Captain America: The First Avenger Review (2011)

As a kid growing up, I watched pro wrestling. Two massive hulking rippling muscled goons would bark at each other and shout about how they’d mop the floor with one another. The villain / bad guy wrestler would usually clobber the hero wrestler when he’d turn his back.

Villains are dirty fighters. They will do anything they can and/or need to do to win. They have only one rule: win at any cost. They’re menacing because if they make the rules, everyone is doomed. They get joy out of the suffering of others, and pure delight out of the thought of having complete control of human beings.

Backstabbing and treachery are par for the course. I’m sure it’s one of the first lessons learned in Beginner Supervillainy 101 courses at supervillain colleges around the world.

Growing up, I loved to read comics. I loved to read Captain America’s adventures when he would square off against his most deadly and cunning foe; the Red Skull.

Going into this movie, I felt I would be somehow disappointed. Exiting the movie, I liked it but something was missing.

The key ingredient was suspense.

Suspense, in dramatic terms, is to leaving your protagonist hanging in a dangerous situation. The last Star Trek movie left Captain Kirk literally in suspense hanging off deadly ledges several times.

Alfred Hitchcock was the master of suspense. Here’s how it works: you show the audience a bomb hidden in a desk. It’s set to go off at noon. Two characters walk into the office around ten til noon. They sit and talk about something. All the while, you keep showing the audience the clock on the bomb ticking down. Show the seconds rapidly ticking down and you increase the suspense.

If the audience is aware of a danger the hero is unaware of, you have a formula for suspense. The danger could be anything. If we know there’s a wild mountain lion, psycho-killer, or hostile alien behind a door and our hero doesn’t, we’ll fear for the hero if he/she opens that door. As the hero’s hand reaches for the door knob, our heart rates will quicken. That’s suspense.

In the movie, we first meet the Red Skull. He’s cruel, ruthless, clever and played by Hugo Weaving, the man who played Agent Smith in The Matrix. What could go wrong?

Well, nothing on his end. He was good in the movie, as was most of the acting. The costumes and clothing were great. The special effects were great. There was even good character development with Steve Rogers before he becomes Captain America.

Steve/Cap really is a likeable guy and we want to see him succeed. The story had a weak spot, too much character development with Steve Rogers and not enough time spent building tension between Captain America and the Red Skull.

To me, the conflict between Cap and the Red Skull was pretty weak and seemed like paint-by-the-numbers screenplay writing. Thinking about the lack of suspense is what got me thinking about pro wrestling. In a very simple way, the two wrestlers mouthing off at each other before a fight is suspenseful, perhaps in a schoolyard kind of way.

Here’s how I would have reworked the movie. World War II is going badly for the Allies. Hitler creates his supersoldier, the Red Skull. In response, the Allies create Captain America. This aspect could have been played up for dramatic effect in the movie, but was very toned down for some reason. (I suspect the producers are thinking about their international audience and didn’t want to offend German movie goers by reminding them of the war.)

As such, the drama of the war was sort of hinted at. Pssst… there’s a war going on.

So, back to my scenario… Cap and the Red Skull battle back and forth in skirmishes that end in draws. The Red Skull is Cap’s equal, however, the Red Skull is developing his secret weapon.

After watching Cap and Skull square off a few times, they get down to the final confrontation. Everything must be at stake. The audience has to feel it. Cap and the Red Skull get knuckle to knuckle in each others faces as the flying death fortress flies toward America. The Red Skull ends up being chucked out a window, the controls of the plane are heading toward certain death, and the Red Skull, in a last act of villainy, pulled a switch that triggered the launch of one missile. The missile is headed toward Cap’s hometown of New York City. The higher we escalate suspense, the greater the drama.

Cap has to race toward the missile. He runs and clings on to it as it launches. (He’s now literally suspended.) He has to break into the missile, deactivate it, and keep it from crashing into New York. He manages to deactivate the bomb as we see the oncoming skyline of New York. Something goes boom and the missile races off toward the North Atlantic. We’re not sure what happens to Cap, but it’s implied he didn’t survive the crash into the ocean. Thousands of feet in the air, clinging to a missile, is literally very escalated suspense.

Anyway, the movie needed something suspenseful for it’s climax. The movie felt like it was all sort of leading up to the Avengers movie coming out next year. (I suspect the god cube that the Red Skull finds will have something to do with the plot of the Avengers movie.)

Going back to my Harry Potter review, the final showdown between Voldemort and Harry also lacked suspense. We knew Voldemort was toast. It was just a simple formality and had all the drama of watching Harry go shopping for milk.

When a villain loses the upper hand, he ceases to be a threat. If a villain never has the upper hand, he’s not a threat, and as a result he’s not going to be very threatening. A villain with no edge commits the worst sin in storywriting, he’s boring. The Red Skull never seemed to ever have the upper hand on Captain America. If he did, it was very brief. As such, the movie lacked suspense.

Although the movie lacked suspense in the potential clash between the Red Skull and Captain America, it was good overall. There are fun moments, some good stuff for fans (it was cool to see Dum Dum Dugan), it had Samuel L. Jackson as Sgt. Fury, we got to see Tony Stark’s father, and it even had a cameo with Stan Lee.

Overall, I’d say it’s fun enough for a comic book fan, but the story left me lacking. I am looking forward to seeing the Avengers movie, but would be dubious about another Captain America movie.

At least I have the comics to fall back on. Excelsior!

I’d give the movie three out of five vibranium shields.

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This entry was posted in critique, heroes, movies, redskull, review, suspense, villains, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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