Captain America: The First Avenger is a just-good-enough origin tale for the final piece of Marvel’s Avengers’ puzzle. It’s not spectacular nor particularly memorable, but during its run-time it skates by purely on a level of fun, and is just effective enough in introducing the character to get you pumped to see him again next summer, this time interacting with a number of other, more interesting characters.

Any fears I had about this movie going in had to do with the underwhelming choice to have Joe Johnston direct it. Johnston is one of those workmanlike directors who is just talented enough to avoid making awful movies, but not really talented enough to make awesome ones. This film does represent both the best of Johnston and, at times, the worst of Johnston, but thankfully he more-or-less comes though with a surprisingly decent job. It’s probably to his benefit that the film is a retro-throwback to 40’s era serial adventures, much like the only other truly good Johnston film, The Rocketeer. Johnston clearly loves this kind of stuff, and his enthusiasm shows on-screen. If you want to make a pulpy WWII action movie, Johnston is your guy.

But the film still suffers from some of the same problems as other Johnston films, some of which definitely lay on his shoulders. When it comes to visuals and action, Johnston is simply not a dynamic enough director to compensate for momentary lapses into weak storytelling or distracting goofiness. There are times, usually during big action set-pieces, when this film feels surprisingly flat and lifeless on screen. And some of the obvious green-screen work is flat-out laughable. Maybe it was done intentionally, to further give the movie a more retro look, but it still feels awkward and out-of-place given that this is technically supposed to be taking place in the same universe/continuity as the far-more-serious other Marvel Studio films. Also, Johnston always seems to have a problem with pacing, and this is no exception – the climactic third act comes too late and feels too short, if you ask me.

I have a couple other smaller complaints, such as the character of Captain America himself. Now, that’s not to say Chris Evans doesn’t do a great job in the role, because he does. Anyone who had doubts about him will be eating crow after seeing this. But still, the movie does suffer from the fact that Steve Rogers simply isn’t that interesting of a character, at least not in the sense of a satisfying dramatic arc. Rogers is exactly the same character at the beginning of the movie (when he’s a small 90-pound weakling) that he is at the end (when he’s a scientifically modified super soldier that has just saved the world). I get that that’s the point, and what makes Captain America Captain America. But it still also means he’s less interesting than most of the other heroes around – thankfully, The Avengers will get great mileage out of contrasting his do-gooder attitude against guys like Iron Man and Thor, so it will be a lot more tolerable then.

Any other complaints I might have are just this side of nit-picking. Red Skull’s ultimate plan (and fate) is under-explained and pretty corny, but maybe my expectations were too high coming off of the excellent portrayal of Loki in Thor. And sure, The Howling Commandos are given short shrift here, but I suppose I should just be happy they’re here at all. Like I said, even with complaints like these, the movie gets by thanks to its fun attitude and a number of very good performances (besides Evans, I also really enjoyed Hugo Weaving’s hilariously arch turn as Red Skull, and Tommy Lee Jones is a blast as a cranky army general).

Captain America is more successful as a kitsch piece of pulp tribute, but if you can accept it on those terms and forgive some of its more glaring flaws, it’s pretty darn entertaining. Not as good as Iron Man, Incredible Hulk or Thor, but definitely better than Iron Man 2, Captain America does its job – it introduces the character, and keeps you excited for next summers Avengers movie. That’ll do.

 

 

This review was originally posted at Trevor Likes Movies on July 30th, 2011.

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