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.

More Marvel Movie Madness:

Comments

jrod1978

jarrod taylor

I'll have to go see that soon.

Jul 25 - 04:56 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Thanks, RT Matt. Now I have South Park's montage song in my head!

Jul 25 - 04:58 PM

Ryan N.

Ryan Nolan

'Always fade out in a montaaaaage, If you fade out it seems that more time has passed in a montaaaage.'

Jul 27 - 12:31 PM

Ryan N.

Ryan Nolan

Just saw the movie, pretty average in my opinion though not a lot to dislike either. Chris Evan's was very good as I thought he would be and Red Skull was a solid enough villain. The action was decent though not spectacular and the 1940's setting was pretty neat at times.

I feel that since Marvel hit that big home run with Iron Man they have just played it too safe with the movies that have come out since. Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America have all lacked in plot and have all had almost nothing happen throughout the course of the movie, by that I mean nothing has really been changed by the end. Once Marvel knew they were going to "assemble the Avengers" they just didn't take any risks with all their properties so as to not disrupt the big movie that is coming next summer and I think it has really hurt the quality. Sure I've had fun at Thor and Captain America, and a little less fun at Iron Man 2 but I'll never need to re-watch any of these movies the way I did with Nolan's Batman movies or to a lesser extent Singer and Vaughn's X-men movies. The Avengers better be worth it!

Jul 27 - 10:11 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Hilarious! Well played!

Jul 28 - 12:20 AM

Joeblow B.

Joeblow Binks

Dang! Almost had the first comment!

Jul 25 - 05:01 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

I know, right? Being first to comment on an article posted on the internet is such a monumental achievement in one's life /sarcasm.

Jul 25 - 05:10 PM

Ken W.

Ken Wolfson

OMG iT SO IS!!!

Jul 25 - 10:02 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

Cap USA had a lot of problems... but I still enjoyed it. I wasn't too hot for Iron Man 2 and Thor, but Iron Man, Hulk and Cap USA were very good. I also really liked the Avengers teaser after the credits, though I was kinda disappointed that the actual post-credits scene was super-short.

Jul 25 - 05:08 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Wait...which Hulk?

Jul 25 - 05:20 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

There's only one Hulk made by Marvel :)

Jul 25 - 08:49 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Ok, whew. We can still be friends.

Jul 25 - 09:38 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

lol!

Jul 25 - 09:41 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

I know, right? Being first to comment on an article posted on the internet is such a monumental achievement in one's life /sarcasm.

Jul 25 - 05:10 PM

Ken W.

Ken Wolfson

OMG iT SO IS!!!

Jul 25 - 10:02 PM

Alexson Philip

Alexson Philipiah

will see this on bluray. :)

Jul 25 - 05:12 PM

Looselycult

Dean Peteet

Yeah, will buy this on bluray. :)

Jul 25 - 05:20 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Wait...which Hulk?

Jul 25 - 05:20 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

There's only one Hulk made by Marvel :)

Jul 25 - 08:49 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Ok, whew. We can still be friends.

Jul 25 - 09:38 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

lol!

Jul 25 - 09:41 PM

Looselycult

Dean Peteet

By far my favorite Marvel movie. I'm still scratching my head why more people still liked "Thor" better than "Cap". It just doesn't make any sense. Sure Asgard and the CG on the whole looked great, but what's with that really bad New Mexico backlot. Did they over do their budget on the CG Asgard and have to end up digging out this old cardboard set from the 1978 version of "Superman I & II"? And boy that romance between Thor and Natalie Portman was a real snoozer compared to the Steve Rogers/ Peggy Carter romance. Their chemistry was way more believable. And then the most anti-climatic ending in action movie history. Really ? That's how your going to end this movie?Your really going to end with .......... Oh wait I forgot what the ending was. Anyway sure the FX was good and the acting was top notch but it had nowhere near the heart that "Cap" had. Just saying.

Jul 25 - 05:32 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Sadly, that's actually how New Mexico looks :)

Jul 26 - 04:36 AM

reelguy

Jeremiah Rancourt

I completely agree with your assessment of Thor versus Captain America. Cap was by far the better film, only second to the original Iron Man in quality for Marvel (imho). Thor was good and could have gone completely wrong but didn't. Still, your complaints were justified for Thor. At the very least, the actors in the film really got their parts right and therefore people connected with Thor, Loki, and Odin even though the adventure was relatively bland. Here's hoping for higher stakes and more heart in Thor 2.

Jul 26 - 08:27 AM

King Crunk

King Crunk

I pretty much agree with everything said in this article. The movie was good and worked mainly because of the old school feel. Johnston nailed that, so major props to him. Evans was also great as Rogers, and I was glad he actually played Cap in character, instead of trying to cram his signature snarky attitude into the movie (coughRyan-Reynolds-in-every-superhero-flick-he-is-incough). I thought the movie was pretty much as good as it could get until it hit the battle montage in the middle, where it seemed like they were running out of time and needed to get to the end as quick as possible.

Jul 25 - 06:04 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Agreed, also have to wholeheartedly agree with the RT staff on Tucci and Jones and the unmentioned Atwill who really carried portions of the movie that could have fallen flat.

Jul 26 - 04:37 AM

reelguy

Jeremiah Rancourt

The battle montage was meant to show time passing between when Steve actually "became" Captain America on the battlefront and the final battle with him and Red Skull. Then, future Captain America movies can flashback to battles and scenes in the middle of Cap's 1940s adventures and tie them into whatever's going on with Cap in the present. It was kind of filler until future movie installments come out.

Jul 26 - 08:30 AM

King Crunk

King Crunk

I understand that it was to bridge the gap between Cap rescuing the POW's and the final battle with the Red Skull, as well as show Rogers become an effective fighter in battle, but it just felt a little sloppy in its presentation.

Jul 26 - 11:28 AM

King Crunk

King Crunk

All three of them were fine in their roles, and I was glad they sort of side-stepped the traditional love story presented in these superhero flicks. Atwell was the love interest, but it was more like a what could have been romance instead of the typical one true love sub-plot found in most superhero films. I am just wondering if Atwell's character will appear in The Avengers, either played by an older actress or they can Ben Button-up Atwell to look old, since it would be a fairly emotional moment for Cap to find the girl he cared about has pretty much moved on with the world. They would totally have to milk the moment with Rogers taking her out for that dance he owed her, nearly seventy years later.

Jul 26 - 11:37 AM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

In the comics they did and he also taps her granddaughter Sharon. Straight up pimpin' actually I think she was her grand neice or something, but still.

Jul 26 - 06:10 PM

Matanuki

Matanuki .

Agreed all the way down, with most of the affirmative comments posted on this board. I was worried too in the beginning, but not much. My faith was rewarded well in the end. I am however interested in what they'll do next, to offer a new course for the conversation. There was talk of them doing sequels set in the past, since the many montages suggested quite a few adventures before the final showdown portrayed in the film.

My real question is what's gonna happen with Winter Soldier? I know you, B, have mentioned great loads of hate for the character, lol, but you have to accept that they still may use him.

Jul 27 - 08:38 AM

King Crunk

King Crunk

Winter Soldier would be the obvious villian for a sequel, but I am wondering what exactly happened to the Red Skull at the end of this movie. SPOILER! STOP READING IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN CAPTAIN AMERICA! Anywho, he picks up the cosmic cube (which is the thing from Asguard that Odin had that kept the Ice Giants at bay or whatever from Thor), and seems to get transported somewhere else. It is possible he could resurface in The Avengers, since the cosmic cube is obviously going to be one of the driving forces in the story, but I am wondering exactly where he was sent to, since Thor drew out all the different universes when explaining to Jane where he came from.

Jul 27 - 10:52 AM

Will K.

Will K

As for the comment on having all of the characters in The Avengers, I think that's where the script will either make or break the movie... much more so than Whedon could ever. When you get a team full of A-Listers, you typically have to take the audience, and mold them into believing that they're not watching Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Hulk, but rather The Avengers.

So what will probably happen in the script is that you'll see the guys meet up, be pretty disjointed at first, get their rear-ends beat badly because of poor teamwork, they'll learn their lesson, and fight together. I'm kind of hoping that very clichéd storyline does *not* occur, but I wouldn't put it past a writer (or a team of writers).

What I'd love to see in The Avengers would be what I call "%#$@ YEAH!" scenes. These are typically scenes full of action where one character is on the brink of death or losing the fight, and another character makes a sudden appearance to save the day. While someone intervening is typically expected, if it's written and directed well, it can look fantastic and play out well. An example of this is during "The Expendables" when Statham, Li and Lundgren are beneath the villa and being pinned down by enemy soldiers. They pretty much have no chance of winning and all of a sudden you hear a ton of loud booms and see enemies go flying. Who enters the fray... none other than Terry Crews with an automatic shotgun! The only words for this are, "%#$@ YEAH!"

Jul 25 - 06:13 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

That scene is the only good part of that movie. It (and Terry) deserved a better movie.

Jul 25 - 07:19 PM

King Crunk

King Crunk

That is easily the best scene in The Expendables, and I am hoping the story does not resemble the cookie cutter outline you described above (but I fear that it will fall into something like that). It is going to come down to how well the script juggles all four of these characters. Whedon is good with ensembles, and since he rewrote the script, I am hoping for the best. The trailer after Captain America really only showed Stark and Thor with a bunch of hyper cut action in between, so I really hope this does not become Iron Man and friends. I personally believe they should be aiming at a minimum of a three hour runtime for the movie, just to make sure all the characters get their arcs in, and get more to do than just show up for one or two cool moments (The Expendables is a good example of a great cast wasted because none of them had anything to do except for their big action moment).

Jul 26 - 11:49 AM

CJ Calvin

CJ Calvin

Best Marvel movie yet in my opinion. A good and straight forward action/superhero flick that is just a bit better than Iron Man due to a better ending and chemistry between Cap and Peggy than Tony and Pepper. Evans rocked! I've always liked the guy but when I first heard that he was cast I was worried. I really thought he was wrong to play the part but he showed that he can supress the snarkiness and deliver a performance that made me like the character more in the film than in the comics. Looking forward to The Avengers.

Jul 25 - 06:14 PM

filmfanatic

Chris Stanton

Hey great Job reviewing these movies guys. You're pretty spot on for all of them. Being such,
I'll have to check out captain America.

Jul 25 - 07:04 PM

Sputnik99

sputnik 99

Cap is a better movie than Thor, but not as good as Iron Man. It's littered with bad editing and hokey fight scenes, and Weaving is not right to play the Red Skull. But, it looks good, and it gets exciting here and there. I have no desire to ever purchase Thor, but I might buy Captain America. It feels like it has some re-watchability.

Jul 25 - 07:09 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

Its funny that the two comic book adaptions I was worried about the most ended up being the better and/or more successful adaptions of the summer while Green Lantern sucked and tanked and First Class tanked (kind of).

Jul 25 - 07:22 PM

Amalgamate7

Norman Dostal

first class was the best superhero movie this summer-by far

Jul 25 - 09:22 PM

Clint D.

Clint Davis

Amen to that. All the other 3 films seemed childish in comaparison. No offense but First Class was just so unexpectedly mature but fun.

Jul 27 - 11:17 AM

Michael I.

Michael Indo

Hugo Weaving was perfect as the Red Skull. I wanna know what you were smoking when you watched this.

Jul 26 - 03:53 AM

Sputnik99

sputnik 99

I don't smoke. Weaving looked good, but he sounded like an American trying to sound like a German. The accent was way off. He sounded almost campy.

Jul 26 - 10:48 AM

Merlin235

Merlin Ambrosius

Hugo Weaving was born in Nigeria, grew up there and in Australia and England. Not American.

Jul 26 - 11:54 AM

Lion O

Larry Oliver

I had no problem with Weaving or his German accent. He certainly sounded better than Toby Jones.....i don't know where he got that accent from. The earlier part of Cap worked better than the later actions sequences and I agree that the montage action was misplaced and hokey.......they needed to show a few more really great scenew with the shield and I would be happier

Jul 28 - 04:30 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

That scene is the only good part of that movie. It (and Terry) deserved a better movie.

Jul 25 - 07:19 PM

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