYDRA and Red Skull. A lot happens here, but none of it very important. Something as uninteresting as Bucky’s death takes place, but the story has no time to stop to mourn that, because there’s not much time left and we still need to kill Red Skull! So Captain America goes after Red Skull, fights him in a plane, Red Skull gets killed and Captain America decides to sink Red Skull’s plane, which he’s flying now, into the Arctic Ocean or something – in any case it’s cold and apparently he freezes.
Then (can you see the problem already) the modern reseachers find him, bring him back to life and hire him for S.H.I.E.L.D.
Also there was a sidestory where Captain America gets into a sort-of-romance with a female colleague from the army. She being the most badass, Terminator-like soldier in the army.
I doubt I even have to tell you what the main problem with the movie was. There was just too much stuff going on in one movie. I don’t know, maybe they should have ditched Red Skull completely or something. Now the first part of the movie was about Steve Rogers becoming Captain America, and then the second part was about Captain America being Captain America and fighting Red Skull. And alongside there was even some romancing, and…
Captain America, the goodie two-shoes
Since there was too much going on for one movie, all the characters were left paper thin. Even Captain America is very one dimensional. Ok, so let’s be frank – Captain America is a very one dimensional character. Where all the other superheroes have at least one flaw to them, Captain America is just the most sickeningly clean, boy scout, perfect superhero there is. There is nothing to make him an interesting character. He just is. Perfect.
This is of course due to the circumstances in which he was originally created. He was created as a propaganda tool during the Second World War and even in his first issue in the cover he is shown hitting Hitler in the face. Captain America is the ultimate propaganda character, the perfectly good one fighting the ultimate evil. It’s just too bad they kept him the same after the war ended. But that also leads us to the second pitfall which the movie script writers luckily were able to avoid.
Being the invention of propaganda, Captain America is also a national hero. He is America, everything America symbolizes. In fact, I think I even heard they were wondering if they were even going to publish Captain America: The First Avenger in Europe because they somehow thought he wouldn’t be known here. I suppose in America or at least at Marvel or in the movie industry Captain America is still very much the symbol of everything good in America – or something. Against that background the movie could have been the most sickeningly nationalistic production ever, where the US flag would have been shown on the background of exploding barrels like in the most horrible examples from the Bush JR era. But thank god, that’s not the path they chose. The part where Captain America tours the country with the showgirls is amazing in the way that it returns the character back to the same level with the rest of us. He’s not turned into this super soldier instantly. Instead he is returned back to his old level as the feeble not-a-soldier he was before he was given the serum. To become Captain America he has to claim that title by his actions. That also being a great message from the movie. You can’t just have everything granted, you have to work to earn the respect of others. And that’s what he does.
The characters and the cast
Once again a superb casting from Marvel and associates!
I learned only later that Chris Evans, who played Captain America, was in fact the same person who played Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies. Aargh! The second Fantastic Four movie with Silver Surfer came on the Finnish TV just now and it was just painful to watch. Hard to believe we are talking about the same actor! But back to this movie. I especially liked the fact that Evans doesn’t have a square jaw. I don’t know why, but that one detail makes him the perfect Captain America for me. Somehow that makes him a normal man next door in my mind and a much more of a nice person. I think a square jaw would have made him too man of steel to be nice. Now he’s a nice guy. But no matter his jaw, he was a very good choice for the part. I also must salute the actor who played Captain America’s body when he was still “just” Steve Rogers. I don’t think he was mentioned in the cast list.
Special thanks go to Hayley Atwell who played Peggy Carter, the woman soldier and the romantic interest of Captain America. I really liked they’d found a woman who has enough spunk to play the part. Unlike Jamie Alexander playing Sif in Thor, Atwell was a believable soldier woman who was able to fill Peggy’s shoes. That’s pretty good for the only female role in the whole movie. Ok, so there were those show girls, that one girl Howard Stark kissed and that blonde, who tried to get into Captain America’s pants, but they don’t really count. Hayley was the only woman in the film who actually had the chance to play a real woman (a character) and not just a stereotype.
Favourite part: when she goes after that car and fires it all cool and collected, even when the other car explodes right next to her. Terminators would be jealous.
Another very good casting was Dum Dum Dugan played by Neal McDonough. The character of Dum Dum Dugan is a bit of a mystery to me, since I have almost no recollection of the character from the comics, but he was perfect! That hat, that moustache! I love moustaches! And he had enough charisma to steal the show in all the scenes he was in. I hope this won’t be the last we see of him.
The only other character worth mentioning is Bucky (Sebastian Stan). Bucky was originally some kind of a boy scout fighting alongside Captain America, like Robin to Batman. Sort of an understandable character, since the comics were made for young boys, who could identify with Bucky. Poor lad, has a dog’s name. Well, in the movie Bucky is a grown man, who sort of protects Steve Rogers before he turns into Captain America and later follows him. I suppose they had to have Bucky in the movie, and I find it a nice homage to the character who was later ditched from the comics. And just like his comic counterpart, in the movie Bucky loses his life. The only bad thing is, his death serves absolutely no purpose in the movie and is passed in less than five minutes when Captain America tries to solve the problem by drinking, only to find out he can’t get drunk due to his enhanced metabolism.
Also worth mentioning are Tommy Lee Jones playing Colonel Chester Phillips and the unfortunate Red Skull actor Hugo Weaving. Weaving is such a great actor it’s a shame his face is lost somewhere behing the red mask/computer effects and that his role was reduced(?) into such an insignificant part. Basically, in the beginning of the movie we are given the impression he is going to be a huge adversary to Captain America, but in the end he just flees from fights, yells something, and then crashes the plane with Captain America. With all that adoo you would wait to get more out of the character. It’s almost like there were two movies which were crammed into one and the biggest loser in the process was Red Skull.
Well, yes! I must also mention the great costumes. In fact my DVD copy of the movie has an extra feature titled “Outfitting a hero” where they tell about making Captain America’s outfit. Like they say in the documentary, Captain America’s outfit is a classic design, and instantly recognizable, but at the same time it looks pretty silly – especially in real life. I have always found the little wings on the sides of his head ridiculous. I had never paid attention to the boots, but they too caused trouble for the costume designers for the movie. I think the final outfit they made for Captain America is great. The character is still easily recognizable yet at the same time it’s a “realistic” design which could have existed.
To see or not to see?
As I said in the beginning, if this movie had come out before Thor and X-Men: First Class, I propably would have been very happy with it. But since those two movies and especially the latter have proved that it is possible to make a superhero movie which good, period, superheroes or not, I must say I was disappointed with Captain America: The First Avenger. Based on the trailer and all the acclaims I had expected a better movie. Unfortunately the whole thing is just too fractured in storytelling. There is too much going on, and the movie doesn’t have a growth story or anything to keep it together. Captain America is Captain America the second he’s born. Everything after that is pointless. They could have just put him in the freezer and saved us some useless action and concentrated more on the characters.
But still, this is not a bad movie. I would say, if you are into superheroes, go see the film, but if not, save your money for the Avengers movie. That movie was bloody awesome! :D