When I was a kid, I was an avid reader of Marvel Comics but Captain America never really interested me since, unlike The Hulk, Spiderman, the X-Men, or even Thor, he never seemed to have much of an internal life. He did, however, have one of the best origin stories, with pathos and grandeur combined. Given that Marvel movies, like the comics of the main superheros themselves, always seem to kick off with the origin stories, I was pretty keen to see what they did with this, though I was unable to see it when it came out at the cinemas.
So, US soldiers in the Arctic find what looks like a spaceship half-buried in the ice. Investigating, they find, frozen in the ice an iconic shield and the discoverer refers to how long “this one” has been waiting. Cut back to 1942, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a weedy, unfit and unhealthy young man but with an indomitable spirit who wants to do his duty and fight for his country in WWII, but is repeatedly rejected. Spotted by a German refugee scientist Dr Erskine (Stanley Tucci) at one of the many attempts to con his way into the army, his courage and simple goodness convince Erskine that Rogers is exactly the kind of character he needs for his ‘Super Soldier’ programme and Rogers is enrolled and put through basic army training under the tutelage of a sceptical Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). While unsurprisingly failing all the physical tests, Rogers excells at all the intellectual and moral ones, earning the respect of Peggy Carter and, once Phillips is reluctantly persuaded by Erskine, gets the ‘Super Soldier’ treatment ahead of the more obvious soldierly types.
Following the treatment, the Super Soldier programme is tragically cut short and Rogers is left with little to do, not allowed to fight, as he is the only remaining link to the serum that might be able to restart the programme, and he finds himself in the role of a costumed ‘performing monkey’, cheesily named “Captain America” and leading a chorus line in a travelling musical show helping to raise war bonds, until he is faced with actual soldiers in his audience, under the command of Phillips, and who are the survivors of an encounter with the recipient of a previous attempt at the Super Soldier serum, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) who, supported in his researches by scientist Dr Zola (Toby Jones), leads a fanatical and lunatic Nazi weapons-development sect called Hydra, and for whom the Nazis are simply a vehicle for his own plans of world domination. When Rogers learns that his childhood pal, ‘Bucky’ Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is a prisoner of Schmidt, Rogers enlists the help of Carter, with whom he has the beginnings of a romantic relationship, and of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) to fly into the war zone so that Captain America can take on Hydra.
All of this is well done, though I thought Toby Jones and Stanley Tucci could perhaps have been better in each other’s roles as Jones looked a little incongruously comical and Tucci can do sinister better, and Hydra was rather blander and less obviously terrible than it should be -if you’re going to have an enemy that is supposed to be worse than the Nazis, you really need that enemy to be pretty terrifying. Nonethess, I was entertained and engaged throughout, as the film effectively set up the two big emotional moments that the comic-book story set up, as Captain America is brought from his World War 2 origins to modern day America (in the comics, a time lapse of twenty-something years, now about seventy).
And it blew it. Big style. Marvel has been compromising its big superhero films recently with clunky set-ups for the big “Avengers” film – Iron Man 2 was particularly poor, with Scarlett Johansson’s utterly superfluous appearance as Black Widow – but none was so devastatingly destructive as the way all the dramatic power of this film was sacrificed to make the end of it a trailer for the next film. After setting up the two big losses that Rogers had to suffer, the second being rather “A Matter of Life and Death” -ish, what should have been developed as a moving ‘man out of time’ realisation, as Captain America comes to terms with what has passed, was dismissed in an absurdly trite one-liner that pissed all over all the characterisation that we’d previously seen.
This is an object lesson in how to ruin a movie. The Avengers had better be fucking good.