Usually, it takes me a while to formulate why I did or didn't like something. With Captain America, it took me a few months to shake the disappointment before I could look at the material objectively.
To clarify, I really do love comic books, and their movies, and 2011 was one of the biggest years for comics, pretty much only dwarfed by 2012, which has friggin' every superhero movie coming out ever.
So after seeing X-Men: First Class and Thor, which had their problems but were still hugely enjoyable, as well as Green Lantern and Green Hornet, which were largely disappointing even with the latter's hesitant charm, I was ready for Captain America to be the best superhero movie of the year.
Best superhero movie of 2011? Thor. Not Captain America.
That highly personal crap aside, here are some reasons why I felt that this movie did not succeed like it should have for me.
Full spoilers ahead!
Who The Hell Uses A Super Weapon To Sell War Bonds?
The United States Army, that's who! Because that's how you win a war!
Honestly, I don't know where to start when describing how moronic this is. The majority of the 'action' Steve Rogers sees in this movie is during a montage where he makes it in show biz, show tune by Alan Menken and all.
In order to bring home how idiotic this is, imagine if Tommy Lee Jones's character decided to encourage victory gardens by putting A-bombs in museums.
You know, instead of using them to secure a total victory against their under-powered enemies before they figure out the technology as well, and in the process save the lives of a few thousand good men.
|Incompetent (adjective): Having a super weapon and making him sing and dance for most of the war.|
I never really read Captain America comics, but when I did, I always enjoyed the character of Bucky. When superheroes acquire their powers, not a lot of thought is put into the people who may have formerly protected them, or helped them along in their early years, and are now outgrown by the superhero who used to be the one they needed to watch.
With Bucky, not only is this relationship explored most satisfactorily, but his character manages to evolve past being Steve Rogers' childhood friend and protection, but then to Captain America's trusted right hand man, and then to an entity in his own right. This evolution was achieved in a very believable fashion over the course of several years.
Obviously within the time constraints of a movie, this sort of character development is pretty much impossible, especially with a secondary character who doesn't get that much screen time. Nobody told the writers this, and so Bucky's growth, which was so compelling to see in the comics, was truncated badly.
I didn't get the sense of Bucky having to come to terms with the fact that he's the one who has to be protected now; he quite easily lets Steve call the shots, without any kind of friction or envy. This isn't a realistic reaction, regardless of how good a friend he is.
And he is promoted to top-secret sabotage missions for no reason apart from Cap's apparent pity for him. That's not a viable qualification; Cap hasn't seen him in combat, unless one counts beating up thugs in Brooklyn. And honestly, pride alone would probably cause Bucky to turn down such a pity-laced promotion. He'd want to work on his own merit.
(Hey Cap, here's an idea; why don't you pick someone who's actually qualified and well-informed to help you on these missions? LIKE AGENT CARTER.)
And his death was just horrid. Even the cartoon Avengers made a better death for Bucky, who sacrificed himself in the most badass way possible. In the Ultimates series, Bucky lives to be an old man and is visited by the still-youthful Cap, to heart-rending effect. In the movie, he falls off a train and dies in the middle of a crammed and confusing action scene. Bucky? More like Sucky!
-that was a horrible pun. I apologise-
Agent Carter, Dammit!
Once again, why would Cap use a barely-qualified Bucky in his delicate and top-secret missions when he knows that Agent Carter is perfectly capable and trustworthy in tense and action-filled situations?
Why should Carter care if Captain America has fangirls?
Doesn't she have better things to do than secure a date with Cap? Like win the war?
Doesn't she have better things to do than be Captain America's emotion deposit system?
LIKE WIN THE WAR?
Too Much Tie-In Material Makes The Narrative Suffer
The opening scene or image of any given narrative piece should establish its tone and setting.
For instance, the musical of Les Miserables begins with an ensemble scene which counterpoints the panoramic with the personal narrative, which is this entire show in a nutshell. The main protagonist and antagonist, along with their basic traits and faults, are introduced concisely. The audience is informed that the setting is France in the 19th century via projection.
In five minutes, the entire thesis of Les Mis is laid out through music, words, and visuals. The audience knows that the show is about ex-convict Jean Valjean in his epic journey through the troubles of 19th century France, who is being pursued by the fiercely determined and legally inflexible Inspector Javert. They know that the piece will be thorough-sung, and they also know the visual vocabulary of the show. It's a near-perfect introduction
But, whereas Les Mis goes out of its way to set up the audience for the rest of the evening's entertainment in the first few moments, Captain America goes out of its way to set up the audience for confusion when the actual narrative starts.
- Physical Setting: New York and Western Europe.
- Time Setting: World War Two, in an alternate universe.
- Main Characters: Cap, Agent Carter, and the Red Skull.
First Five Minutes of Captain America
- Physical Setting: The Arctic Ocean.
- Time Setting: Modern day, in an alternate universe.
- Main Characters: Random scientists we'll never see again.
The first scene is not the establishing scene for the rest of the movie. It does not establish setting, time or any of the characters who feature in the film. The most it does is communicate that the world in which the movie is set has more sophisticated technology than our own, but doesn't do anything to further differentiate the film-world from ours than show off a fancy green laser that can cut through ice (impressive, I know).
In a Marvel movie that already takes place within the established universe of Iron Man and Thor, perhaps this disorienting first scene would have been less jarring. But the thing is, Captain America does not take place in the same time.
There is another world, another status quo, that needs to be introduced quickly. There are villains the audience needs to be familiarized with, because we are familiar with Nazis from our own history, and we need to be sold on the film-world fact that Hydra is even worse than that horrible regime. The technology/magic which is featured a great deal in this movie needs establishment. Instead we get five minutes of set-up for another movie altogether.
Joe Johnston's often clever visual homage to the pulp tradition of film is completely at odds with the visuals of the opening's Arctic Ocean, even the Arctic Ocean of the 1940's which Cap crashes into. The music is different, the characters are different, and when we cut away to Norway in 1942, it feels like another movie has started.
Those first five minutes should be after the credits. Clearly.
Things I Liked
That said, I still found a lot to like. I liked the performances, particularly Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving, and Chris Evans, and as I said before, the pulp movie feel was welcome and clever. They also established a lot about the history of the Marvel universe with this movie, which was awesome to see.
The film also tried very hard to make parallels between Cap and Iron Man, which had varying levels of success but sometimes felt a bit forced. Nonetheless, the idea was interesting and established better continuity than the stupid first and last five minutes.
It's cool that they have the insight to see that Iron Man and Cap, two unproven leaders, have been through similar trials that make him into who they are. That's the sort of thought that is unfortunately lacking elsewhere in this movie.
All in all, I feel this movie would have been a better one if it so clearly hadn't been rushed into production so it could come out before The Avengers. I would have much preferred a Captain America movie with the modern-day component part of his character already established in The Avengers so they could focus more on the WWII derring-do. I would have preferred a Captain America movie that left possibilities open for a sequel also set in WWII.
The fact that there is no way Captain America 2 can be set in the same era (disregarding the possible time-bending powers of certain Asgardians) as the first is a bit disappointing to me, and makes me feel more ripped off regarding the non-action of the first three quarters of this film. With a sequel, I think they would have felt less compelled to rush the development and arcs of the secondary characters, and would have spent more time getting to know the truly fascinating secondary cast as well as evolving Cap into the leader we expect him to be.
Also, more time in WWII would have been more time establishing the modern-day legend of Captain America, which is going to be a hard sell when I see The Avengers.
I'm glad I got this off my chest! Are there any like-minded thinkers out there?