I’ve had a recent displeasure with Marvel studios. After the success of Iron Man back in 2008, they’ve been seemingly whoring out their stable of venerable characters in order to construct a mega blockbuster known as The Avengers. I understand that giving each member a film to introduce themselves to the public is a good way to streamline the use of character in the impending Avengers franchise, but each film has been released with the lack of detail and time they deserve. Iron Man 2 and Thor are representative of this, although the latter is redeemable in its humor and Tom Hiddleston. Unfortunately, Marvel’s recent character adaptation, Captain America, is an under cooked film that’s in need of a better director and potent script.
The historical background that makes up Captain America works oddly in its favor as it takes place in the 1940’s, a bizarrely romantic time that saw the world embroiled in a gruesome war. It’s not often you see a comic book film, let alone a blockbuster film, take place in this era. Because of this, the film has a unique, retro vibe to it. This is something I find to be quite endearing. It’s in this setting that Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), miniscule and a bully magnet, valiantly tries to join the army. He knows that his country needs him to battle the Axis, and he’s willing to forgo the law to protect and serve. Unfortunately, Roger’s multiple frailties keep him on the sideline. But it’s with his physical weakness and strong moral compass that makes him ideal for a secret “super soldier” experiment within the army. Courtesy of Tony Stark (an enjoyably suave Dominic Cooper) and Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), Rogers is given the opportunity to transform into the super soldier of tomorrow. After what sounded like a painful mutation, Rogers evolves from a pip squeak into a hulking monster of a man. Finally, his moral strength is on par with his physical stature.
Despite his inclination to fight on the battlefield, Roger’s destiny is one that finds him fighting a Nazi foe that is mystical and beyond any soldier; his antagonist is Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving). Schmidt leads the Nazi’s research and development branch called HYDRA, a group that Schmidt bases around folklore and an unattainable power that belongs to the Gods. Rogers, now going under the Captain America moniker, battles Schmidt and his cronies while tending to a developing love with British agent Peggy Carter (the ravishing Hayley Atwell). Obviously this all leads to a giant showdown, but I must admit that the film’s showdown and overall arc is overshadowed by a ballsy ending, one that should setup an emotionally rich and thematic sequel. The problem with Captain America: The First Avenger is that everything up until the ending feels like it’s lacking any dramatic force. The story and construction of Rogers into a physical specimen is heartfelt and efficient, but his character is done in by action pieces and a story that lacks a sense of urgency. Instead of a worthy payoff, it feels like we get a string of vignettes that lack imagination and dramatic thrust.
A lot of this can be attributed to director Joe Johnston, who seems to be treating the film like a painting by the numbers endeavor. There are moments where he shows ounces of his creative juices, one in particular that revolves around selling war bonds with American glitz, but his vision is lacking. Despite this, I’d like to put a lot of the film’s lack of emotional potency on the villain of Johann Schmidt (aka Red Skull). There’s nothing he does that evolves beyond the typical arc of a villain, nor is there anything remotely cunning about him. His motivations are typical and bland. He lacks the proper edge to truly push his antithesis. I can’t blame Weaving for this too much, but he seems to be lacking the charisma that any villain deserves. It’s through the overly simplistic nature of the villain and the film’s listlessness that the screenplay seems weirdly confined for a comic book film. What the script does get right is the budding romance between Rogers and Peggy Carter. Their relationship is wonderfully developed and heightened by the fiery glances that Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell exchange. This relationship is in part why the ending is an emphatic exclamation point on a dry film. Don’t get me wrong, the film boasts a terrific level of production and lays the groundwork for a character we can all get behind. It’s just that such a valiant character deserves an ample amount of zest, not less.