2011 has been an incredibly busy year for comic book adaptations: The Green Lantern, Thor, Transformers (yes, really) X-Men: First Class and Priest to name a few. Whilst it may come across as overkill, only two really matter in the bigger picture of things, and they both belong to Marvel: Thor and Captain America. Whilst not “A List” in terms of their Universe, both characters are instrumental for the 2012 release The Avengers, whose other members include The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Nick Fury, Black Widow and Hawkeye. Captain America completes the set for main characters with feature films, but does it maintain the momentum?
Set during World War 2, the story follows Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans, AKA Johnny Storm from Fantastic Four, because character commitment means nothing these days) who’s a small guy with a big heart. He is determined to get into the army, despite his long list of medical conditions and disadvantages in height and weight. Whilst at the World’s Expo, Rodgers once again attempts to become a recruit. It’s here that he catches the eye of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, better known as “that pervert from The Lovely Bones), who offers him the chance to volunteer for Project Rebirth, a military operation that aims to create ‘super soldiers’ by injecting them with a serum that beefs the subject up to the maximum human potential. The procedure is a success, and Rodgers is transformed into the ultimate human weapon. Meanwhile, high ranking Nazi officer Johann Schmidt, (an always brilliant Hugo Weaving) AKA Red Skull, has managed to harness the power of the Gods and transferred the energy into guns and missiles. Can Captain America stop him before he causes untold destruction on Earth?
The last project from director Joe Johnston was last years woefully disappointing The Wolfman, so the promising trailers were still met with a little hesitation. Unfortunately, that hesitation wasn’t in vain, because it suffers from the same problem that Wolfman had: a great marketing strategy but an underwhelming final product.
Let’s be honest here: Captain America isn’t the most popular of comic book heroes here in the UK. It’s not that we have anything against Americans, it’s simply a character that doesn’t interest the majority of the population. But knowing the miserable nature of my own nation, if we had a man that represented us, let’s say Brigadier Britain, we still wouldn’t like it for being too patriotic. Nevertheless, Captain America is, at time of writing, number 2 in the UK Box Office charts, with only the national treasure of one Harry Potter ahead of it. I can’t help thinking though that the only reason people are really seeing this is because of its relevance to next years insanely hyped The Avengers movie. I’ve said it from the start: this would be a rushed movie only made because of that reason, and to an extent, I was right. But at the same time, I was totally wrong, because this has one of the most drawn out narrative arcs I’ve ever seen.
Of course origin stories shouldn’t jump right into the transformation process of whichever character it’s about, but neither should it take well over an hour. In the showing I was at, there was a power cut about 45 minutes into it, in which we decided to recap what had happened so far. The conclusion? Not a lot at all, in terms of almost every aspect of story: no threat was established, and all we really knew was that Rodgers wasn’t good enough for the army. Sadly, it doesn’t really speed up from there, and the action scenes that depict ol’ Cap kicking some serious derrière are infuriatingly condensed into montage scenes, whereas the longer ones are lifeless and don’t particularly impress. The less said about the final confrontation between Red Skull and our protagonist, the better.
As for Chris Evans as the titular lead, he doesn’t particularly stand out as leading man material at first glance but manages capably; he’s the action movie equivalent of Bradley Cooper who impressed recently with Limitless. The feeble love story concerning Rodgers and a female officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is undeniably weak and unconvincing. The pair hardly share enough screen time for any chemistry to develop, and frankly the entire sub plot seems unnecessary, and could be seen as only a huge set up for the soppy final lines of dialogue.
It’s not all bad though. Tommy Lee Jones brings some much needed comic relief as the dry witted Colonel Chester Phillips who’s hilarious even when he’s trying to be serious, and Hugo Weaving does the best he can with a character that really should have had more exposure to reveal his full potential. Toby Jones (the loveable bag boy Ollie Weeks from The Mist) is a highlight as Schmidt’s right hand man Arnim Zola, and it was great to see the link to Iron Man with Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper from The Devil’s Double as Tony Starks’ dad) taking a prominent role in the evolution of Captain America’s importance.
To put it simply: a handful of excellent performances and the fact that it’s the last in the run up to The Avengers picture make Captain America worth watching, but with a tame plot and tediously slow story development that rushes to a head scratching conclusion, it’s not quite the spectacular finale to the singular characters involved as it could have been.