Film Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The appeal of Captain America, the character, comes from his willingness to do anything to make sure America is free from all danger. He's perfectly capable of being a one-man army but chooses to work with a team in the spirit of American cooperation. He is dangerous force with his indestructible shield and athletic prowess. The film Captain America: The First Avenger gets this character trait just right. When the action picks up--and it picks up a lot--the film is infectious. I'm not a big action film fan and I was on the edge of my seat, rooting for the red, white, and blue-clad hero to destroy the forces of Red Skull and save the world.

If there is a flaw to the film, it is the innocuous day to day dialog. Writers Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeeley (both of The Chronicles of Narnia series) have not improved upon their natural dialog writing skills. Their strength is character development through action and acts of supervillainy (remember the introduction of The White Queen in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?), not realism in everyday dialog. The only word I can use to describe these low-key scenes is cheesy.

I've been informed that certain fans of the comics accept this cheesy dialog because they know that Captain America will rise above it eventually; this is not the film where it happens. The action is firmly set in the final years of World War II, right when the US steps in. America and Germany are in an arms race to create the perfect super-soldier. After being rejected from enlistment in the US Army five times, Steve Rogers is chosen to be that super-soldier prototype. He goes from being a short and slight kid from Brooklyn to the country's most crucial weapon.

For me, the only time the cheesy dialog works is during a clever musical montage of the newly ranked Captain America selling war bonds to Americans. Alan Menken and David Zippel wrote a fun and clever song called "Star Spangled Man" praising Captain America as the greatest soldier of all time. Dancing girls fill the stage in red, white, and blue costumes as the Captain reads a prepared speech about investing in the war effort. Captain America becomes the American hero without ever stepping foot in battle.

He realizes this is a problem when he goes to entertain the troops in Europe. They mock him and run him off the stage. Upon discovering a large number of US troops have been captured behind enemy lines, Captain America becomes a literal army of one to retrieve them. It's exciting.

The whole cast does fine work. Chris Evans sells the earnestness of Steve Rogers/Captain America in a very likable way. Hugo Weaving is menacing in a series of speeches about his evil plans as Red Skull. Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter is a convincing sharp-shooting agent and romantic interest for Captain America. Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, and Dominic Cooper all sell their involvement in the development of the quintessential super-soldier with humor and energy that almost makes you forget the very cheesy dialog.

It is to director Joe Johnston's great credit that the fourth major superhero film of the summer comes across as fresh and interesting. Captain America: The First Avenger follows the Marvel formula of a nobody developing powers and rising to somebody. Change out the names and locations and this could have been a Spider-Man or X-Men film and no one would know the difference. The beats are identical. What sets it apart is how well-executed and stylish the entire world is. Nothing in the superhero genre has ever quite looked like this or exploded into unpredictable action sequences in this way.

I think everyone can find something to enjoy in Captain America: The First Avenger. It's a fun and action-packed popcorn film. It's well-made with an interesting story and quality acting and visuals throughout. Just because of the length (over two hours), I would recommend going to a 2D screening if you can. I still remember the brain-addling impacts of Avatar's two hour and forty-two minute running time. The post-converted 3D here is clean and clear if you're up to that level of eyestrain. Either way, I think you should see this film.

Rating: 6/10

So what do you think? Are you going to see the film? Would your recommend it to someone else? Have at it in the comments section below.