Though perhaps the term is slightly overused, there is no getting around it: Captain America: The First Avenger is a formula film. And I don't mean that it hits all the notes you would expect it to (though it does). Nor do I mean that it doesn't really make any attempt to surprise you (though it does not). Rather, I am directing your attention to the abundance of tired cliches that Super Hero movies (and even film in general) have exhausted. If not for the cast, this would have been a long two hours indeed.
Steve Rodgers aspired to be a soldier, but was deemed too small and wimpy to take on such a job. But because of his kind heart, Dr. Abraham Erskine decides that he wants to perform one of his scientific examples on the man. And he does so, which results in Steve Rodgers becoming the ultimate hero as all of his athletic abilities are dramatically enhanced. He is dubbed, Captain America. But what's a super hero film with a super villain? We get our antagonist in the form of Red Skull, commander of the Hydra (a terrorist organization) that is bent on world domination (aren't they all, these days?).
As each character is introduced, you can already predict their character arc, if they die, and what purpose they will serve to the story. There are no surprises.
Steve Rodgers (later Captain America) is terribly bland, as a result of him being the perfect person. He's sickeningly nice and good-natured, which makes him hard to identify with. A good protagonist needs to have flaws, and Steve Rodgers lacks these. Peggy Carter is Rodger's love interest, and the romance between the two unfolds in a tediously predictable fashion.
The villain himself, Red Skull, is also terribly dull. What separates him from any of the other power-hungry villains in cinema? His defining feature is that he looks like a rejected Voldemort design.
The action sequences are fairly unimpressive from almost any standpoint. The visuals are not strong enough to suggest awe or create a spectacle. And the characters are too bland to have a significant connection with any of them during these scenes, thus eliminating tension. And the sequences lack innovation. None of them are significantly different from any other action sequence in similar films. They are entirely unmemorable.
The first 30 minutes are the strongest in the entire picture. They are the most story-driven (the following 90 minutes have little story at all to speak of), as well as the most character-driven. This is before any of the action sequences, and focuses purely on Steve Rodger's origins as Captain America. There are fun bits here, and it moves along at a brisk pace. The talky 30 minutes of the beginning are far more enjoyable than the action-packed 90 minutes that follows.
The most problematic part of this film is the ending (specifically the last 15 minutes). A lot of it doesn't work for various reasons (difficult to discuss in a spoiler-free review). Without giving anything away, there are obvious things that are overlooked by the characters, a "cheat" that allows the impact of something serious to occur without actual consequence, and a very anti-climatic fight at the end. It's a mess.
Thankfully, the cast keeps things interesting. Chris Evans is solid in the lead, perfectly pulling of the nice-guy persona, even if that's the only thing his role requires. Hugo Weaving makes Red Skull less of a bore than he might have otherwise been. Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter continues the Marvel tradition of having weak female characters and weak female performances (though she is an improvement in both respects over Iron Man's Pepper Potts).
The acting stand-outs all come from supporting cast members. Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine is delightful (as always). And Tommy Lee Jones, while portraying the gruff, sarcastic character we've seen dozens of times, is still quite memorable. And Toby Jones is also enjoyable to watch as Arnim Zola, a Nazi Biochemist.
Alan Silvestri's score actually makes very few notable appearances in this film. There's nothing in the music that's especially memorable, perhaps less a problem with the score itself than with how it's presented in the film. Alan Menken contributes a song (lyrics by David Zippel) that's pleasant and retro, though unmemorable.
While not as enormously dull as many of the other Marvel films, Captain America: The First Avenger is too formulaic, too bland, and too uninspired to make a significant impact. A stray witty line now and then, and some fine performances keep the film from becoming too boring, but there isn't enough here that's new or interesting too remain in the memory for long.