Reaching the end of the Marvel’s final film in their first phase of superhero films before “The Avengers” was a bit of an exciting prospect. The series has up to this point had an excellent track record. While Iron Man (2008) was a huge critical and commercial success. “The Incredible Hulk” (2008) reboot was a exponential improvement over Ang Lee’s “Hulk” (2003), one of the worst superhero films of all. “Thor” (2011) was a well made superhero venture. With the exception of “Iron Man 2” (2010), the film’s have all at the very least been solid. Leading into “The Avengers” I was hoping for one last good installment, and that installment was to be “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011). With the release of the sequel “Captain America: The Winter Solider” I felt this was a good time to review the first film. Was “The First Avenger” that exciting final installment that we were all hoping for? The movie falls short of expectations and of its potential. While the first half creates pathos for the central character and develops him well, the second half however falls prey to major pacing problems, overused CGI and sub-par directing, “The First Avenger” falls short and doesn’t live up to its better made predecessors. So the short answer is no this was not the proper final film before the “The Avengers”.
Steve Rodgers was a man that wanted nothing more than to serve his country but every time he is denied entrance into the army and is deemed unfit. Though he will not be deterred. He has joined up with a secret solider program for the United States and also with a group of secret operatives to take down a new group of the Nazi Germany, Hydra.
The first half of this film works best. The script crafts and develops the origin story brilliantly. We as the audience really get to know Steve Rodgers and give us a reason to care. Although his character, like Superman, gets criticism for being a boy scout, there is a fair amount of emotional depth. Chris Evan’s second venture into “superhero land”, the first being the Human Torch in Fox’s “Fantastic Four” (2005), perfectly encompasses all of the essential elements of the character. He brings a certain type of humanity to the role and is also easily likeable. Marvel has had yet another stroke of brilliant casting.
However the film’s second half falters big time. The film’s story goes through some major pacing problem. Once he becomes Captain America and starts going through covert operations , the movie jumps around. A montage through some of Cap’s missions and everything around it gets glossed over. Hydra’s plan is never quite clear nor is it developed. The main villain, the Red Skull, is underused and had the potential to be memorable but once again is not given much attention Though the writers never seem concerned with these and instead they focus more on dropping some more plot points for “The Avengers” to piggy back of off. By the time we reach the finale, you’ll have lost any investment you might have had in it. The writers keep going on their trend by rushing Cap’s fate so we can just get him into “The Avengers”. The problems don’t end there.
More problems ensue when the action starts flying. With a superhero flick this should be one of the highlights of it. However here the action sequences are boring and un-exciting and all stuff we have seen before. One of the problems I find with them is that Captain America doesn’t really face much of a challenge at all. He throws his shield and kicks and punches people all the way to the end. The action doesn’t seem to vary too much. The fights are bland and once again the finale is unimpressive. The trouble with the action sequences lie with Marvel’s choice in directing.
Thus far Marvel has chosen some pretty solid directors. But choosing director Joe Johnson was an interesting and nerve racking choice. I still am not convinced that he is really a capable or consistent director. To me he has been really up and down throughout him career. He has a few solid films but most of the others leave a lot to be desired. However this movie would join the latter.
He uses a lot of quick moving zooms and pans, and it comes across as terribly cheesy on screen. The special effects used were noticeable and very artificial looking, with the exception of the effects on Chris Evens to make him look skinny. The look of the film seems to try evoke the feel of the times attempting to give the movie a retro feel. For a time it does. But then by adding laser guns and other fantastical elements to the big screen, takes away for what they were going for. Johnson did nothing to at the very least make some of the science fiction elements blend better with the rest of the movie. It could all fit together but that takes proper direction from the director, which this did not have.
The acting is on the opposite end of the spectrum with a well chosen cast. Tommy Lee Jones is above excellent as Colonel Chester Phillips.. Hugo Weaving is also great as the underused villain Johann Schmidt / Red Skull. Dominic Cooper has really strong supporting performance as Howard Stark. However Hayley Atwell is incredibly wooden as Peggy Carter. It doesn’t help that the fact that the romance between the Cap and her was so under developed. That being said the rest of the cast does a fine and adequate job. If only scripting was stronger to support them.
Although the film does a good job of setting up for “The Avengers” and the first half of the film is well made, the movie is a disappointment. The second half of the movie is rushed, the action sequences are boring, and the main villain is underused and special effects subpar. Here is hoping the sequel will learn for its mistakes and improve upon them.