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Captain America: The First Avenger

by David Foucher
EDGE Publisher
Friday Jul 22, 2011
Captain America: The First Avenger

Can we just cut right to "The Avengers" please? If you're like me, you're a bit exhausted watching all these warm-ups to the film that finally puts together Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Helmsworth), The Incredible Hulk and sundry other superfolk under the creative direction of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, appearing here, once again) -- it's due in 2012, after years of post-credits hints in Marvel movies. So far we've had two "Iron Man" movies and, in the interim, "Thor" -- not so good -- and now "Captain America: The First Avenger" -- better, but hardly the memorable hit that was "Iron Man."

Cap is Marvel's generic American hero, invented in 1941 and still going strong in comic books, despite his rumored death in 2007. Here, Marvel tells his coming out story: Skinny boy Steve Rogers, desperate to ante up into the Army to fight the Nazis, keeps flopping out for medical reasons until his earnest attitude is discovered by German defector Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who puts the lad in line for an experimental drug that converts him from bone to buff, then sends him out into the World War II amphitheater to kick some Third Reich ass with an oversized shield and fatigues painted red, white and blue.

It starts better than it finishes. Evans manages to imbue the lanky version of Rogers with endearing levels of inner conflict, despite the awkward nature of his CGI-enabled emaciated body (don't watch his fingers too closely if you want to preserve the illusion). Tommy Lee Jones chews the scenery brilliantly as Rogers' commander Colonel Chester Phillips. Dominic Cooper brings Tony Stark's father Howard intriguingly to life. And Tucci, as always, is just so much fun to watch, even sporting a graying beard and working his way through a thick German accent.

More importantly, director Joe Johnston cast Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt, who was an early benefactor of the good doctor's medicine until it burned his face into a red mask of death and turned him into a spitting megalomaniac worse than Hitler. Weaving manages to make even his mask emote right up to the anticlimactic end, offering Evans plenty of malice against which to bounce his character. Alas, Evans' character seems to follow the path beaten down by so many other gym-bound meatheads: the quirky, self-aware, conflicted Rogers turns into a brainless, one-dimensional bag of Captain America muscles when he emerges from his procedure, and devolves into a girl-happy Rambo beating a one-man drum through the European battlegrounds.

In this, Evans is largely let down by scriptwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who failed to make of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's original caricature a character with long-term depth. But Evans also lacks the self-deprecating, easygoing humor of Downey Jr, who converted Iron Man into such an engaging on-screen presence. On the up side, he certainly doesn't lack the physique.

The movie also suffers from an uncomfortable juxtaposition between the existing Avengers properties and the requirement to tell a story set in the 1940s. Production Designer Rich Heinrichs and Costumer Anna B. Sheppard certainly nail the period groove; the picture is almost flamboyantly delicious to view, although 3D cinematography (as is common) adds little to the mix. But the script called for an inordinate amount of technology unavailable even today, combined with the magical energy properties of a small blue cube, whose origin and salient characteristics go conveniently unexplored.

Perhaps we needed to cover all of our origin bases before the Avengers take center stage; or perhaps, as the original Avenger, Captain America just merited serious tent pole placement. But while Cap comes out swinging in this film, he misses as often as he connects.

Captain America: The First Avenger 3D

Info

Runtime :: 124 mins
Release Date :: Jul 22, 2011
Language :: English
Country :: United States



David Foucher is the CEO of the EDGE Media Network and Pride Labs LLC, is a member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, and is accredited with the Online Society of Film Critics. David lives with his daughter in Dedham MA.


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