How low are our expectations for superhero films? Back in 2008, I had the naïve notion that after The Dark Knight, it would be difficult to do a straightforward superhero flick again. That was, of course, stupid because the franchises make a ton of money and will be spit out without any thought.
Since then there have been terrible ones but there have also been odd ones like Iron Man 2 and Thor. Those are films with likable actors and certain moments that work, but as a whole they are a bit of a mess. When Captain America comes around with actual characters and a villain with personality, does it automatically get a pass?
It’s yet another origin story with yet another villain who has this really good idea of taking over the world. As if there is any doubt where the story is going, the first scene is set chronologically at the end of the film. The only surprises are that this at least feels like an actual story instead of awkward set-ups for next year’s The Avengers.
Not being familiar with the comics or any of its previous incarnations, I was surprised on how likable Steve Rogers is before and after his injection with the magical serum. He doesn’t want to join the army in 1942 because he wants to kill Nazis or become a hero; he wants to do good. In a genre set with mopey characters who hate their powers, it’s rare to see someone truly heroic. Chris Evans uses subtle acting tricks so that even when he’s all juiced up he still feels like a little brave boy.
All of the other overdone parts work as well. The romantic interest Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) offers some slight plot complications while harkening back to a simpler age of movies, in particular A Matter of Life and Death. Just like the other movies in this series, there are moments of visual beauty but that is destroyed by crummy 3D. (For the first time, I gave up and took off the glasses for the second half of the film)
This is a good movie. It’s one that kids are really going to like and fans of the comic won’t be betrayed by. Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, and Toby Jones all give good performances because the characters are closer to three dimensions. I can easily watch this again if someone happens to have it on.
Yet it’s increasingly difficult to become excited for this genre. It’s fading into romantic comedy territory where they are all thin variants of the same story. The beats are becoming too obvious. These films shouldn’t be a display of nostalgia, but an opportunity to inspire new people to the wonders of their world. In order for that to happen, the films can’t just be getting “B” grades (or often lower). What the world needs is another great superhero movie. Now is the time to be ambitious.