The final of the five Avengers films seemed to have a hell of a time coming together. No one could figure out who was the best to play ole’ Captain, various names of directors were kicked around just as much, and worst of all, no one knew what the hell to do about the wings on the side of his mask. Ole’ Cappy was as tough as a sell as trying to bring back Superman – how do you sell a good old fashioned super-Boy Scout to a movie-going audience that’s gotten much more down with cynicism and complexity? The answer, it turned out, was embrace the old school. Marvel picked up Rocketeer and Wolfman director Joe Johnston to bring his distinct brand of 1950s nostalgia to the cinematic version of Captain America. And while he succeeds in that vision, it doesn’t make for much more than a by-the-numbers, cookie-cutter adventure flick.
Unfortunately, Captain America picks up where every damn superhero movie apparently has to – the beginning. So instead of jumping straight-ahead into full-on rock-‘em-sock-‘em action, we get the story of young, puny Steve Rogers, the wimpy kid next door who just wants to fight for his country in World War II. Of course, he’s way too wee’, so his application is repeatedly rejected, and he’s shat back out into the world to be kicked around by bullies and ladies alike. But his plight is overheard by military scientist Abraham Erskine, and after a run of trials, Rogers is getting strapped down to a table, pumped full of super-serum, and made ready to whoop Nazi butt. The fact that it takes over a half-hour to get to this point speaks to the usual problem (pacing, Marvel, PACING!!!) But even when Steve finally does make the transition to Captain America, he has to log time as a singing-dancing war bonds salesman, and when he gets out into the war, his big action sequences are pretty generic shoot-outs on the battle field. And not to give too much away, but it the studio really couldn’t figure out how to end this thing.
Captain America doesn’t have the usual saving graces Marvel films rely on, either. As Captain, the usually charming Chris Evans doesn’t have much to do – “just a kid from Brooklyn” who doesn’t have any of the grit or sass that should imply. Hugo Weaving, usually a devastatingly creepy villain, just hams up a stock German accent, and Hayley Atwell, the female lead here, suffers from a horrible case of “pin-up syndrome.” Only Stanley Tucci as Dr. Erskine seems to be invested and having a good time to boot (though Tommy Lee Jones delivers a few nice, gruff moments.) But without the joy to be gotten out of the performances or characters, it all falls back on set pieces and narrative, a place Capt. America still barely competes. The action scenes are rote, and the movie doesn’t give us much reason to care about Capt.’s feud with the Red Skull. What it does have going for it is a rather lavish set design; Johnston is able to evoke the same 50’s nostalgia here that he did in Rocketeer. Old-timey cars and newspaper boys, a time when nice boys took nice girls to see whatever was on at the picture show. Those visuals are like a warm blanket around the movie, but they can’t keep things going when the action gets static.
When I assigned Captain America a score, my girlfriend asked, “Really? You think it’s better than Iron Man 2?” That one took a bit of soul-searching (because, really, there’s not much else in my soul to be searched.) And though I do think IM2 has more genuinely thrilling moments (nothing in Captain America tops Iron Man’s first fight with Whiplash), there’s no getting around the fact that CA feels like a complete movie whereas IM2 just feels too much like a bunch of disconnected threads. Sure, Captain America can be kind of dull, the action scenes won’t changes your life, and no one is gonna remember the acting. But in its nostalgia, at least it remembers a time when a movie had to be whole movie. And sadly enough, in this day and age, that actually means something.
Josh has studied film at the Universities of Missouri and Florida, and he is currently studying horror film and popular culture in the Communication and Culture program at Indiana University. He has previously worked with the True/False Documentary Film Festival and the Ragtag Theatre in Columbia, Missouri, and he served as short-term production assistant on This Film Is Not Yet Rated. He is currently working on a dissertation on independent horror, horror film festivals, and horror fandom; feel free to contact him to discuss any of the above! He is also studying Dark Carnival Film Festival (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com).