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The UnPopular Opinion: Captain America: The First Avenger

05.23.2012

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THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

Captain America has ever been a favorite of mine since I first read my father's old Avengers comics, and I've always found it fascinating to see how his world interacted with a character so innately compassionate and courageous.  He was the sort of hero I wanted to be, physical abilities and shield and all, and my favorite stories were those which were able to challenge not only his physical prowess but those very qualities that set him apart and made him Cap. That goodness, that hope and faith and compassion and courage. That’s what made him exciting – not just the physical heroics, but the attacks Cap had to fight off that were aimed at his very soul.

Which is one of the main reasons why I found CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER to be such a dull viewing experience. When I first head rumors of Marvel’s grand plan leading up to THE AVENGERS, I looked forward to what they would do with Cap most of all.  But never has a superhero movie frustrated me so much with the sheer amount of cinematic potential lost.  I found this nothing but a bland movie that served little purpose except to introduce us to this character.  And while that may be all that Marvel wanted to do, I don't see why the movie couldn't also have been good while they were at it.

Cap UnPop 1

"Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man."

I’ll start with one of the most glaring points – the lack of direction.  After seeing how Joe Johnston rescued THE WOLFMAN (read my UNPOPULAR OPINION of that film HERE) from being completely bad, I actually defended Marvel’s decision to pick him, but now I see why the naysayers believed him to be a poor choice: he's just a boring director. His camera work reveals almost nothing about the story or what the characters are going through, with shots that are almost distractingly plain and lacking in any storytelling illumination littering the movie right and left.  Johnston's work on CAPTAIN AMERICA is serviceable but not memorable, and he is certainly no Nolan.  Or Branagh.  Or Vaughn.  Or Singer.  Or even Favreau.

In a similar vein I think comes the movie’s score by Alan Silvestri, which for the most part can lay claim to being as uniformly uninspired as the directorial decisions. It too is serviceable but not memorable, a wash of “heroic” music cues. Thoughn again, none of the scores for Marvel’s movies have been much better. Silvestri’s music supports the action without elevating it, creating a wash of sound that blends together and does little to enhance/support a scene or deepen our connection to what is happening on screen. 

Cap Unpop 2

"Do you want to kill Nazis?"
"I don't want to kill anybody. I don't like bullies; I don't care where they're from."

Fundamentally, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER works fine as an introduction to Cap, but does not in the least work as a captivating story in and of itself. Steve Rogers is, in this rendition, engaging by being a character with true super-heroic qualities. On that level, this is indeed a suitably effective origin story for a character that speaks to the spirit of comic books themselves. It’s just too bad the plot level left an extraordinary amount to be desired. Oh, technically the plot hits all of the right notes, but it's also strangely empty of any real substance or genuine excitement and just moseys along until the credits roll.  The story of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER is very obviously heroic without providing anything to really test the characters, and as such was a whole lot less interesting to experience than any of Marvel's other solo movies.

One clear example of this can be seen in what is very possibly meant to be the turning point in Cap’s journey, the moment his fight against Schmidt becomes personal – Bucky’s fall from the train. This moment is sad because it is Bucky who falls, yes, but not because of the way in which it happens. Bucky’s death happens in the story because it needs to, but is not presented in an engaging or affective manner. In metaphorical terms: soy protein plus vitamins mixed with water can give me the nutrition I need, but that doesn’t make it an interesting or tasty meal to eat.

Cap Unpop 3

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
"Yeah. I punched out Adolf Hitler 200 times."

On another plot note, I found the sheer number of holes and jumps of convenience to be extremely distracting. I am often forgiving of such things if there are a few floating around, but with CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER it reached the point where there were so many that I simply couldn’t stop noticing and thinking about them. You can find jarring cuts, awfully story progression, sloppy world building, and convenient logic extension beyond the bounds of believability even for a comic book movie, with the most glaring example being the Tesseract itself.

The Tesseract is not given any sort of a consistent set of rules within which it operates, and as such it does serves no purpose other than to be the most hollow of MacGuffins. With it being such a powerful piece of “technology” that also serves as one of the plot’s center points, we as the audience need to be able in some small way to understand its capabilities and the way it interacts with the world if we are to connect with its existence. But one moment it’s hanging out in a wooden box, glowing blue but otherwise harmless, and yet later on it melts through layer upon layer of metal and falls into the ocean (where it then just chills out on the seabed?). It’s fine to not provide an explanation as to how or why a piece of magic or technology works in a story – but if you don’t, then at least do your audience the courtesy of consistency.

Cap Unpop 4

"What makes you so special?"
"Nothing. I'm just a kid from Brooklyn."

I will say that the performances in this movie are pitch-perfect, with special commendations going to Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, and Chris Evans, as they managed to bring depth of feeling, true human response, and a fierce sense of life to their roles. On the other hand there’s Hugo Weaving, an actor I’ve loved in every performance except for this one. Because in this one he brings nothing but a German accent – seriously, he managed to invest a sentient computer program with more life and character than he did the Red Skull. And so, of the two things I was most excited for leading up to my viewing – the performances of Chris Evans and Hugo Weaving – one impressed me and one left me feeling nothing at all.

Is this the worst superhero movie ever made? Of course not. Is it the most disappointing? No, it’s not that either. But nor is it anything close to exciting, interesting, or revelatory in the least. So perhaps, in my personal opinion, it would be apt to say that this is the most middle of the road superhero movie there currently is. The most missed opportunity. The most frustrating ghost of an adventure that could have been made with the material and artists available. In fact, if not for the occasionally grin-inducing dialogue, (almost) uniformly great performances, and slick closing credit sequence, I would have thought the whole time that I was watching not Marvel’s final film before THE AVENGERS but rather The Asylum’s newest movie – COLONEL AMERICA: THE FIRST REVENGER.

Cap Unpop 5

"This is why you were chosen. Because a strong man, who has known power all his life, may lose respect for that power. But a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows compassion."

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to ajstepenberg@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!

Extra Tidbit: In the scene where Schmidt is being painted can be heard the best music cue in the movie. Too bad it's actually from EXCALIBUR (though perhaps even EXCALIBUR borrowed it from elsewhere).
Source: JoBlo.com

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