So far so good for Marvel Entertainment, which has churned out more blockbusters than stumbles. This year, both Thor and X-Men: First Class delivered, and Sony's 2012 reboot of Spider-Man will be previewed at Comic-Con, along with a full screening of Captain America: First Avenger, which always presented a challenge. How do you dust off a patriotic World War II Nazi-fighting hero--battling larger-than-life the Red Skull--and make ten-year-old boys believe in him again? Marvel bravely took on the task, starting out the movie with the discovery of a buried fighter plane in the Arctic, and reaching back in time to resurrect the origin story of Steve Rogers, a 90-pound weakling-turned-super-strong-war-hero.
Director Joe Johnston (Rocketeer) and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely never lost sight of “scrawny inner Steve,” and used 30-year-old Raiders of the Lost Ark as their touchstone, as well as the original Jack Kirby comics. But much as Steven Spielberg seems to hover over everything these days, this well-designed movie could have used more of Raider's wink-wink humor and outright slapstick. Raiders has a very different tone from Captain America: it's a madcap romp, a violent romantic action comedy. Captain America plays it too straight, with no laughs at all.
Give me Quentin Tarantino, who approached Nazi-killing in World War II with considerable humor and brio; he gave the anti-Nazi action genre a twist. Captain America, as played by Chris Evans with able support from Hugo Weaving of Matrix fame as the Red Skull (channeling the voice of Werner Herzog), comely Brit soldier Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper as weapon inventor Howard Stark (Tony's father) and rock-solid Army colonel Tommy Lee Jones, is dead-ahead dull. If nothing else, Marvel is establishing one of the characters who makes up the sprawling superhero ensemble The Avengers, already under way with Joss Whedon wrangling Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), among others.
Finally, no period pictures should be shot in 3-D. It pulls you out of the movie. Immersive all-digital environments like Tron, Avatar and Transformers, if well-mounted, can work in 3-D. But not live-action period sets, especially if it's shoddy retroactive 3-D, as this is. They're already too unreal and fake--the 3-D makes it worse.
Here are more details on Marvel's recent output; the Village Voice posted Karina Longworth's pan Tuesday night. UPDATE: Variety takes the same tack, describing the film as "red, white and bland." Predictably, genre-friendly Drew McWeeney thinks the "sincere" film is one of Marvel's finest so far. THR writes:
As the last Marvel prequel that includes two Iron Man and Incredible Hulk movies before next summer’s The Avengers, this one feels perhaps a little too simplistic and routine.