Marvel Movie Madness! Part 34: Captain America: The First Avenger

Enter Marvel Movie Madness, wherein Rotten Tomatoes watches all of the significant Marvel movies ever made. Full Marvel Movie Madness list here. Tune in! We give you our thoughts, and you give us yours.


Part 34: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011, 74% @ 145 reviews)
Directed by Joe Johnston, starring Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell

Jeff: As we learned earlier in this series, it isn't exactly easy to bring Captain America to the big screen. He's unquestionably a comics icon, but for decades, Cap's combination of bland upstanding citizenship, dorky costume, and fairly boring superpowers have been a challenge for the guys who write the books, so it isn't hard to see why Hollywood has struggled with him.

Given all that -- and Joe Johnston's somewhat bumpy track record -- I wasn't expecting a lot from Captain America, and I was really pleasantly surprised. In terms of feel, Johnston directed it as a throwback to the classic '30s and '40s serials via Raiders of the Lost Ark -- not only in terms of the swashbuckling action, which was great, but in terms of pacing and character development. It's a movie that makes you wait for the payoff instead of just throwing one-liners and explosions at you every few minutes, which is something close to a religious act of faith in our modern, hyper-adrenalized cinematic environment.

I also thought Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely's script did an impressive job of rounding off Captain America's square edges and making him less of a noble caricature. He's still motivated by a sense of patriotic duty, but he isn't a jingoistic flag-waver; he's a guy who knows what it means to be powerless, and all he really wants to do is help.

But none of it would work without a great cast, and Captain America has one. Evans does an impressive job of tamping down his usual winking charm in favor of a somewhat nuanced performance that gets at the heart of a larger-than-life character, and he gets plenty of help from a solid supporting cast, including the always dependable Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones.

I still question whether a Cap movie set in the modern era can work, and I can't even imagine how Joss Whedon is going to cram everyone into The Avengers, but for a movie that had to function as an origin story and a tie-in to the rest of the Marvel universe, Captain America stands up surprisingly well on its own.


Ryan: I'm pretty much on the same page with you, Jeff. I did't go in with high expectations, and as it turned out, I enjoyed the movie a lot more than I thought I would. And when you question whether or not this could work in a modern day setting, I think you sort of hit on one of the conclusions I came to as I was watching it: This isn't a traditional superhero movie so much as it's basically a light WWII movie with a sci-fi bent. I don't know how closely the writers stuck to the source material, but I thought they did a great job fleshing out the character of Steve Rogers, and his transition into the role of the titular hero feels really natural.

I agree that Evans is solid here, mainly because -- also like you mentioned -- he tones down the snark factor in favor of a more balanced delivery, which proves effective in endearing him to the audience. I came away thinking, "That Steve Rogers is a pretty cool cat. I really hope that new Avengers gig treats him well." And as for the inherent patriotism of the character, I thought the dud grenade bit was the perfect way to illustrate his motivations; the scene bordered on cliché, but Steve's quirky mannerisms and earnest selflessness would come to represent what Captain America stood for, more than his love for country.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a couple issues I did have with the film, though. I found some of the editing to be a little jarring, as there were a handful of moments when the story skipped ahead rather abruptly. For example, after Cap declares that he and his "Inglourious Basterds" will walk right up to Red Skull's front door, the film immediately cuts to him speeding through the forest on a motorcycle with a gang of Red Skull's henchmen already on his tail. And speaking of Red Skull, after seeing him portrayed in this and the 1990 iteration, I've decided I'm not a huge fan of him as a central villain, regardless of his stature in the source material. His backstory's parallel with that of Steve Rogers is interesting, but the climactic battles between the two never seem to pack much punch. And lastly, I actually found the action itself to be one of the weaker elements of the movie; it wasn't bad, but it wasn't particularly special, and I found the little battle montage in the middle a bit odd.

In the end, of course, I had a pretty good time with this movie. I didn't get the sense that it existed simply to advance the ongoing Avengers narrative, and I found myself invested in the character of Steve Rogers. That said, I'm also not sure how all of these Marvel heroes are going to fit in next year's film, but I'll be looking forward to it nonetheless.


Matt: I loved this movie, and I love that we're ending our epic Marvel Movie Madness series with something that's so good. We've watch some great films, and some really crappy ones, so it's nice to be able to go out on a positive note.

As both Jeff and Ryan mentioned, the cast here is terrific. Like a lot of other people, I was concerned about Chris Evans being cast in the title role here, but as I look back, I realize that was a mistake. Cap is usually shown as a straight-arrow type, and though that works in the comics, it could get bland on the screen. As much as Evans tones down his normal attitude to play this role, there's just enough of an edge to him that we can relate to Steve Rogers a bit. And the secondary cast brings so much to the table here; Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving, Toby Jones, and Hayley Atwell all put in great performances.

The action moves along really well, and the Hydra side of the Nazi war machine makes for an appropriately threatening menace for our heroes. My only complaint would be that we get a few too many montages in the middle of the movie. There's a training montage, and a musical montage, and a combat montage; I'm not sure how I'd recut those parts, but all I can say is that I think we could have done with one less montage. I think Johnston ended up being a good choice as a director for this film. There's not overly artistic attempts at subtext here; we're just getting a straight-ahead action movie that's appropriate to the character of Captain America.

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