I was really looking forward to Captain America – so far the majority of the films that are making up the Avengers franchise have been good fun, not necessarily taking themselves seriously but presenting fun stories with a strong casts. The films have all been enjoyable and subtly/neatly linked to the ensemble effort due for release next year. The big trouble I had with Captain America is that the story felt like a disjointed mess which had been crammed between two bookends that were required for the story to link into the upcoming Avengers film.
The story of the film (sorry this might get spoilery) is set in World War 2 with America taking its place in the war effort and young men eager to conscript. The main character is desperate to conscript but has been repeatedly turned away due to health issues (the way the lead actor is digitally made smaller is fantastic but strange at the same time). Naturally this character bumps into a friendly scientist who has a secret formula leading to super strength and the weedy guy is bulked up to become a super soldier. The army fails to see the use of this super solider mainly using him for propaganda until he is performing a show at the front lines and discovers his best mate has been captured, so decides to go and rescue him. It’s at this point the film starts jumping around a bit. With his friend and the rest of the unit rescued Captain America forms a specialise commando unit that go after the bases of a secret weapons developer who became too evil for the Nazis to want to work with (this developer is played to fantastic effect by Hugo Weaving – though was possibly creepier when his mask is left on) – the film then feels the need to show a montage of clips of this developer having several factories destroyed by Captain America and his commandos, but there’s never anything that really explains the effects of the actions that have been taken except making Hugo Weavings character (the Red Skull) angry. It all concludes when they find the final base and it’s your typical fight to the death all leading into the scene that opened the movie.
The thing is the idea of having this all taking place in World War 2 was a fantastic idea – giving the opportunity to plumb an area rich with opportunities. The trouble I found that was all skimmed over in the effort to push the story to the point where it matched the film coming next year. It’s as though the film makers took this great concept and squandered it to make ends meet. I know in interviews they’ve commented on how it leaves opportunities open for Flashbacks and tales un-told but it also gives the feeling of the film skimming over this and a terribly dis-jointed feeling.
This dis-jointed feeling is a big disappointment – the film looks fantastic and everyone has been well cast, Dominic Cooper playing a great turn as Howard Stark – linking forward to Iron Man and Chris Evans bringing a wonderful level of heart and emotion to his portrayal of Captain America – he’s not just a big guy who punches hard but does convey a wonderful level of emotion and caring through the film. Tommy Lee Jones really owns his scenes as the grizzled army commander – being through the best one liners in the film yet also being an understandable character. Hugo Weaving is also fantastic playing a very creepy character.
I really wanted to enjoy this film, I just found that at points it fell apart to the point where it was only the thinnest thread holding it together. The action was good, the period detailing fantastically pulled together, but at the same time there was just an emptiness to it all that the film couldn’t quite overcome – possibly if there hadn’t been the needed for the closing epilogue it might’ve held together better as a period franchise.
Coincidentally I watched another film by Joe Johnston this weekend – the early 90s Disney film The Rocketeer. Normally I’d try and keep reviews like this separate but given the similarities between the films I feel that they stand to joint scrutiny. Both films are set in World War 2, deal with a hero finding someway of improving his natural abilities through strange science, both films have Nazi’s looking to steal this technology for their own nefarious purposes, and both films have been inspired by/based on comic books. However with The Rocketeer the film doesn’t feel the need to book-end the plot to tie into additional sequels.
Dealing with the adventures of a stunt pilot who finds a stolen jet pack belonging to the inventor Howard Hughes, the film focuses on the story of the main character forced to don the jet pack and use this to save the day in a variety of situations. As the jet pack was stolen there’s also a cast of characters out to try and steal the jet pack back for reasons both good and bad. Once again set around the 2nd World War, the film captures the style of the period nicely and also carries the believable threat of the technology falling into the wrong hands. There’s nice little nods to other events as well – such as an escape from Hughes factory involving a prototype of one the planes he’s famous for, and some fun looks behind the scenes of early Hollywood. The film builds to an ending full of twists and double-bluffs, whilst at the same time allowing the hero to play the hero role and the villain (ably played by Timothy Dalton) to be evil and moustache twirling.
As I said before the film doesn’t feel the need to be book-ended in by a story to setup another film, so flows nicely to the natural conclusion – whilst leaving the story open for further adventures. Johnstone has chosen his cast well – everyone is likeably and you get the impression of them inhabiting their characters well – this is the same over both films.
The biggest thought I had when I finished watching The Rocketeer was that this is the film I wanted Captain America to be. It has the heart, the period feel, the great action sequences and just hung together on a solid story. I hope this universe is re-visited, or some of the greatness of this can be injected into Captain Americas sequels making the films as great as they should be.