“Captain America” isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not a great one either. The biggest problem is the simplest: “Captain America” lacks character development.
When critics complain about a movie, they often mention the lack of character development. The basic idea behind character development is to first introduce a character in a way that makes us like them. Next, you must show a goal that character wishes to achieve. Then you must show that character struggling to achieve that goal and finally, you show how that character achieves or doesn’t achieve that goal.
More importantly, all your characters are actually pursuing similar goals in different ways. In “Rocky,” Rocky is a bum fighter who’s trying to prove to himself that he’s not a loser. His girlfriend, Adrian, is a shy woman who is also out to prove she’s not a loser either.
In “Captain America,” we learn that the hero is a fighter with a good heart, and that’s about it for all the character development for the hero and all of the other characters in the movie. The hero doesn’t have a flaw that he needs to overcome, so consequently his battle with the villain is just a lot of meaningless action. We don’t learn what the villain really wants other than world domination. We don’t learn what Captain America’s select squad of commandoes wants, other than to fight along with Captain America.
Although “Captain America” is a comic book movie, its lack of character development sinks it compared to other comic book movies like “Thor” or “Spiderman 2.” “Captain America” is a perfect example of what happens when you focus solely on the goals of your hero and even then, don’t focus too much on the hero’s goals.
The villain’s goal is just as vague as Captain America’s goal, so there’s little tension or suspense when Captain America fights the villain. One moment Captain America is looking at a map of different secret factories and the next minute, Captain America is suddenly being chased by several soldiers on motorcycles. Not the smoothest transition and nowhere does this support Captain America’s development as a likable character. He’s strictly a cardboard hero who gets parades from scene to scene as badly as he’s initially paraded around the country to sell war bonds to the public in a simple show.
“Captain America” may be a simple comic book hero, but the movie should tell us a more substantial story by letting us get to know his struggles and his goals along with the struggles and goals of the other characters in the movie. Failing to do that, “Captain America” simply gives us a generic comic book story of action and little else. “Captain America” could have been a better movie, but its lack of character development insures that it will never rise beyond average, and its main failure is its ignorance of character development.
Compare “Captain America” to “The Incredibles,” another super hero movie. In “The Incredibles,” the hero demands that he work alone, but eventually learns to work with others. His daughter wants to attract the attention of a boy she likes. His son wants to use his super running skills somehow. His wife wants to keep the family together. They all have goals, and by the end of the movie, they all achieve them, making for a satisfying ending.
Now go back to “Captain America” and notice that the hero doesn’t have a strong goal other than to get into the army, which he does by the beginning of the movie. Nobody in his band of commandoes has any goals of their own, his love interest has no goal of her own, the villain has a vague goal of conquering the world, and so “Captain America” is a much less satisfying movie because it focuses more on visual effects than actual story telling.
For your own screenplay, make sure your characters have a goal that’s clear and that they achieve it at the end. That’s what character development is all about and that’s where “Captain America” fails.