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Reviews Comments: Struggling Captain America The First Avenger film/book review by maninahat

With a title like ''Captain America'', there are only two kinds of movie you can make. You can either go with a tribute to the silver-age, two-fisted serials, or you can make an introspective, 21st century exploration of 1940s propaganda. The movie we get flounders between the two, and fails to deliver either.

The movie starts at well enough, giving us a likeable protagonist with relatable origin story. The transition from weakling to all-American superman is nice to watch. It is probably the first time in a movie we get to see how a superhero would really end up: the subject of military interests and crass, smultzy commercialism. The problem is that this doesn't last. The movie almost immediately starts spewing out clichés and stale action tropes. Maybe the corny love plot, hammy villains, and perfunctory melodrama are supposed to hearken back to the old serials, but if they wanted to do that, they should go the whole distance and provide imaginative action scenes too. Instead of Indiana Jones though, Captain America opts for bad sci-fi laser battles and CGI fireballs. Watching this reminded me of the atrocious screen adaptation of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen; big on the CGI anachronistic tech, small on the heart.

It also fails as an examination of 1940s sentiments and propaganda, which is a shame because they seemed to be going down that route early on. Captain America gains his fame as a stage character in propaganda shows. It seemed to me that the natural thing to do was to run with the propaganda element. They should have made the villainous Red Skull the Nazi propaganda equivalent, and their inevitable battle the product of two propaganda machines desperate to show which side is boss. It would be interesting arc to have Captain America built up as a warrior on stage, but being unprepared for the real conflict on the front. But they couldn't do that, because they discarded any sense of down-to-earth, gritty realism with Norse magic and laser guns.

I wouldn't go so far as to call Captain America a bad film, but it certainly lacks enough good qualities to deserve a recommendation. It is neither clever and introspective, nor good brash fun. I was never bored, yet I was never impressed.


  • Jackerel
  • 2nd Aug 11
>captain america

Oh, you and your silly obsession with realism.
  • LaCapitana
  • 2nd Aug 11
I thought the campiness worked in the movie's favor. I don't think realism is a priority in the superhero genre. If the "realistic" approach makes a better story, then writers are going to for it but otherwise writers are going to work around it. The character of Captain America is all about wish fulfillment. He's supposed to embody the ideals of our nation. He fights Nazis not because he thinks that Germans are all fascist assholes, but because he wants to serve his nation and its allies. The war he fights isn't out if spite but out of love for his friends and the country they live in. He's willingly to sacrifice his life, but for love and not out of blind patriotism. I think the film DID do a good job at capturing that and that's what I think is most important.

I think that the ending was really rushed and that's where you get all the rather unimaginative fight scenes. Most superhero movies work where the first movie is only somewhat action-packed and mostly introduces characters and origins. The second movie is supposed to be the one where it's just an 90 minute long fight against some villain or something. They didn't really have time to do that with Cpt America because they have to pump out the Avengers next year. For people who don't know about Cpt America's origin story from the comics, the ending must have been confusing as hell and out of place.

So I agree with your criticism, but I still think that the movie was good overall. It really does have the advantage of being a superhero movie with a retro vibe.
  • maninahat
  • 3rd Aug 11
I didn't say realism was a priority. I was just pointing out that this film tries to have it both ways: a campy comic book style and a realistic, post-modern style. The two don't exactly mesh, so the movie should have just made up its mind and gone the whole hog with one. You see Captain America didn't like the smultzy stage career because he felt like he wasn't really taking part in the real war. But when he gets out to the real war, it turns out to be just as smultzy and absurd too, with robot suits and lasers. Where is the contrast?

If they wanted that contrast, they should have done away with the sci-fi stuff and kept closer to the period setting. Then you get a real arc going: Captain America starts out being told to "be a good person before a good soldier". He has an impetious desire to get out on the front lines. He finds it hard to accept the brutal horrors of war, which is totally unlike the proaganda show reels. Through the combat, he becomes more experienced and jaded. He loses sight of his former self. That way, during the climax, he will finally remember the doctor's words and chooses to be a good person over a good soldier. The movie starts off with this arc, but doesn't follow it through. We don't see a crucial scene in which Captain America has to make that choice. Remember that scene where he is chasing the spy, but then chooses to see to the drowning boy? We needed a climactic scene with a similar decision.

Alternatively, if you want to go down the campy action style, you should probably get rid of the sci-fi element and the faceless mooks as well. Have him duke it out with real soldiers. Have him get into properly established action set pieces, equivalent to those from Indiana Jones with the truck, the bridge and the tank. If you want to hearken back to pulp comic and adventure tales, use those old fashioned special effects and inventive action sequences. Keep it grounded. Avoid the CGI. The best action scene in the whole film was when he was chasing the spy. Why? It was the most inventive, with the resourceful America using a car door as a shield, having to outsmart a guy in a speeding car.
  • shiro_okami
  • 3rd Aug 11
^ You do have a point, but keep in mind what the source material is and how dated it is. Is it a masterpiece? No, but I think they did pretty good with what they had to work with in a 2 1/2 hour window.
  • Brigid
  • 3rd Aug 11
I don't think it has to be either "a tribute to the silver-age, two-fisted serials" or "an introspective, 21st century exploration of 1940s propaganda." It can be an affectionate parody of 1940s style entertainment. Or a well-researched period piece. Or both. Better yet, it can focus on the characters involved. That's what Captain America does. Sure, it isn't the best movie of all times, but it does a good job at doing what it's supposed to do. Namely, condense nearly 70 years of canon into two and a half hours.

The movie didn't need Captain America to become jaded and lose sight of himself. I think it'd be less of a movie if they had done that. Not to mention way too predictable. The movie is about Steve staying true to who he is and what he believes no matter what.

'Gritty realism' and 'campy action' aren't the only choices. Really.
  • maninahat
  • 4th Aug 11
It can be an affectionate parody of 1940s style entertainment. Or a well-researched period piece. Or both. Better yet, it can focus on the characters involved.

My suggestions and yours aren't mutually exclusive. The options I suggested aren't the only ones, but they are the only sensible ones. They couldn't make a parody, because that wouldn't fit with the more serious Avengers series. But they could do a tribute to the 1940s entertainment. A "well researched piece" would inevitably be gritty and realistic; it is World War II!

2 and a half hours is more than enough to make any origin story and to explore any character. The only really important elements they had to keep was: how Captain A got his powers, the red skull, and how he ends up joining shield. The rest can be as close or as far from the source material as they liked. I certainly don't see why they bothered retaining the cube from the comics, considering its only functions in the movie to explain the laserbeams and to preoccupy the impotent villain. They could have saved a lot of time and scenes by not having a superfluous mcguffin.

The movie didn't need Captain America to become jaded and lose sight of himself. I think it'd be less of a movie if they had done that. Not to mention way too predictable. The movie is about Steve staying true to who he is and what he believes no matter what. That doesn't make as compelling a story. Nothing is at risk when you create a character without temptations or issues. They don't have to be obvious, but they have to be enough to illustrate a character development. Captain America spends most of the second half of the movie punching people, and little else. The death of a friend ultimately pales into comparison to his need to keep punching people. In the climax, he has no personal stakes, nor does he have any emotional or personal connection to the villain. That isn't interesting.

Not only did Captain America need an arc (like practically all story protagonists), the villain needed to be a genuine threat. I didn't even mention him in the review, but he is also big problem with this movie as well. 'Coz really, what does he do in the movie? He gets a cube and has someone shoot a scientist. Those are his only victories. The rest of the movie is him shaking a fist angrily as Captain America blows up his factories, frees his prisoners and kicks his ass at every juncture. It isn't even the Red Skull who kills America's friend. That was just some accident involving a faceless mook. He's totally ineffectual. Where is the threat? How is this guy a nemesis?

This movie fails at story telling 101. It is aware of the bad cinematic clichés, but goofs up important elements like plot points, progression, and obstacles.
  • PacificMackerel
  • 18th Aug 11
It's wonderful when people say a movie has to adhere to an individual's standards. Amazingly, it didn't live up to yours.
  • LaCapitana
  • 18th Aug 11
^^ The Cosmic cube thing will play a big role in the upcoming Avengers movie, so yay for more mcguffins!

I think the only reason the Captain America movie was made was to build him up for the Avengers. So my theory is that the writers were just basically aiming for an origin story that didn't completely fuck up the character or dissuade people from seeing the upcoming Avengers movie. The story didn't take any risks. It told the origin story and then got to the action scenes ASAP. I think it mostly worked, but that character arc stuff would have been awesome too. It definitely would have been nice to see some of the things from the beginning of the movie build up to a better climax and character turmoil and all that.

Also, a better build up to the ultimate ending would have been nice. The story could have been framed a lot more clearly so when Steve (SPOILERS AHEAD IF YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT CAPTAIN AMERICA) wakes up in modern times, it's not as jarring. It felt like a cliff-hanger and an unnecessary plot twist, and I've known his origin story for awhile now. And damn, it would have been nice to see some more emotion like: "Gee I'm glad I can see the city I saved is still thriving" or "Oh no everyone I know is old or DEAD."
  • longstreth
  • 22nd Dec 11
I definitely thought there was some Fridge Horror at the end when (SPOILER... BE WARNED) Steve wakes up and he realizes that the Hayley Atwell's character is probably long gone. It was subtle but I liked that.

I agree that it seems like the movie was just an Avengers prep; after all, it is called "Captain America: The First Avenger". It was a harmless movie but the villain was horridly hokey and the stakes didn't seem all that high. It'll be interesting to see where The Avengers takes things. I'm not a big fan of action movies in the first place, but it could be good.
  • maninahat
  • 22nd Dec 11
I think they shot themselves in the foot with the twist ending. It basically prevents them from doing more 40s era movies. I heard that they are planning a Captain America sequel, and I find it hard to visualise how such an old fashioned superhero concept would work in the modern day. Captain America is such a goofy looking hero, he seems better suited to the a silver age setting.
  • Raconteur
  • 29th Apr 13
Honestly, I didn't see the movie as camp. I thought it more like pulp. I don't believe that grit and camp are the only two "sensible" tones a superhero film can have. If that's true, then there's quite a few that don't fall equally into one or the other. Such as Iron Man, Unbreakable, or Superman: The Movie.
  • maninahat
  • 29th Apr 13
"Sensible or camp" are the only two tones for a superhero film specifically about the old Captain America. Comics have moved on from the time in which heroes were as much about jingoistic posturing as fun tales of daring do, so when you set a comic book movie back in the time it was written, the 1940s, the writer has to choose how they represent this old fashioned source material. They can either play along with these old fashioned, simpler stories, or subvert them with a more nuanced, modern perspective: treat war is a jape, or a serious thing.

When you write a modern version of Iron man or Superman, set in the modern day, segregated from the comic book's own time period, it is easier for writers to make changes to settings, characterisations and tone. The "sensible or camp" observation doesn't apply so much.

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