Captain America: The First Avenger * * 1/2

Genre: Action

Director: Joe Johnston

Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely, based on the comic series by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

Cast: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Samuel L. Jackson

Running Length: 125 minutes

Synopsis: Captain America: The First Avenger focuses on the early days of the Marvel Universe where the scrawny but courageous Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) volunteers to participate in an experimental science program that  eventually turns him into a super soldier known to the world as “Captain America”. He joins forces with best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and a bunch of gung ho soldiers in a war against the evil HYDRA organization, led by the villainous Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). He also finds some time in between to romance the beautiful Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), though not always to good effect.

Review: After what seems like an endless slew of prequels for The Avengers, we’re finally at the last one before the main event next year, and this time it’s featuring one of the oldest Marvel superheroes – Captain America. Although the film is a serviceable origins movie and fairly entertaining, the fact that most cinemagoers have seen more than a handful of similarly-themed films means that the bar has been set quite high, and the flaws of this film seem particularly pronounced.

Let’s start with the positives. Captain America makes very good use of CGI, and not just in the big action sequences. It’s truly magical to see Chris Evans shrunken down to a much scrawnier size, and this is done so seamlessly that one can’t help but marvel at the advances in technology that have allowed this to happen. It’s also refreshing to see a superhero movie set in the 1940s, and the period details make even mundane actions like operating machinery seem that much more interesting. It’s no surprise that director Joe Johnston has The Rocketeer in his canon of work, because the two films bear many visual similarities.

Captain America is also packed with a good number of comedic moments, and this is largely the reason why the film is rather entertaining. The bigger action set pieces are pretty well choreographed, but for a superhero film the sequences take up far less screen time than expected. Although Chris Evans doesn’t really impress with his acting skills (and the scrawny Evans definitely is a bigger scene stealer than after his transformation), most of the supporting characters manage to acquit themselves, excepting Hugo Weaving who is unfortunately a wasted opportunity in the film, playing a one-note, cookie-cutter villain that really doesn’t deserve as much screen time as he was given.

One of the biggest flaws of Captain America is its pacing. The film spends too much time in exposition and setup, and as a result the final showdown between Cap and Red Skull feels really rushed and very unsatisfying – Red Skull’s fate has got to be one of the hastiest and sloppiest I’ve seen, and the denouement has very little emotional impact. The two modern day scenes that bookend Captain America are also clearly shoehorned into the script purely as an explanation of the Cap’s presence in The Avengers next year, and there’s never a satisfactory or explanatory segue into present time.  

Taken on its own, Captain America: The First Avenger feels somewhat hollow and incomplete, but seen as part of the lead-up to The Avengers, the film’s purpose seems clearer. Much as how Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II managed to round out the deficiencies of the first film, here’s hoping that The Avengers next year will be able to give audiences the big, satisfying payoff, as has been suggested along the franchise’s various films in the last few years. 

P.S. As with all the Avenger prequels, there is a coda at the end of the credits, but this time it’s a full-on sneak preview trailer for next year’s The Avengers, which seem to be promising enough.

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of four stars) 

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