Thursday 24 November 2011

Film Review | Captain America: The First Avenger, dir. Joe Johnston

Do I love my country?

I don't know that I do. Maybe that's because I'm Scottish. Maybe that's because Scotland isn't from the inside - or the outside - a very loveable country; we highlanders are a violent and violently unhealthly people. Some of the sights hereabouts sure are pretty to look at, but wherever there are large numbers of people? If you can possibly avoid it, you probably don't want to go there. I know I don't.

In a larger sense, though, I think a country, and all the concept of country entails, is a difficult thing to feel for with such intensity... such unquestioning acceptance.

But Steve Rogers? Boy oh boy does he love his country! The Second World War is in full swing, and Steve wants nothing more than to take to the front-lines with his best buddy Bucky. But the military won't have him, no matter how often he applies - and he applies often. Alas, he's a lanky young man, physically a complete and total weakling with a long and sordid history of chronic conditions to boot.

So on the eve of his best friend's departure, when a doctor in charge of a top secret research project offers Steve another way to play some part in the ongoing war effort, the little fella - God bless him - jumps at the chance. Several vials of super-serum later, Captain America is born. All too soon, sadly, the doctor dies, and when it transpires that his super-serum can't be reproduced, Steve's only option is to help sell war bonds. In a year he has becomes an icon of purity and patriotism to the people at home, but abroad, where it actually matters a damn, he remains an object of ridicule: a man in tights, if he's any sort of man at all.

Oddly, Joe Johnston - the director who gave us Jumanji, The Rocketeer and Jurassic Park III amongst many other fondly-remembered Hollywood movies, not least Honey, I Shrunk the Kids! - Joe Johnston takes, I'm afraid, an awfully long time to tell this origin story that needn't (truth be told) have been told at all, given how intimately familiar it is... even to me, and I haven't read a Captain America comic book in my life.

Thus the first hour of Captain America: The First Avenger is an at-times excruciatingly slow build-up to a second hour that seems relentless by comparison. Indeed it is: one elaborate set-piece picks up where the last left off, and the next is always hot on its overheated heels. By the end you're basically dazed, if not confused, for this is after all an exceedingly simple film.

Simplicity is no slight in itself, of course. Often the best stories can be reduced down to one of a few boilerplate premises; it is in how a story is told that it can become exceptional, or else. But there's not a lot of nuance in Captain America: The First Avenger either. At one point, as the worm turns, Hugo Weaving as the only other person besides Steve Rogers to have survived the super-serum - so it should come as no surprise that Johann Schmidt is the bad nasty apple to Steve Rogers' delicious and nutritious orange - anyway, Hugo Weaving, somewhere around the halfway mark of the movie, actually tears off his face, to reveal the evil red skull beneath!

If you can swallow that - that, and swear an oath that you won't take anything in this film in the least seriously, up to and including a few objectionable moments - there's actually a fair bit of fun to be had with Captain America: The First Avenger. It's compromised in almost every sense, yet there's a certain purity to it. It's dated already, but right down to some horrendous special effects, it looks the part. Needless to say, none of the characters are anything resembling interesting, but an impressive cast put forth some solid performances in any event: Hugo Weaving hams it up marvelously, mostly, I expect Billie Piper fans will watch to watch the charming Hayley Atwell closely, and there is just enough humility to Chris Evans' performance that his Steve Rogers is every bit as credible as his Captain America is incredible.

So. Patriotic shenanigans, decently done if you can overlook the vast imbalance between the first half and the last, and some dodginess here and there. Fun for the whole family; that is, assuming the whole family is doing something else at the time.

I'd recommend a comic book!


  1. I avoid theaters like a plague, so I don't see these movies at the same time as others. From the talk surrounding Captain America's release, you'd think it was one of the best non-Batman comic book adaptations in years.

    Did they drug the concession stand snacks?

    Perhaps song and dance appeals to comic book fans more than I realize, but for me the movie lingered too long on the lead up to Cap actually doing... anything. And when he did finally rush headlong into action, it seemed to skim the bulk of it. Perhaps they had to trim down the action scenes to make up for the long, long introduction?

    Such an underwhelming flick, but I do give it Kudos for including a romantic subplot that wasn't love at first sight bullshit. Thor, I'm looking at you.