Captain America: The First Avenger / Joe Johnston / 2011 /

Active Ingredients: Tommy Lee Jones; The ending
Side Effects: Bad jokes; Incorrect tone; Flat action; Hugo Weaving

Dull and stagnant, Captain America strains and ultimately fails to find its own personality. By his nature, the character of Captain America is hooky and old-fashioned, so a successful filmed version calls for a much lighter touch than Johnston can muster. Instead, his film is bulky and awkward. The filmmakers try to inject levity (in the form of some real groaner one-liners, presumably courtesy of cowriter Joss Weadon) rather than build it organically, so instead of some earnest, old-fashioned fun, we get an unimaginative modern approximation of it.

While the jokes are misfiring, so too is the pacing and the action. Johnston devotes considerable screen time to Captain American’s backstory, but uncovers nothing remarkable for Chris Evans to work into the character. Johnston also appears outmatched by the brand of excitement a comic book movie needs. There are a few action sequences, but they’re haphazardly dropped into the film and clumsily staged. A setpiece aboard a train, for example, is given no setup or integration into the story, so its purpose as a character device for Captain American is blatant. Similarly, just when the film needs a strong action sideplot to shape its second act, Johnston instead delivers a montage that squanders its momentum.

Among the film’s few assets are a surprisingly tolerable love story and a hammy performance from Tommy Lee Jones, who valiantly makes the most of what he’s been given, but it’s not enough; Captain America is a total bore.

[Captain America comes out on DVD and Blu-ray today.]

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