Captain America: The First Avenger ends up being a fairly entertaining but only sporadically engaging superhero movie that relies too heavily on formulaic concepts and never leaves the comfort zone of its genre. While watching the film, one can’t escape the feeling—solidified by a surprisingly extended coda—that its primary purpose is to pave the way for next year’s The Avengers, which would help to explain the perfunctoriness of the proceedings.
Perhaps my lukewarm response to this film stems from the fact that I don’t find Captain America to be a very compelling superhero. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s undernourished screenplay and director Joe Johnston’s inability to infuse the movie with a sense of awe may have something to do with it, too.
There is humor; those moments are funny and don’t seem out of place. None of the action scenes manages to be particularly exciting or intense, but at least they are executed well. The final fight between the protagonist and the villain is disappointingly anticlimactic and uninvolving.
The visual effects generally look convincing, with one exception being the noticeable physical discrepancy between the protagonist’s head and his scrawny body—the result of an actor’s head, a body double, and modern technology—in the first part of the film. By combining period details from the time of the Second World War with certain futuristic elements, the filmmakers give the movie a visually stylish atmosphere that is easy to appreciate.
Captain America: The First Avenger contains two small things that nearly all Marvel movies contain: a cameo by Stan Lee and a scene after the end credits. The former generates a chuckle; the latter is actually more than one scene and provides a glimpse of what the future holds.
Chris Evans is likable as the brave, patriotic, good-hearted Steve Rogers/Captain America and fills out the role nicely, both acting-wise and with regard to the character’s physique. Tommy Lee Jones turns in a pitch-perfect, enjoyable performance as Colonel Chester Phillips, and Dominic Cooper makes his Howard Stark a worthy father of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark (also known as Iron Man). As Peggy Carter, Hayley Atwell has a not insignificant screen presence, even though the purpose of her role is mostly decorative; I just wish that the character had been introduced in a less clichéd way. In the roles of Dr. Abraham Erskine and Dr. Arnim Zola, respectively, Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones each have some good scenes, whereas Neal McDonough and Derek Luke are severely underused. Hugo Weaving’s Johann Schmidt/Red Skull exudes the right amount of devilish evil, but his master plan remains rather vague and doesn’t seem to pose a serious threat to the world.