Movie Review: Captain America
By Matthew Huntley
July 28, 2011
In the vast, never-ending landscape of superhero movies, Captain America falls somewhere in the middle. It leans on the side of the greats (Superman: The Movie, Spider-Man 2) instead of the not-so-greats (Green Lantern, Catwoman), but it doesn’t exactly put you on the edge of your seat. It’s a perfectly standard and serviceable adaptation of the 1940s comic book by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and if that’s enough for you, you’re in luck.
In this throwback adventure story set in 1942, men all over America are gearing up to fight Nazis by enlisting in the armed services during World War II. No one is more dedicated or geared up than Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, with his head digitally inserted on a small body), who’s heavy on courage and heart but light on brawns. Every one of his applications to become a soldier is rejected because he’s too small and asthmatic. Still, he won’t give up and tells his friend James (Sebastian Stan) to wait for him on the front lines in Europe.
Impressed by the young man’s spirit and nobility, German doctor Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) offers Rogers the chance to lead a new brand of super soldiers because “a weak man knows the value of strength.” In a secret laboratory fronting as an antique shop in Brooklyn, Rogers is injected with a special serum that amplifies his better (and worse) qualities. Naturally, it works mostly in his favor and transforms him from a short, 90-pound weakling into a sporting hunk with big pecks. The procedure astounds the military officers overseeing the project, including SSR Officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), whose view of Rogers gradually shifts from objective war experiment to romantic interest.
Colonel Chester Philips (Tommy Lee Jones) still has his doubts, especially when Rogers is turned into a marketing commodity by the war department. Coined “Captain America,” Rogers tours the country in a traveling stage show with long-legged women that urge people to buy war bonds. Although happy to help with the war effort, Rogers longs to be more than just a spokesman. While entertaining troops near Austria, he takes it upon himself to free a band of POWs and proves he can live up to the super soldier title. Soon enough, he’s fighting Nazis all over Europe.
Of course, every hero has a nemesis, and Captain America’s comes in the form of a Nazi named Johann Schmidt, a.k.a. Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). Schmidt believes he’s been delegated power by the Gods and has ambitions to dominate the world using an ancient cube called a Tesseract. He heads a secret organization called HYDRA, which he believes goes beyond even the Fuehrer. It’s only a matter of time before Schmidt will attempt to exterminate every major city and face off with Captain America.
If it’s a superhero movie you want, it’s a superhero movie you get. There’s nothing terribly special or unique about Captain America, but it’s pleasant, sometimes funny, sometimes exciting and it comes equipped with all the inevitable, albeit pleasing, action and emotional arcs common to its type, including the hero seeking vengeance for a wrongful death and a classic romance.
What I found most enjoyable about the movie was its look and design. It’s presented in soft focus to suggest a 1940s spirit and tone, and although most of the shots are computer generated, they’re not necessarily noticeable. I really felt transported back to this era, when America was fascinated by patriotism and world’s fairs, where mechanical engineers like Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) promised us flying cars in the near future.
The movie also has a jolly innocence to it, thanks in large part to the pure, unaffected performance from Chris Evans. This isn’t a dark, serious picture grounded in urban realism like The Dark Knight, but rather a high-spirited confection that reminds us why we love heroes and wish there were more Steve Rogers in the world.
Captain America is subtitled, “The First Avenger,” and in that context, we know the title character is destined to join The Avengers movement spearheaded by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who’s made an appearance in all the recent Marvel superhero adaptations as of late. Less than a year from now, The Avengers will be in theaters and will unite Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk under one banner. Compared to that anticipation and to the truly definitive superhero movies, Captain America seems like small potatoes, but it’s entertaining and enjoyable in its own right. It’s not one of the greats, but it gets the job done.