Captain America: The First Avenger

I’m a bit late coming to this film—blame Comic-Con—but having heard good buzz I went to see it this morning with high hopes. For starters, a comic book story set during World War Two offers a perfect opportunity to banish irony, make use of Nazis as bad guys, and cheer on an all-American hero. Chris Evans is well cast in the leading role, as he not only embodies the physical character but embraces his patriotic attitude with complete conviction.

What’s more, the cast is full of expert players who (under Joe Johnston’s direction) bring color and life to their characters without overacting or resorting to kitsch. Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving, and Toby Jones add weight and resonance to every scene they’re in.

Add to that the imaginative production design by Rick Heinrichs, one of the most talented art directors of our time, and—

—rousing music by Alan Silvestri (not to mention a peppy new theme song written by David Zippel and Alan Menken).

Hugo Weaving as Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger.

Unfortunately, Captain America uses up all these assets during its first hour and still has another full hour to go. At some point, almost imperceptibly, the wind goes out of its sails and the story (by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia films) becomes somewhat mechanical and routine. We’re even denied the satisfaction of a big finish—for reasons I shouldn’t reveal.

It’s still pretty good, but I was sorry to feel enthusiasm sapping away. The narrative is simple and straightforward; its hero isn’t a tortured soul and its villain isn’t a multifaceted character. Why should it take 125 minutes to play out? Comic book creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby didn’t write stories that wore out their welcome.

As for 3-D: I was happy to be a cash-paying customer at the Cinerama Dome this morning, usually a great place to see a “big” movie. But from the first scene to the last, I felt as if I were looking through a layer of window screens or stockings. The use of 3-D was decent enough, but I haven’t seen a film this dark and dim since Clash of the Titans. (I checked with other people who’ve seen it, at other locations, and they had the same reaction.) Surely someone at Marvel or Paramount could have foreseen this and brightened the prints. Or should I simply be demanding a refund for my $3.00 3-D surcharge?


  1. Jim says:

    For my money, THE GREEN LANTERN was the best comic book movie of the summer. Thanks for the recommendation, Mr. Maltin, otherwise I would have missed it.

    I think I would have enjoyed CAPTAIN AMERICA more if there had been more character development–there was very little to speak of. Let’s hope they rectify this with a #2 because Chris Evans and the character have real promise.

  2. Matt says:

    I saw it twice in 2-D. The first time it was very bright. The second time at a different theater, I noticed it was very dark. I guess it all depends on which theater you go to and if they show 2-D movies correctly.

  3. Max says:

    Please don’t mention TRANSFORMERS in the same breath as CAPTAIN AMERICA. I’m a getting older by the minute dude who well remembers the original comic books in the 40’s, and I really liked the movie. I felt I got my moneys worth in 2D with exceptional production tooling. Very little quick cutting and a developed storyline kept me alert to what was happening. I don’t mind a reasonably elongated movie if it keeps me interested. TRANSFORMERS was a waste. I’m too old to know or care what happened. I’m hoping SPY SMASHER gets the same respected effort when someone discovers that opportunity still exists. In the meantime let me say WATER FOR ELEPHANTS was old school and terrific.

  4. John says:

    That’s nonsense saying that if someone complains about the length of movies they should switch to TV. In fact many of us agree that many modern movies are just too damn long. The producers spend so much money on movies now that they apparently think they have to reach the 2 hour mark even if it’s just a romantic comedy which would play much better at 100 minutes. Way too many false climaxes too! As for animation Disney had the right idea when he made his now timeless animated classics run about 80 minutes each. Modern day animated films can pass the 2 hour mark. To that me and my grandkids say “Help!” I’m not against long films per se, love “Gone With The WInd”, “Spartacus” and “Lawrence Arabia”, all over 3 hours long but find many modern films WAY too stretched out! Just my own personal opinion which I think I’m entitled too…and so is Leonard!

  5. alan aperlo aperlo says:

    I am with maltin. In the 1930’s it was 70 mins to tell a story on film. Now in take more time ot tell one. Alan.A

  6. Jerry Beck says:

    I just came back from seeing it – intentionally in “2D” (flat). It was NOT dark or dim at all – in fact it was quite bright and colorful, especially in the musical number.

    I’ve had it with ” 3D conversions” (which I knew this was). I avoid new 3D movies unless its animated or I know it was actually shot with two cameras.

    As for the film, I was surprise how much I liked it. This is one of the better Marvel movies (just behind Spiderman 1, Iron Man 1 and X-Men 1 & 2). The story feels incomplete, but we knew going in that it would be continued in THE AVENGERS.

  7. Josh Bradley says:

    There are two problems with making a movie based on a comic book series. One, you have to make it for the comic book geeks but you also have to make it for the mainstream audience that is only vaguely familiar with the character and doesn’t know the intricate details. Either way, you insult the intelligent fans or downgrade it for the mainstream audience. The second problem is how to cram multiple decades of issues into 2 hours. It’s impossible and producers/directors have to take liberties. For CAPTAIN AMERICA, it’s P-E-R-F-E-C-T. They didn’t spend more than half of the movie establishing the hero’s (and villain’s) origin, which gets dull after a while. Seriously, do we really need to see Spider-Man’s origin again in the next movie? Apparently we will.

    CAPTAIN AMERICA’s smashing one operation after another of The Red Skull throughout was fast-paced and faithful to the comics. And yes, Marvel is building it up to THE AVENGERS. Each movie is going to feature a teaser for the up-coming movie. The comics cross-over and carried on with such storylines with Nick Fury.

    In short, they are following the comic books. If someone didn’t like the way the movie was plotted, all I can say is read the comic books.

    And the movie too long? I pay $6 dollars for a movie ticket. I don’t want to see a movie that runs 80 minutes at that price. Comments above remind me of the guy who went back to the dollar store and wanted his dollar back because a John Wayne movie wasn’t digitally restored. He didn’t pay $14.95 for the Paramount restoration release, and is complaining?

    Have fun when you go to the movies.

  8. Jason says:

    I’m beginning to dislike these movies that exist simply to tie into another film. I was hoping Cap would be different from Iron Man 2 and Thor and I agree it’s still a fun movie but it doesn’t really do anything unique after it’s first half. Why not JUST do an Avengers film?

  9. Ariel says:

    It takes 125 minutes to play out because it’s a period piece and because it is building up the grandiose feel of the film while also telling the story of cap’s origin. I thought the pacing was just right. Were we denied the big finish? I don’t think so but the finish (without spoiling anything) is just right, especially if you read Avengers #4 back in 1963, or any of the comics re-tellings since, my question to you Leonard is did you ever read Avengers?

  10. Clu says:

    I agree with Leonard’s review. My 8 year old son gave me the same look he gave me during Transformers:ROTF; the “is it almost over” look.
    I thought the actors did a fine job and Evans played Captain America heroically.
    What made the movie even longer was the teaser trailer for the Avenger movie that was shown at the end of the movie. We had to sit through all the credits before they finally showed it. As I’m sitting there, all I can think is I can see the teaser trailer online…why am I waiting around?

  11. Norm says:

    Captain America, the friend who overstays his welcome is a legitimate comment. With the introductions of the Howling Commmandoes and Bucky,it takes a good chunk of time, and sets up another story line/film, which could have been expedited. With “new” twists being taken for the “film” experience of the Comic Book audience, doesn’t always work. Also, contrived plot devices take away from some of the “Suspension of Disbelief”, likw a sub magically appearing. The villan just happened to be there. And, the expalnation of the “Red Skull” leaves allot to be desired. The ending is completely fabricated, and the “false” choice Captain America chooses, can be compared to Obamas vision for America.

  12. Jesseg. says:

    Maltin seems to always complain about the length of films. Maybe he should switch to TV.

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