CAPTAIN AMERICA THE FIRST AVENGER – 5/27/14

2011

This awkwardly titled yawner was directed by Joe Johnston, who also directed The Rocketeer (1991). I’d rather watch that one.

One thing I’ve noticed about these Marvel movies – people are always finding things. This time around, it starts with some generic government guys very obviously finding Captain America. Then we flash back to 1942. THIS IS A HUGE PROBLEM. When I saw that the first scene of the movie is in the present day, I was thunderstruck. This is just awful, awful storytelling. I’ll explain later.

Right off the bat, the creativity blows me away. The bad guy is played by Agent Smith from The Matrix. Can you believe it? What daring casting! Wow, and Toby Jones is a creepy bug-eyed Nazi scientist. Really playing against type. Tommy Lee Jones as a gruff leather-faced old army guy? You can tell they wanted to go in completely new and unexpected directions with this one.

The dialog is equally inspiring. “Boy,” some guy says, reading a newspaper about the war, “a lotta guys gettin’ killed over there!”  “Faster ladies. My grandma has more life in her,” says a drill instructor. I bet Full Metal Jacket wishes it had lines as original as that!  “The son of a bitch did it,” says the skeptical old military guy after the successful outcome of an experiment. Wow, did Dashiell Hammett write this? “You told me I was meant for more than this. Did you mean that?” Captain America asks his girlfriend. “Every word,” she replies. She meant all seven words?

Agent Smith is the bland, uninteresting Johann Schmidt a.k.a. Red Skull (although that’s how everyone knows the character, only one person in the movie calls him that). He gets his hands on the Tesseract, the unnamed MacGuffin of the film that becomes the MacGuffin of The Avengers, too. More creativity! Just like how the villain in Thor is also the villain in The Avengers and re-appears in Thor: The Dark World. Or how we get to see Howard Stark, the father of Iron Man. Why do we need these constant dumb cross-over appearances? It’s almost as though Marvel knows that none of its lame-ass heroes (other than Spiderman) can actually stand on their own.

One might ask, “What does Red Skull want with the Tesseract?” Well, Red Skull was a Nazi agent in the comics, so I assume he’s going to use it to make those ubiquitous Nazi super-weapons (like the jet packs in The Rocketeer). But it turns out that he wants it for himself, so that he can… uh… your guess is as good as mine.

That’s another major flaw for this movie. You have no idea what the bad guy is up to or why he wants to do anything. The “climax” of the film feels like anything but – we’re just told that Red Skull wants to “destroy half the world.” Why? How? With what? The flamethrowers and laser tanks we saw earlier? Red Skull is making all these weapons, but the good guys just blow them up right away – we never get any scenes of Tommy Lee muttering, “Damn, these laser tanks are kicking our asses. We might lose the war.” That would have helped lend some urgency.

Instead of creating, you know, a plot, the movie piles on the redundant characters and meaningless scenes. For instance, Red Skull is introduced as “a brilliant scientist.” Then why does he need Toby Jones to be his scientist? Oh, right – so he can get captured and conveniently reveal the villain’s (vague) plan at the end. He serves no other purpose in the film.

But thank goodness we get all the trappings of a generic Marvel superhero movie! We get a generic “failing at Basic Training” montage that would put Paul Blart: Mall Cop to shame, complete with the bully who needlessly sabotages the efforts of our hero! We get a generic “hero on roof of villain’s car while villain shoots up at him” sequence! We get the “hero chases an aircraft as it takes off” scene!

Here’s something else that bugged me: what’s with the stupid two-fisted salute and the “Hail Hydra” instead of “Heil Hitler”? Why wasn’t Red Skull a Nazi agent working for Hitler, like he was in the comics? Here’s the answer – Marvel is greedy. For all their preening about how faithful they are to the original characters and stories, they wanted to make as much cash as possible with this movie. Look for a swastika – you won’t find one. In a World War II movie where the villain is a Nazi and the hero is famous for fighting the Nazis. This is unacceptable, cheesy, and awkward.

Captain America is far too long. I got to 33:48 and realized there hadn’t been a single action scene yet – 25% of the way through the movie! At 50 minutes in, we still weren’t shown Red Skull’s actual face. After 81 minutes, the only action we got was a car chase and the “base rescue” sequence. It just dragged. Just because you can afford to make a movie 123 minutes long doesn’t mean you have to.

I wanted to spend some more time on how impossibly diverse Captain America’s team is (a black guy AND an Asian guy? How integrated was the Army in the 1940s?) and how lame the villain’s “death” is (he picks up the MacGuffin and gets zapped into space… come on, Marvel, kill a bad guy for once!). What I really want to address is the ending.

We see Captain America open his eyes at 1:50:40… and since we already know they dug him out of the ice at the very beginning of the movie, we know he’s waking up in the present day.

At 1:52 he realizes there’s something fishy about the radio broadcast. Yeah, because it’s not the 1940s. It’s the present day. We know. You told us two hours ago.

At 1:52:43, he runs into Times Square and realizes that it’s the present day… which we all already know, since they gave it away at the beginning of the movie.

Cars suddenly pull up all around him and we hear, “At ease, soldier.” We see Nicholas L. Fury, and he’s already standing in the middle of the street while his agents are still opening their car doors behind him. HOW DID HE GET THERE SO FAST?

At 1:53:20, Fury tells Cap that he’s been asleep for nearly 70 years. But we already know that, because it was revealed at the beginning of the movie. Then the movie ends with him realizing that the girl he loved is either super old, or super dead.

Damn. What a downer. The end! Sleep well, kids!

This whole sequence was completely unnecessary. That scene could have been powerful. We could have shared Cap’s shock as he realized the world he knew was long gone. We could have been overwhelmed by the lights and sounds of Times Square right along with him. We could have felt a moment of genuine shared emotion with this character.

But no. We couldn’t. Because we knew exactly what was going on the whole time. BECAUSE THE MOVIE GAVE IT AWAY IN THE VERY FIRST SCENE. This is pathetic. This is a storytelling disaster.

This is Captain America: The First Avenger.

Oh, and the one girl they take to the “world of the future” expo looked a lot like the chinchilla girl from SNL. It wasn’t her. But I got really excited for a second.

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One comment

  1. The heil Hydra salute was their own thing. Red Skull was with the Nazis, but wanted to create a more perfect world (not sure why. See below). Can’t answer the why he wants to kill the world. Maybe he is jealous of faces that were not red skulls. He was gonig to do it with super bombs that (I think) were powered by the Tesseract.

    Solid point about the intro and ending. I think Marvel just has a huge ego and assumed the audience knew Captain was a WWII hero who froze and was later found in modern times.

    I don’t think Marvel is trying to do anything groundbreaking with casting. I mean, they brought in Human Torch from the failed Fantastic Four movies to be Captain. They are just going for recognizable names that will sell millions of tickets. It appears to be working.

    That said, this villain was pretty lame. We don’t know anything about Red Skull, why he is red, how he came to power, etc. I guess we’re supposed to hate him because he wants to blow up the world, but we don’t know much about his motivations, his rise to power, or anything. We root against him because Marvel tells us to, and Marvel rules the cinematic world we live in.

    I’m surprised you didn’t rip on this movie for being extremely cheesy.

    I came in to defend this film, but can’t. It was your typical “meh” comic book origins story. The only really good one so far has been Iron Man, which I’m sure you hated because it had some cliche lines, was one guy in a combat suit fighting another, had robots and all of your other little knitpicking items.

    I hate you.

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