When you set out to create a shared universe the way that Marvel has done for their upcoming Avengers film, you run the risk of creating a movie too reliant on words already said and actions already taken for it to be able to stand on its own merits. The fact that this particular film was called Captain America: The First Avenger only worried me further as a critic when I went in to see it. I had seen all the prerequisite films, but there’s no guarantee that anyone else had.
I’m happy to say, though, that ‘Cap didn’t disappoint the way Green Lantern did a month ago. Instead, I was treated to a delightful pulpy action romp with a bit more style than substance.
Before we go on, something needs to be clarified. I hate the notion often presented that a “brainless action film” can actually be a good thing. There is absolutely no rule that says a blockbuster can’t both be exciting and a little bit thought-provoking. I’m not going to turn this into a rant about how much I hate Michael Bay and his ilk, but I’d like to clarify that when I say Captain America has more style than substance, I mean that it’s less a character study (though there’s some of that in there) than it is a loving homage to Captain America’s early days in the comics and the goofy propaganda of the era.
I thought long and hard about why it was that this movie worked as well as it did, and I’ve narrowed it down to two reasons. The first is the film’s utter lack of any postmodern influence. It is not a parody, it does not self-deprecate, and if you came for some dark, angsty tale of how this sort of thing wouldn’t work in real life, then you’d best rent Kick-Ass, because this film is completely unburdened by all of the baggage that the superhero genre has accrued since Frank Miller came onto the scene in the eighties. And for my money? It’s the most refreshing thing to come to the genre in a good long while.
The second reason relates to the first: Captain America knows exactly what genre it’s in. It relishes in its Nazi superscience, its comic-book origins, and its larger-than-life characters. It wastes no time trying to explain away all of its departures from reality the way that I occasionally saw happen in Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. This is shameless pulp, every second of it, and the whole experience feels like a jetpack ride.
Oh, and you might want to stick around till after the credits.