quick review - Captain America: The First Avenger

Insofar as Captain America is its own movie, we can enjoy a retrospective romp in the world of pulp adventures, one that harkens back to the days when heroes were noble defenders of virtue, villains were dastardly monomaniacs, and the line demarking the two was sharp and unambiguous. Chris Evans makes for an eminently likeable hero, idealistic but not cloying, a devoted servant to his country but not a jingoist. In a role that could easily tap into the stereotype of clean-cut heroes, Evans keeps a human sentiment in his turn as a sickly, skinny young Steve Rogers’s transformed into a superhuman. Similarly, fellow cast members like Stanley Tucci, as the sympathetic doctor responsible for the transformation, along with Tommy Lee Jones as a tough-but-fair Colonel and Haley Atwell as the requisite love interest, achieve via performance a depth that often eludes the script. Dominic Cooper also gets a laurel for his part as Tony Stark’s genius dad, Howard. As staged by Joe Johnston, who is no stranger to pulp adventures thanks to his work with the underappreciated The Rocketeer, the result is a mix of fun and genuine heart – one of the more unapologetically enjoyable comic book movies out there.

But the film’s subtitle, The First Avenger, hints at how Marvel’s marketing creep comes close to derailing the Captain’s integrity. It’s bad enough that a framing sequence, involving SHIELD and the omnipresent Samuel L. Jackson, steals the Captain’s spotlight at the story’s most arguably dramatic moment. Worse is how Captain America’s story gets short-changed by Marvel’s obsession with force-feeding audiences what they believe is necessary background information for the forthcoming Avengers film. Just as the film unleashes the superhero in his Nazi-busting efforts, the film’s thoughtfulness changes into a perfunctory summary of events, like an illustrated Wikipedia entry, leading to the moment Marvel can use to beat audiences over the head with yet another reference to The Avengers. In this case, Marvel acts very much like Delilah cutting off Samson’s hair. While the result of their interference isn’t embarrassingly bad like in Iron Man 2, an otherwise strong film is sapped of vitality. To wit: the great rivalry between Captain America and his Nazi nemesis, the Red Skull (an effective Hugo Weaving), along with their conflict throughout World War II feels cursory and rushed. Ditto for the relationship between Rogers and protector-turned-sidekick Bucky Barners (Sebastian Stan).

Another point of annoyance is the film’s insistence on treating objects with fantastical powers as the product of science and not magic, as if trying to persuade audiences – again in anticipation of The Avengers – that putting a Norse god alongside science-fiction heroes – an abuse of Clarke’s Law – isn’t as ridiculous as it is. I wonder, though, if Marvel isn’t trying to rationalize their own sacrifice of good storytelling in favour of extracting more money from audiences…much like their approach to comics.

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