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Captain America: The First Avenger

August 2, 2011

When I’m asked what I thought of the latest Avengers movie, my go-to reply has been to rate it in four parts: The first quarter was great, the second quarter was good, the third quarter was mediocre and the final quarter was horrible. Luckily, being a Tennessee Titans fan has prepared me for this sort of disappointment; unfortunately, I continue to return to these films with high hopes and expectations… I did say I was a Titans fan, right?

Captain America: The First Avenger suffers from the same problem that most Superman movies suffer from: a hero that is superior in strength and virtue and therefore does not grow or mature. Most superhero movies have a hero who is physically superior, but must discover who they are, what their role requires, and whether they are willing to make sacrifices and take responsibility in order to fill that role. This doesn’t really happen in Captain America. Granted, the story necessitates that the hero begin his journey with a strong moral center. This is what leads to his being picked to become a “super soldier” by the military. The problem is, once he becomes super, he doesn’t have any relatable qualities that the viewer can latch on to. Oh, don’t worry, the film makers try their darnedest to throw hardships his way: a misunderstanding with his girlfriend, the death of his best buddy, the death of a mentor, etc… but there is no substance to these events – they’re just thrown in the story as filler.

The story excels when our hero is a weakling. Sure, there is that relatable factor that I just mentioned, but there’s more. Before we get Captain America, we get Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) – a guy so weak (impressive CGI here!) he gets continually rejected for service in the military; yet he keeps trying. He wants to serve, he wants to fight, he wants to sacrifice himself. He realizes he’s physically weak, but he believes in himself. When Dr. Abraham Erksine (Stanley Tucci) recognizes this trait, the story reaches it’s apex. We get a number of conversations about inner strength being superior to physical strength and about heart being more important than muscle. In the best scene of the movie, we see the diminutive Rogers jump on a hand grenade (a dummy grenade, unbeknownst to everyone) while the rest of the platoon ducks for cover. And in the films only earned emotional (death) scene, we don’t get some overblown, manipulative monologue about courage, bravery, and staying true to yourself; we just get a simple gesture. Perfect.

Unfortunately, the movie only goes downhill from here. It’s filled with cliched dialogue, cliched fights, and cliched deaths. Aside from Tucci’s performance and a charming Dominic Cooper playing Howard Stark (Iron Man’s father), we get a lot of boring, underdeveloped supporting characters. The villain, Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), shows promise, but eventually succumbs to action movie cliche. The movie’s only saving graces – at least for the second half – is Chris Evan’s sincere performance and the interesting cinematography that results from the film’s 1940’s setting. In fact, the film reminded me, in some respects, of 1991’s The Rocketeer, which is one of director Joe Johnston’s first movies. With all this in mind, perhaps the simplest perspective I can shed on this film is that it’s not as good as the first Iron Man, but much better than Iron Man 2 or Thor. Needless to say, I do not have a high level of anticipation for next summer’s Avengers movie, but perhaps they are saving the best for last… one can only hope… I am a Titans fan after all.

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