What happened to the good parts?
Captain America: The First Avenger is a superhero movie with plenty of action — but curiously, most of the action is seen in montage. That is, we get an unconnected series of clips showing bits and pieces of action scenes and vast amounts of plot strung together. It gives the illusion that something exciting happened, but we missed it.
And in the audience we sit back and wonder, “Why aren’t they showing the good parts? Why are we getting this highlight reel without any context?”
The makers of the picture had two clear objectives in mind. First, they wanted to explain the origins of the superhero Captain America. And second, and most important, they wanted to finish laying the groundwork for what they anticipate will be an enormous money-making franchise about a group of superheroes, The Avengers.
Entertaining the audience was probably not discouraged, but it clearly can't be considered a primary goal.
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Though lacking charisma, Chris Evans acquits himself well as Steve Rogers, a slight and sickly man judged unfit for service in World War II. In a notably slow opening act -- Buster Keaton covered the same ideas in a couple of minutes -- he shows his determination by applying to the Army over and over again.
This persistence pays off when he is picked by Stanley Tucci to become the Army's first genetically altered super-soldier. They have the technology. They can make him better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster. They can take away his need to eat or drink. And, oddly, they give him the power to pilot any experimental airplane he sees.
Well, maybe it is the screenwriters who give him that power. But it sure comes in handy, and more than once.
Joining him on the side of good are Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Tommy Lee Jones (let's just say he breaks no new ground here as an actor) and Hayley Atwell as the Rita Hayworth character, an agent of some sort in an organization of some sort who provides the requisite but perfunctory romance while showing up in the most unlikely of places.
Fighting for evil is the always reliable Hugo Weaving as a Nazi official who is actually more crazy and megalomaniacal than Hitler. You know you're a villain when you compare unfavorably to Hitler.
The evil Nazi dude has acquired some kind of magic doohickey that gives him the power to do all sorts of unexplained stuff. Captain America (as the superhero is now called) and his friends have to stop him from using it to destroy the world.
The script by Christopher Markus and Steven McFeely (You Kill Me, The Narnia films) manages to squeeze out a few brief laughs amid the hokiness and extraordinary lapses in narrative, and director Joe Johnston stages some fully realized action scenes that make sense and have a context, even if they tend to be derivative. The 3-D process, however, adds absolutely nothing to the experience and actually helps make some of the special effects look even cheesier.
What is unquestionably the best part of the movie, the sequence that stands far above the others, has nothing to do with action. It is another montage, of all things, but this one showing a series of rallies to sell war bonds.
With great wit, this brief section perfectly captures the era, its attitudes, and even its music. Best of all, it serves as a clever way to depict the development of the main character.
It's exquisite filmmaking. Maybe the filmmakers wanted to shoot a movie like that, not a forgettable introduction to a bunch of other films.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
Directed by Joe Johnston. Screenplay by Christopher markus and Stephen McFeely. A Weinsten Co. release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Levis Commons, Fallen Timbers, Fox Theater, and Sundance Drive-In. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action. Running time: 125 minutes.
Critic's rating: * * 1/2
Captain America/Steve Rogers .......... Chris Evans
Peggy Carter .......... Hayley Atwell
Johann Schmidt/Red Skull .......... Hugo Weaving
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