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‘Captain America’ exhibits modest charm amid standard superheroics

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Captain America opens Friday.

The relentless sameness of Marvel’s superhero movies is mitigated a little in Captain America: The First Avenger by setting the bulk of the movie during World War II, when scrawny Brooklynite Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) volunteers for an experiment that turns him into a buff super-weapon against the Nazis. Plot-wise, Captain America is a pretty standard superhero origin story, with a lot of throat-clearing on the way to the inevitable action spectacular (it takes Steve nearly half the movie just to get around to being Captain America). But director Joe Johnston brings a fun little pulp sensibility to the tale, on loan from his cult 1991 movie The Rocketeer, which was also about a superhero during World War II. Captain America isn’t able to go all-out with its emulation of old adventure serials, since it still has to fit in the overall Marvel-movie mold, but it at least offers a bit of a diversion on the long, slow march to next summer’s The Avengers.

The Details

Captain America: The First Avenger
Three stars
Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell
Directed by Joe Johnston
Rated PG-13
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IMDb: Captain America: The First Avenger
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Evans looks every bit the all-American as Steve, although he can be a bit bland, and the special effects that make him look short and skinny in the early part of the movie are distracting. Hugo Weaving plays uber-Nazi villain the Red Skull, with a voice that sounds uncannily like Werner Herzog and the same intensity he brought to villainous roles in the Matrix and Transformers series. The Skull looks silly and has a rather ill-defined plan for taking over the world, but Weaving manages to make him menacing nonetheless. Smart casting helps in the smaller roles, too, with Tommy Lee Jones doing his Tommy Lee Jones bit as a curmudgeonly general who doesn’t believe in Steve’s abilities at first, and Dominic Cooper bringing old-school charisma to the role of industrialist Howard Stark (father of Tony Stark, aka Iron Man), who designs Captain America’s weapons.

Johnston plays around with the character’s mythology a bit, having Steve start out his superhero career as a goofy mascot who appears in comic books and movie serials (just like the character did in the actual 1940s), but once the movie kicks into gear, it’s mostly basic action stuff. The all-consuming need to set things in place for The Avengers also disappointingly closes the door on further 1940s adventures for Captain America, but Johnston is able to have a little old-fashioned fun before then.

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Previous Discussion:

  • Every book adaptation should be this good.

  • Made from the “kids-won’t-care-how-badly-we-slapped-this-thing-together” school of filmmaking.

  • A requiem for America this is definitely not.

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