I fear that the most intriguing, captivating thread of Captain America's story will fall largely off-screen in the gap between his origin story, Captain America: The First Avenger, and 2012's The Avengers. This film, Cap's fifth live-action adaptation, is a capable, safe, and simple—if bland—movie squarely focused on the hero's creation and derring-do during World War II.
For the majority of the movie, Captain America doesn't have much complexity or struggle—internal or external—beyond stopping the bad guy, looking dashing, and winning the girl. But in the film's final minutes, his journey hits a yet-unseen gear of intrigue as Cap is thrown into a world he doesn't understand. Suddenly, I felt the energy ramp up and the character come alive. Much drama is promised in the concept of this stalwart, patriotic war hero of the 1940s suddenly having to wrestle with regret, confusion, and times he doesn't understand.
Then the credits roll.
The compelling fish-out-of water plot point—a unique distinctive for Cap's comic book journey—is used simply to keep the ball rolling toward Marvel's The Avengers movie, coming next May. Meanwhile, the main plot is more common and ho-hum.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny, plucky Brooklyn kid who wants nothing more than to serve his country and fight bullies—"wherever they're from." After repeatedly being deemed unfit for service for a litany of ailments, a mysterious scientist (Stanley Tucci) approaches Rogers with an alternative. The government's Strategic Science Regiment (SSR), run by Tommy Lee Jones' Colonel Phillips, is looking for a candidate to be the war's first super soldier. Soon, Rogers is known far and wide as Captain America, a true American hero who is pitted against Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a diabolical figure who leads Adolf Hitler's "deep science division," HYDRA.
As Rogers longs to be a soldier, vies to be the SSR's guinea pig, and discovers his new self, the movie sparkles with an innocence and discovery—much like the first Spider-Man film. This is followed by a lot of nostalgic fun and charm in a sequence where Rogers serves his country as a sort of mascot—a symbol—to boost America patriotism and sell war bonds. (Included in this: a great wink toward the hero's first comic book cover.) But once Cap enters the war, the film goes on cruise control. The central plot is simple, been-there-done-that action movie stuff that plays out as you expect. The story is a bit weak with holes that make you think, "So, why did he have to do that?", followed by a climax where lights flash and winds whirl and then everything is magically okay.
Captain America is a no-risk, by-the-book superhero movie. The flaws aren't egregious; it's just meh. The movie hits its plot points and often replaces real emotion with manipulation—forcibly signaling when you're supposed to cheer, cry, laugh, etc. I felt like I wasn't experiencing an adventure, but was just being told about it—as if I were being read a book instead of living it. I was surprised that during some climactic, action-filled sequences I actually felt removed, detached and even bored.