Unsurprisingly, being a new parent means that you have to cut back on certain activities and going to the movie theater is definitely one of them. I refuse to be “that” parent. You know the type, the one who drags their kid along with them to the movie the parent wants to see, regardless of the kid’s interest, their age, or the appropriateness of the film for the kid. Since I don’t want to be, well, a jerk and ruin other people’s experience, Michelle and I have missed a number of the bigger summertime movies but we had a chance to go out sans kid on Monday (let’s hear it for babysitters). Of all the movies out, the only one that really worked for timing issues was Captain America, The First Avenger.
I think there are several ways that you can divide up old-school Marvel Comics fans. Just like there’s a line between people who like David Lee Roth Van Halen and those who prefer Sammy Hagar Van Halen (call me a heretic if you want but I prefer Sammy to Roth any day of the week (although I do like “Ice Cream Man” more than I should)), the dividing line is between the titles. Me, I was always an X-men fan first and foremost and rarely dabbled in the Spider-man/Avengers/FF side of Marvel so my personal interest in Captain America wasn’t that great. I know his back story from my reading of classic comic history so I at least wasn’t completely in the dark (and I thought they did a pretty decent job of staying in line with it) but I wasn’t personally invested in the film the way other fans might’ve been. But it looked like a good flick and, as I mentioned, it worked with what time we had so we saw it.
Did I like it? Eh…
Ok, let me say what I liked about it. I think they incorporated all of Cap’s side-kicks very well (especially the inexplicably named Dum Dum Dugan), including Bucky. The nods to the classic Jack Kirby comic, including the original costume with the wings on the hood and the “heater” style of the shield (the one he uses on stage and during the rescue mission), were very well done IMO. The acting was, at the very least, decent although I do have to say there hasn’t been a movie that had Hugo Weaving or Tommy Lee Jones where I didn’t like their performances.
Ok, that’s not completely true. I heard rumor that there was some lame attempt at Batman where Tommy Lee Jones played Two Face but that can’t be true, I mean, after the Michael Keaton/Tim Burton Batman movies there was only the Chris Nolan versions…
Anyway, I thought the cast did a decent job of acting and I will say this: I liked this version of Cap and that I feel like he was the first truly heroic character we’ve seen in Marvel comic movies. The character of Steve Rogers in this film is not just a good man but a heroic one. Yes, the Super Soldier Serum gave him strength, speed, stamina, and pecs you could crush walnuts on but that’s just his body; the character himself is heroic in his desire to stand up to bullies. It’s not that he wants to kill them, or anyone, as he says to Dr. Erskine, but that he wants to stand up to them because it’s right. This level of heroicness is most exemplified when he, among all the others around at the time, leaps on the grenade to save his squad (not knowing it was a dud). I thought that scene was awesome.
And that leads me into what I didn’t like.
There was no character development of Rogers, really, no hero’s journey. Consider another famous Marvel superhero: Spider-man. Peter Parker is a nerd, forgotten by those around him, bullied, until fate and a radioactive spider’s bite turns him into Spider-man. At first Peter is high on his new abilities, finally having the strength to break the mold he’d been pressed in to, but it goes to his head, makes him arrogant, proud. This pride costs him his beloved Uncle Ben and that death, and the knowledge that he could’ve stopped it had he just not been such a prick, is a catalyzing moment for Peter and influences everything he does.
Not so for Steve Rogers. There is no point in the film where Steve has to make the decision to “always be a good man”, as he is cautioned by Erskine. There’s no instance of temptation, no humbling event to curtail rising arrogance. Steve Rogers is the same at the end of the movie as he is at the beginning, only with larger muscles (this is poignantly illustrated when Penny opens his file and looks at the picture of skinny Steve). Now you could argue that the lack of change is due to the Serum, that it enhanced all of his good characteristics just like it did his physical stature, and so he would be even less likely to change than before but to that I say so what? What we have in this Steve Rogers, while a good character in a moral sense, is a static character and that I find boring. Even Tony Stark, in both films, has a “Wow, I’ve been a right asshole, haven’t I?” moment and changes his behavior based on it.
My other main complaint is that so much of the film was gloss. Yes, I don’t think we needed to see the Howling Commandos* (the name of the group of soldiers Cap assembles) destroy all seven Hydra bases but condensing all of that into various cut scenes was, well, unsatisfying.
In the end I was left with a particularly enjoyable action film that I never need to see again. Did I need to see it in 3D or even in the theater? No, but it was a date and 3D was our only option, time-wise. If you haven’t seen it, I’d say watch it on a matinee if you have to see it in the theater and skip the 3D completely.
*The Howling Commandos were actually Nick Fury’s original group; Fury was a contemporary with Captain America in that they both fought in WWII against the Nazis but they never met up in classic comics AFAIK.