Oh ‘Captain,’ My ‘Captain’

Photo Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Another month, another superhero movie. Indeed, the arrival of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” the fourth superhero film in just three months, is likely to meet reactions from both ends of the moviegoing spectrum. Those who have been bred on comic books will greet it with glee and jubilation. On the other hand, most people will sigh and grumble about the apparent excess of films in the genre.

In any case, “Captain America” certainly has a bit to accomplish. For the fans of the titular superhero, it should reflect the spirit of the comic books. For the average moviegoer, it should provide an enjoyable viewing experience. Finally, and at the very least, it should be a film to which we can sing “America, Fuck Yeah.” While it’s far from being the best superhero film of all time, “Captain America” does prove to be fun blockbuster entertainment.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a “90-pound asthmatic” from Brooklyn, attempts to enlist for World War II military duty but is rejected multiple times. His conviction to fight the Nazis and defend his country catches the attention of scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who recruits him for a top-secret government program headed by Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who intend to create an army of super soldiers. Injected with a serum and hit with “Vita-Rays,” Steve becomes taller and muscular Ń an ideal candidate for Mr. Universe.

Donning a colorful costume and dubbed Captain America, Steve initially becomes part of a War Bonds promotional stage across the nation and soon becomes a sensation. He eventually travels to Europe and embarks on a solo mission behind enemy lines to rescue hundreds of American soldiers, one of whom is close friend “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Soon, Captain America finds himself at the forefront of a war against Nazi officer Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), who has plans for world domination.

What’s most impressive about “Captain America” is how it embodies the American WWII-era patriotism and propaganda. This is significant because when the comics were first created in the early 1940s, the character was an intentionally patriotic creation who was often depicted fighting the Axis powers. In the film, that spirit is clearly seen not just in posters, but also a musical sequence and in some of the characters as well Ń in particular, Carter seems to echo Rosie the Riveter.

The film’s plot, while having its share of exciting moments, does move along too quickly for its own good, particularly after Steve becomes Captain America. Before that point, the film takes its time Ń at a comfortable pace for its audience Ń portraying the humble origins of the man behind the mask and his eventual rise to heroism. After that, it seems all too eager to reach its climax, and as a result, not only are many potentially thrilling scenes belittled down to brief sequences or glimpses in a montage, but character development is also forced to take a back seat.

Even the Captain himself is not immune to this cutback; once he puts on the famed red, white and blue costume, he becomes quite one-dimensional not just in his actions, but also his personality. The film is rather reluctant in developing Steve any further beyond what we already know about him when he was a weakling, and this can be seen by the fact that he hardly undergoes a major change.

Evans brings sincerity to the title role and does a good job overall. His performance is at its best in the film’s first act, and if it wasn’t for the Captain’s one-dimensional personality afterwards, he most likely would have had a chance to express more charisma, which is something the character seems to lack.

Speaking with a subtle German accent, Weaving approaches his character with gusto and delivers the film’s best performance. Kudos to Toby Jones, who plays Schmidt’s right-hand man, for not only does he coax the best out of Weaving with his meek nature, he also complements him extremely well.

Those who have watched most of the recent Marvel films should realize by now that the majority of supporting characters are hardly developed, if not underused, and “Captain America” is guilty of this as well. It’s up to the actors and actresses to utilize their skills to bring them out of probable obscurity. Tommy Lee Jones manages to be quite funny by his delivery of some witty lines, and Dominic Cooper makes an impression by exhibiting Howard Stark’s playboy mannerisms.

With director Joe Johnston at the helm, the film’s action scenes are well lit and shot with a steady hand Ń the absence of shaky cam here is a welcome treat. In addition, close-up shots are used very sparingly, so the action scenes are easy to follow.

The film’s production design evokes memories of a 1970s or 80s-period adventure film. While many of the sets and props look blatantly fake, the way which they are used in the story is convincing enough. The muted color palate highlights the film’s gritty nature.

The visual effects are impressive, especially the way in which Evans’ head is seamlessly grafted onto a skinny body for Steve’s pre-Captain America scenes.

The soundtrack, consisting of Alan Silvestri’s original score and the song “Star-Spangled Man” by Alan Menken and David Zippel, is arguably one of the best. It helps complete the film’s tone and perfectly matches the mood in every scene.

As far as this year’s superhero films go, “Captain America” falls behind “X-Men: First Class,” but is a notch above “Thor” and a league or two ahead of “Green Lantern.” The film’s earnest spirit and tone, coupled with terrific action scenes and some good performances, is enough to compensate for its otherwise rushed story and missed opportunities. America, fuck yeah!

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars