The Birthday Series – Captain America (2011)
Who would’ve thunk it? My crazy idea for “a movie a day” in the lead up to my birthday, celebrating each year of my life, would catch on? Well, to my gleeful pleasure, both Jarv and Just Pillow Talk have embarked on their own celebrations. And in one Total Bastards case, it’s a doozy of a mission. Alas, I got about halfway through my list before I had a meltdown and went AWOL, and ever since I’ve been picking at the scab of my life, one mediocre movie at a time. And since I’ve taken so damn long to finish off this series, wouldn’t you know it, another year has passed and I’ve got 2011 to add to the mix. And lucky me, it seemed like a good’un. ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’, Marvels latest two hour trailer for next years ‘The Avengers’, was released just shy of my birthday and actually looked like a lot of fun! So… did it deliver the goods? Read on, my friends. Read on.
It’s 1942 and the second World War rages on. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a puny weakling with a ton of heart and a truckload of good old fashioned guts. Unfortunately for him, he’s got a shopping list of medical issues, is about 5 foot tall, weighs about as much as a cheeseburger and has this weird, shifting head problem where it seems like it’s balanced precariously on his neck instead of firmly attached to it. Guys like this, they ain’t Army material. What they are, in fact, is prime lab rat material for slightly dodgy European scientists (Stanley Tucci) to perform weird experiments on. Before anyone can say “Human Centipede!”, Steve’s been injected with glowing blue liquid and steamed in a sarcophagus. Out pops Super Steve, now a good foot taller, built like a brick shithouse and sporting a spanking new haircut! Wonders! Not only is this the origin of the first Avenger, it’s also the origin of those magic pants that change size no matter how big the superhero gets! So that’s where Hulk’s stretchy pants came from.
But what’s a superhero without a supervillain you ask? Well, hold your horses. Over in Europe the Nazi’s are going berserk. And their super secret scientist squad (the SSSS?), name of Hydra, seem to be working autonomously with unlimited funding and manpower. Led by the menacingly arched eyebrows of Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), aka Red Skull, Hydra have attained the macguffin of the gods and are preparing to launch a devastating attack on the east coast of the United States. America needs a hero. Someone with bucketloads of guts, but also killer biceps and a really strange running style. Who ya gonna call?
Captain America! Fuck… Meh.
At the risk of upsetting the natives, I wasn’t overly impressed by ‘Captain America’. This is not to say it’s not worth watching, because it’s an easy, pleasant, uninspired time waster perfect for a Sunday afternoon. And this is my problem with the Marvel films. They’re ALL like this. I’ve never watched one and truly enjoyed myself. They’re so hell-bent on setting up the characters for future instalments that they forget to tell a compelling tale, with interesting characters and above all else, tension. It’s an action adventure. It’s supposed to be exciting. But with ‘Captain America’ it felt like joining the dots and going through the motions. Particularly when it came time for Steve to get into the action. The first hour or so is all set up, and it’s actually pretty well done considering there isn’t a single surprise to be found. All the pieces are put in place, as the film steps through the necessary origin. There’s Steve putting up a fight while clearly outsized. And there’s Steve longing to do his part. There’s Steve proving again how much guts he has. There’s everyone underestimating Steve. Poor old Steve. He just wants to fight the good fight.
All credit must go to Joe Johnston for saving this film from being a complete turkey. I’ve always liked his films at a technical level, even when they weren’t very good (Jurassic Park III for example). He’s almost a relic of another era. He doesn’t cut every 6th of a second. There’s no queasy cam. He frames his shots so you can clearly see what is happening and where everyone is in relation to one another. He keeps the pace moving nicely without gimmicks. He’s a very solid director in search of quality material. One that I’ve always had a soft spot for. And here it’s no different. In the first hour, before the shoddy bluescreen and special effects take over, ‘Captain America’ is an enjoyable film.
But I know the exact point where it went downhill for me, and it’s the moment where Schmidt removes his mask to reveal his true nature, the Red Skull. From this point on it turned into a science fiction special effects movie. It didn’t even feel like a period movie anymore. There’s laser guns, futuristic tanks and jets, and a noseless guy with a bright red makeup job. Where did Schmidt get a Mission: Impossible mask from anyway? Hugo Weaving, so entertaining and menacing as Schmidt, is hamstrung by immovable makeup that renders him characterless. It reminded me of Bodhi in the Nixon mask talking to Johnny Utah. There’s no character to the makeup. I would’ve much preferred the film without Red Skull. Let Weaving continue his nutty performance as Schmidt and the film would be all the better for it.
It’s no wonder Chris Evans turned down the role numerous times. I wouldn’t want to sign a contract that required me to play Steve Rogers nine times either. That he finally signed for six doesn’t soften the blow. Evans does as much as one could ask in the role, and I commend him for it. But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s not a very interesting character. He’s got guts. He never quits, even when the chips are down. Beyond that, we never really get to know Steve Rogers. And once he puts on the suit and picks up the shield, he’s just an action toy, throwing himself about and beating up the faceless hoard of bad guys.
This isn’t the fault of Evans or Johnston. The blame goes to the screenwriters, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and all the Marvel brass. It’s all about ‘The Avengers’ and future ‘Captain America’ adventures. The ending, shown in a brief scene that opens the movie, renders the outcome inevitable. Because we all know that Cap has to end up frozen so he can be thawed out for a current day Avengers movie, all tension is drained from then film and we end up witnessing two hours of stake-less set up. So intent on franchising are Marvel, that they keep forgetting to actually make interesting and compelling films.
‘Captain America’ really began to irk me in the way it set about to so blatantly cater to everyone it possibly could. Time and time again Cap is surrounded by a melting pot of good buddies. There’s the nameless black guy, the nameless asian guy (“from Fresno”), the nameless French guy, and the nameless American guy with a Bill the Butcher moustache and a bowler hat so he looks kinda Irish or something. All these guys get absolutely no characterisation but appear in the background, or filling the frame around Cap for most of the second half of the movie. And I’m not even going to go into the whole not really Nazi’s thing. There’s one swastika glimpsed in the corner of the screen on a guys arm. Apart from that, you wouldn’t even know they were fighting Nazi’s. Why they felt compelled to water down the bad guys to such a level is beyond me. Even to the point of the scientist character (who’s German), telling Steve “People forget that the Nazi’s invaded Germany first.” The overload of play it safe, don’t want to offend anyone, political correctness is astounding.
I’ve never read any of the ‘Captain America’ funnybooks, and maybe this is the reason why the film didn’t work as well for me as it has for others. But a film that goes through the motions in order to set up the next film isn’t good enough for me. I credit Joe Johnston for the mild success of the film, particularly the good first hour, but this film does not inspire me to watch any further adventures of Steve Rogers. ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is not as good as ‘Thor’, or the first ‘Iron Man’, but better than ‘The Incredible Hulk’ and ‘Iron Man 2’. Take from that what you will.
I give ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ two Floating Head Jeff Bridges out of a possible four.
For Droids a jolly good fellow!
2011 – Captain America: The First Avenger
2010 – ? (I’ve just realised I haven’t done one for this year!)
1984 – ?
1983 – ?
1982 – ?
1981 – ?
1980 – ?
1979 – ?
1978 – ?