This summer has brought an onslaught of comic-book movies, but the tide has turned against them. From Thor to X-Men: First Class to The Green Lantern, none of these super-expensive movies have managed to crack $200 Million at the box office, the number Superman Returns made (and that was considered a failure). Partly it’s the films, partly it’s the characters – many of whom aren’t as well known as Batman and Superman. Enter Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s a relief to say it’s entertaining, and will hopefully buck the trend. Find out more below….

The Players:

The Plot:

Steve Rogers (Evans) is a ninety-pound weakling who wants to join up and fight Adolph Hitler. But he’s been rejected five times, and repeatedly branded a 4F. Enter Dr. Abraham Erskine (Tucci) and his super-serum, which converts Rogers into a muscle-bound butt-kicker. But even then he’s viewed as a sideshow, and is sent on USO tours to raise money. Finally he gets together with Peggy Carter (Atwell) and Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and has to rescue his old buddy Bucky Barnes (Stan). It’s there he meets the Red Skull (Weaving) and his doctor-sidekick Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), and learns of the Skull’s plans to take over the world.

The Good:

  • The Rocketeer Template: Though Joe Johnston says he didn’t realize it at the time, this is very much in the mold of his 1991 film The Rocketeer. Which means that it’s drawing heavily from the serials, and also – expressly – Raiders of the Lost Ark. And though Johnston lacks the visual wit of Steven Spielberg, who doesn’t? Johnston gets you to care about the characters, and builds to a fine conclusion – as much as he could while still playing into the game plan for the character.
  • The Cast: Evans makes for a great Rogers, and nails the innocence and decency of the character. Atwell has the physical dimension of most comic-book heroines, but the film treats her with respect, and it’s a star-making performance. Weaving and the two Joneses are called on to do familiar things, but Weaving makes it fun by doing something of a Werner Herzog impression, and Tommy Lee Jones goes for his patented smirk-free one-liners, while Toby Jones is a great addition to any movie. Tommy Lee nad Toby have a great scene together that made a number of critics feel the need to eat steak after seeing it.
  • The Spirit of Adventure: What’s engaging about these movies is that – often – it’s about a normal or weak guy given extraordinary powers and thrust into extraordinary events. That works, and you want to see Captain America knocking skulls of the Nazi-surrogate bad guys (called Hydra, Red Skull’s personal army). On that basic level, the movie works much like the first Spider-Man did.

The Bad:

  • Montage: A number of battles are cut into montage, and so there’s some great moments – but you want more. And in a number of sequences there seems to be shots that look spectacular on their own (trailer shots, as it were), but don’t cut well into the moment. The film feels condensed, and – at times – gives up on the layers of complications that make great sequences pop. In the third act, Rogers is dropped out of a Zeppelin, and it’s a great idea for an action scene that leaves you questioning how he’s going to deal with it. It’s not a bad bit of business in the film, but it could have gone on much longer. If it had, it would have been a classic.
  • Captain’s Crew: Bucky Barnes is the only one who has personality, where the rest are distinguished by their look or ethnicity. Perhaps these characters are famous in the comic books, and have things to do there, but here they are reduced to being as dimensional as the action figures they’ll more than likely spawn.
  • The Marvel Universe: We know The Avengers is coming next year, and though this doesn’t feature the same sort of jaw-droppingly inane empire-building as Iron Man 2 or Thor, the film is meant to dovetail into The Avengers, and it hurts the film because it has to explain (and this is in the first section of the film) how Rogers gets into the 21st century. The film would have been unarguably better if it didn’t have to tie in to The Avengers. Alas.

Overall:

In a summer were event films haven’t delivered events all the spectacularly, Captain America is a nice throwback to the Spielberg action era, and though it doesn’t deliver the same amount of thrills as Spielberg in his prime, it will do for now. Johnston’s The Rocketeer did the exact same things (only better) and was a box office disappointment, but we’re so much further away from this sort of filmmaking that it feels fresher now. Captain America is sexy and exciting and feels like a full meal. That’s enough.

Rating: 7.5/10

Gallery:

Trailer:

Captain America: The First Avenger opens July 22.