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Review, "Captain America": A Hero Bland as Milk

by Caryn James
July 21, 2011 12:30 PM
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The least you can expect from a superhero is that he’ll be colorful and more dynamic than real life – it’s pretty much the job requirement – but if there is a more homogenized, blander hero than the new Captain America, I haven’t encountered him.

This patriotic World War II version of a bionic man, bulked up by a mysterious serum into a supersoldier, is played with Ken Doll stiffness by Chris Evans, who makes the character more interesting in his early, pre-transformation scenes as scrawny Steve Rogers. Once he becomes the supposedly dashing hero of Captain America: The First Avenger, he’s the cipher at the center of big-budget action that is both cartoony and 3-D but never engaging

The disappointment with this big tub of popcorn doesn’t hit right away. Steve has a fierce determination to join the army and fight the Nazis, even though he has been rejected as unfit several times, and that spunkiness makes him a hero worth rooting for. He is also so short and skinny that what we see on screen is Evans’s head attached to a computer-generated body based on a double’s, and even the double’s body was slimmed down by CGI effects. The movie sets up the kind of gung-ho let’s-do-our-part patriotism that is familiar from World War II movies and Evans (or his detached head) is a good fit for that wholesome, milkshake-swilling atmosphere.

Steve is soon recruited by Dr. Erskine, the scientist who has invented the superhero serum. Erskine is played by Stanley Tucci with an Austrian accent and makeup that makes him look a bit like Scrooge McDuck, and the movie is downhill from there. A pallid Captain America is born, and ultimately faces Hugo Weaving as a maniacally evil Nazi with his own scientific plans and secrets.

Director Joe Johnston (most recently he made The Wolfman, most famously Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) has always been more workmanlike than inspired, and never nudges Captain America beyond that by-the-numbers approach. Conceptually the film should work: the look is retro-muted, the plot driven by classic elements like Steve trying to rescue his best friend from behind enemy lines. But there’s a huge distance here between the concept and the flat way it lands on screen.

There are some really fine minor performances that suggest what the movie could have been. Hayley Atwell is a natural as an army officer and Steve’s romantic interest, and Dominic Cooper does a scene-stealing young-Howard-Hughes turn as Howard Stark, a brilliant engineer whose son Tony will become Iron Man.

Best of all, there is Tommy Lee Jones as the gruff officer who is skeptical about Captain America. Jones seems to be in a different, better movie, one that has wry comic lines and plays its stock characters for the fun of it. At the very end, Samuel L. Jackson shows up in a quick scene, and he pops off the screen too. It’s not a generational difference that make these two so much better than the film they’re in. After all, Robert Downey Jr. leaps off the screen in the Iron Man franchise. What they all understand is that this kind of genre piece has to be played with a brashness that suits its cartoon roots. Evans and Johnston play it safe, and hand us a tame Captain America more at home in a Barbie Dream House than a war.

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  • Anna | July 23, 2011 10:37 AMReply

    @carrie I assure you it is. Do some research, get with the times. And the movie is a fantastic translation of the comic book character.

  • carrie | July 22, 2011 11:13 AMReply

    @trav: the skinny body isn't Evans 'body for sure

  • Trav | July 21, 2011 5:20 AMReply

    You need to get your facts straight there was no body double, that was Chris Evans body as the skinny Steve Rogers, have you not read any news for this movie or did any kind of research? Do your research or don't review at all. Also, every hero is different in all the films. Hulk is angry and raging, Ironman is flashy and Thor is cocky because he is a God amongst mortals on Earth. Captain America is a leader and courageous. He doesn't use flash or brash to get the job done, he inspires people by his noble efforts and doesn't stand out. He was a man who had no power and then given more than he could ever imagine, if he were like Tony Stark he may become corrupt or cocky and make mistakes, when he is the only Super Soldier and the world is counting on him to do the right thing, he needs to be level headed and yeah maybe a bit bland. Pick up some comics and research.

  • Kevintonight | July 21, 2011 5:15 AMReply

    I get the blander then milk thing. In our age of being so ridiculously jaded and desenitized anything from the WW II era would seem bland or boring. That generation that Captain America was forged in was built on getting the job done with tremendous self sacrifice and very little complaining. There was no childish look at me, look at me, look what I can do. It was do the right thing because, well it was the right thing to do and ask for nothing in return.

    Sadly this "Postmodern," (gag) era/generation it seems is built upon people wholed up inside their homes or apartments hiding behind the internet talking like lions but in reality are spolied fat and over weight lambs that have little or nothing in common with the fierceness of that bland as milk WWII era that Captain America was created in. Hero's were different back then. Being an anti hero would have seemed to be a waste of time and counter productive and seen as a sign of mental weakness.
    So yep, Cap is bland, I totally agree. Then again I would like my heros to be all action and little talk, in a sense bland. I know, it would make bad reality TV, and thank God for that.

  • Hubert Lim | July 21, 2011 3:41 AMReply

    brashness=tony starks. Guess what? Captain america is a nice, humble, genuine, classy, kinda introverted(in a good way) i must say, doesn't like the center of attraction just do his thing kind of guy, help people and doesn't want anything in return, a true leader without the ego, etc. There are REAL GOODMAN who ACTS LIKE CAP or has the mannerism of cap. Go find one.

    That's why cap doesn't appear brash and seem stiff to most people specially extroverted energetic expressive people. Cap is never like that, just pure heart determination courage and so on. Yes he has less personality, flashiness, and public ethics but what is important is he has strong character ethics(like humility), principle, and values.

    Yes cap is bland in a way, but since when does having pleasant in manner (
    Everyone is different. Iron man is iron man, cap is cap. Even super heroes has personality and are complicated just like all of us.

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