This review was originally published July 22, 2011. It is being reposted now for its home video release.
Ten years ago, Joe Johnston directed “Jurassic Park III,” a much-maligned sequel to the Steven Spielberg original(s) that can be enjoyed if you forgive the more cartoonish, Joe Dante-esque turn of the series (speaking of which, Dante should helm part IV). And it’s not really too much worse than Spielberg’s own sequel (“The Lost World”). Now Johnston gives us the latest “Avengers” franchise title, “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and at many times it begs to be thought of as an entry in Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones” series. Again, it’s a cartoonish distortion of the original(s), but it’s also not any worse than the last Spielberg-directed installment (“The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”). It’s good enough and, yes, maybe the best superhero origin movie since “Iron Man,” as well as a lot more entertaining than “Thor,” but neither comparison is much to celebrate. We might as well just say it’s better than the 1990 “Captain America” movie. Which it certainly is.
The “Indiana Jones” evocation is not too much of a grab. Johnston began his film career as an artist for George Lucas and ILM and is one of the credited effects Oscar winners for “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” He also worked on “Temple of Doom” and directed an episode of “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.” But this movie is only really like an Indy movie if you imagine Lucas himself having helmed the first film — 20 years late (yes, I mean 20). Considering the context of Johnston’s filmography he was definitely the most apt for an adaptation of Marvel’s “Captain America” comics. With it, he also seems intent on correcting his mistakes with “The Rocketeer,” a similarly retro superhero film that flopped back in 1991. This time he’ll make money (a rarity for him with period-set works). Creatively, though, he’s succeeded only partly, delivering something more epic and thrilling yet also far less interesting in both design and character.