Review: ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’
2. Even "Captain America"'s origin story feels like it came out of a one-page advertisement for a Jack LaLanne juicer. A 90-pound weakling named Steve, with a big heart but no brawn (rendered in unconvincing and distracting CGI that makes Chris Evans look like Moby), wants to join America's war effort. He stumbles across a kindly German doctor (Stanley Tucci) who is working on a supersoldier serum. The procedure takes place, and suddenly Steve is jacked and huge and able to punch people across the room. For reasons that the movie never explains, the Army uses him as a propaganda tool -- which is where the Captain America comes from, via some few charmingly goofy newsreel footage -- before Steve realizes, "Hey, I'm a supersoldier" and starts kicking some Nazi butt. Meanwhile, there's an evil German general who has access to the same powers as the German doctor had, though for some reason, it turns his head beet red and blows off his nose. When this happens, naming yourself "Red Skull" is perhaps your only recourse.
3. I'll confess, I'm not really sure what's going on in this movie, the basic plot constructions and motivations, what everyone's up to at a fundamental level: What the Red Skull wants (just to destroy earth? Sure.); what the strange crystal cube everyone's fighting for actually does; what the initial plan of creating Captain America was in the first place. I swear I was watching closely, but I'm still not entirely certain what Captain America's powers are. I know he grows larger, I know he's able to punch people through walls, and I know he can run a lot faster than he used to. (There are many, many scenes of Captain America simply jumping.) This still doesn't make him particularly super, or even special: The best thing he seems to have going for him is a cool shield. And the Red Skull, for such a scary-looking villain, is pretty lame himself: His primary attribute is a couple of nifty airplanes. These two run after each other, and eventually fight, but I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be impressed by. At least Green Lantern could do something.
4. That's to say that if you're going to make a superhero movie that is supposed to harken back to the old newsreel cliffhangers, you need to make it feel like one of those old newsreel cliffhangers, or at least modernize it and make it relevant. Indiana Jones it up, if you will. But "Captain America" keeps banging its head against the modern wall, never figuring out if it's a cheeky riff or a sleek superhero action franchise launch. It ends up neither. Sad to say, some of this can be pinned on Evans, who is muscular enough, sure, but is a total slab of inexpressive meat otherwise. Compare his square-jawed emptiness to, say, Chris Hemsworth's markedly more enjoyable performance as Thor; Hemsworth knows he's playing a ridiculous character and runs with it, running around and punching things and speaking Norse while still keeping a twinkle in his eye. There's nothing much behind Evans' eyes: He's posing for a magazine cover. It turns the would-be romance with a British agent (Hayley Atwell, who does hit the right tone) into a peripheral plot point rather than the centerpiece it should be. Evans has no there there.