How many superhero movies is too many? After watching three others, I was not exactly eager for Captain America to make his way to the big screen. I was not a big Cap fan, anyway. I like the guys with more spectacular powers than mere strength and longevity. I also wasn’t interested in a character who brings with him a lot of flag-waving American patriotism. Nevertheless, this movie had more depth and was more character-driven than the others. I guess it helped that most of this movie was set during WW2. The wholesome, simpler context made it easier to get into the core theme: heroism.
Young Steve Rogers had the courageous heart of a hero, but not the body of one. After failing to meet the army’s physical requirements over and over, he was given the chance to take part in an experimental treatment to augment his body and turn him into a super-soldier. Unfortunately, when the evil proto-Nazi nicknamed the Red Skull tried to get his hands on the super-soldier formula, things got less-simple and Rogers became Captain America in order to lead a team to stop him. The plot is straightforward enough, but what made the character of Rogers/Captain America believable was that they actually spent time to build him up. Physically, they took a 90-pound weakling (played by Chris Evans, after receiving some incredible CGI de-muscling) and turned him into a perfect fighting machine (also Chris Evans, after presumably months at the gym). In contrast to his physical transformation, scenes showing him standing up to bullies, showing loyalty to his friends, and willingly sacrificing himself for others’ safety proved that his heroism was a constant. Compared to the flashy effects of other such movies, a story that was based so much on character was actually more satisfying.
While Evans was very good in the role of Steve Rogers, doing a nice job as the wimp (which is not his typical role) and the hero, the supporting cast wasn’t bad either. Hayley Atwell played Rogers’s love interest, British agent Peggy Carter, as a strong and capable person in her own right. While it was clear that they had a romantic bond, she had her own job to do that was more than merely having heart-to-hearts with Steve on a starry balcony (or any number of other lame chick-flick-inspired scenes). Stanley Tucci added a bit of sarcastic levity as Dr. Erskine, the Nazi-defector and scientist who created the super-soldier formula. Finally, Hugo Weaving (sporting a better German accent than Tucci) was wonderfully ruthless (bringing back memories of his Agent Smith character from The Matrix) as the Red Skull.
The first half of the movie (where wimpy Rogers struggles with his heroic dreams) was arguably more interesting than the second (where the super Captain America actually fights evil). There were multiple missions (rather than a single big one) that Cap and his team went on, but they kind of blurred together. As the fists and bullets were flying, I found myself trying hard to recall what the objective of that particular mission actually was. Plus, the Red Skull’s forces and their high-tech devices were incredibly anachronistic and seemed to come right out of any number of action movies (the recent G.I. Joe big screen adventure comes to mind). While this movie may have done a slightly better job of transcending it than the others, it’s still a superhero movie coming from a formula. There was never a question how it was all going to end. What helped this movie may have been the simpler context from a simpler time. However, after the credits, a sneak peek at the upcoming Avengers movie showed Captain America combining forces with other heroes in the modern day. His integrity and courageous spirit may have survived suspended animation for 50 years, but I just hope it can survive the pressures of being next summer’s Hollywood blockbuster. (4 out of 5)