Writing a negative review of Captain America: The First Avenger makes me feel a traitor. But here goes. On paper the Cap (Chris Evans: Puncture) is a pretty good idea: He wears a costume that pays tribute to the stars and stripes. He fights Nazis with gusto. And unlike other action heroes, his virtue is beyond reproach.
He’s as American as apple pie. And just like that tasty treat, his character has a tendency to be too sugary and stick to the roof of your mouth.
The movie tells the story of 98-pound weakling Steve Rogers, who longs to serve but is repeatedly declared 4-F. Rogers catches the eye of German ex-pat Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci: Burlesque), who decides to enlist the sickly boy in his super-soldier program.
Erskine chose Rogers because “only a weak man understands the value of power.” So Erskine shoots him up with what is basically a soul steroid — it amplifies the good in Rogers, making him smart, built and taller. Oddly, it also makes Rogers an expert in combat, weapons and piloting, with no training.
Instead of fighting for his country, Rogers is assigned to take on the character of Captain America in USO war-bond fundraisers around the country. Every night, he punches Hitler in front of a chorus line of dancing cuties and dreams of fighting in the real war.
He finally gets his chance when, performing for the troops in Europe, he organizes a one-man rescue mission, single-handedly freeing not only his best bud but also a slew of other GIs. Finally proving his mettle, Rogers is assigned a team of soldiers with the task of taking out Nazi Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving: Transformers: Dark of the Moon).
Schmidt proves a worthy foe, as he was Dr. Erskine’s first foray into soul steroid experimentation. But as Schmidt was evil, the serum made him into the diabolically powerful Red Skull. Soon Rogers and his Howling Commandos are fighting laser-armed Nazis bent on world domination.
It sure sounds like fun. So why did Captain America turn into such a snooze?
The biggest problem is that director Joe Johnston (The Wolfman) spends so much time showing us how good Cap is and so little time giving him personality. Tony Stark’s a drunk and Thor’s a bully, but they don’t put us to sleep with their goody-two-shoes act.
Rogers’ impersonality is amplified by the cast of outrageous characters that surround him. As Colonel Chester Phillips, Tommy Lee Jones (The Sunset Limited) growls through his lines with a ferocity that would make Patton squirm. Dominic Cooper (Tamara Drewe) channels smarmy charm as industrialist Howard Stark, the father of Iron Man Tony. Weaving vacillates between chewing the scenery and menacingly quiet speeches. All of these characters thrill us. Our hero, not so much.
There is some fun in Captain America. Both Weaving and Tucci seem to have borrowed their German accents from Laugh In. And the battle sequences have pop and vigor. Johnston is at his best directing the USO tour sequence as a star-spangled salute to WWII morale films.
But in between dancing girls and battle scenes are overlong moments of earnest dialog. Captain America is a nice guy, but his moralizing makes him dull as paste.
When Captain America makes his next film appearance in 2012’s The Avengers, I hope soul steroids will have helped him develop personality.