I can already hear the accusations: “It was a good movie for being a comic book movie.” “You’re the only one I know who didn’t like it.” “I can’t believe you didn’t like it! You’re such a movie snob.”
I’m not a movie snob; I’m just not an idiot. Seriously, what levels of predictability and cliché does a movie have to reach before the popular opinion will turn against it? How tenuous does a narrative have to get before someone says, “Wait…This is actually pretty lame.”
In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a plucky, but vastly under-qualified, youngster (scrawny and asthmatic, he’s continually rejected from joining the Army) who dreams of becoming a soldier during World War II. But a German ex-pat scientist, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), takes notice of Rogers and his strong-willed personality and enlists him into a secret military program for the purpose of creating a “super soldier.” Thanks to his attitude — he doesn’t like bullies — Rogers is the perfect subject for the experimental program. Some pseudo-scientific trickery later, he is transformed into a tall, muscular, super-fit hunk.
After some propaganda performances around the country under the nom de guerre Captain America, Rogers sets out to battle the evil Nazi scientist Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), who gets his powers from a glowing, blue cube of energy from the treasure trove of the Norse god Odin (or something; it’s never really explained), fittingly retrieved from a church in Tønsberg, Norway. (By the way, with the nigh-unlimited resources of Hollywood, can it really be so difficult to get the Norwegian language right? Also, in 1942, basically no Norwegians spoke English, especially not sexagenarian churchwardens in remote towns. You’re not fooling anyone.)
From here on out, the film is precisely as hackneyed as you’d expect: Cliches stacked upon cliches, predictable plot lines and foreseeable jokes. It’s all here, laid out in such a fashion that you can chart the “dramatic” narrative before it happens. When a genetically engineered super-soldier battles the quintessential movie bad guys (evil Nazi scientists), you already know who is going to win. Thus, there can’t be any real suspense. As I’ve said before, explosions and CGI effects aren’t fooling anyone; they can’t, and will never, replace good acting, genuine emotion and solid writing and plotting. But, sadly, it seems the filmmakers have forgotten (or neglected) this fact entirely.
Evans does a passable job in spite of the trite drivel he was handed in the form of a script. His likability is understandable, and he is not a bad actor. However, it must be hard to do a good job when you have to follow a poorly written script and take directions from someone who is seemingly intent on catering to the vox populi that says, “More of the same, please!” In a similar manner, Tommy Lee Jones, who plays Col. Chester Phillips, does his best with what he has. As only a supporting character, he can get away with spouting off one-liners and not having a fully fleshed out persona. That’s OK.
What is not forgivable, however, is the weak and unfulfilling romance between Rogers and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), the female agent who falls for Capt. ‘Murrka (but only as soon as he is tall, built and heroic). There’s no tension and hardly any chemistry, and hitting every note in the clichéd “female lead falls for hunky star” symphony makes it more of an annoying subplot than anything else.
I wanted to like this movie, partly because I like Evans as an actor and partly because the ticket cost me $8. My depressingly low expectations were eagerly met, however. Captain America turns out to be little more than a monument to narrative predictability and a reminder that Marvel Studio’s The Avengers is coming soon. Watch at your own risk.