Movie Review - Captain America: The First Avenger (***1/2 out of 5)

Movie Review - Captain America: The First Avenger (***1/2 out of 5)
Captain America: The First Avenger. 124 mins. PG-13.

Audiences feeling weary of sitting through yet another superhero flick (and who can blame them really after Green Lantern?) will find themselves lining up for them all over again after seeing the latest Marvel Avenger's stab at big screen glory.  Captain America is a rousing success on a whole host of levels, providing good, old-fashioned action entertainment in a way we haven't seen in a while.  Gone is the jaded, tongue-in-cheek tone of most of today's action flicks, and in its place is something much better: an earnest, spirited sense of honor and do-goodery.

Director Joe Johnston's best film has always been (and still is, truthfully) the period action-adventure film from 1991, The Rocketeer.  That movie holds up remarkably well today, despite some dated special effects, because it takes an infectiously fun look at one man's inherited superpowers, with exaggerated Nazis serving as villains.  The producers of Captain America must have seen and loved The Rocketeer just as much as I did because the two films bear a number of similarities, and are equally crowd-pleasing.  I don't know what it is about the '40s time period, but it works like gangbusters as the backdrop for these films.

With this and Thor, Marvel has shown a keen awareness of its properties, and which director is best suited to tackle them.  Just as Kenneth Branagh proved an inspired choice to direct Thor, Johnston is the perfect director to helm Captain America.  His eye for period details and pacing serve the movie remarkably well.  Captain America moves along at a clip and every inch of the frame contains something interesting to see.  There is a refreshing lack of overkill to the action scenes, generic as they might be.

Chris Evans is the ideal actor to play the heroic Steve Rogers.  The special effects putting Evans' face on a scrawny actor's body in the early scenes (before the impressive body transformation) are seamless.  Try as you might to find the flaws, you won't be able to.  Evans' chemistry with the beautiful Hayley Atwell (the lone female in a cast full of dudes) is so good that, without spoiling the ending, it definitely leaves you wanting more.

There's a lot more to love about Captain America.  A musical montage sequence in the middle, with Captain America going on tour to promote insurance, is funny and musically catchy.  Hugo Weaving plays the villainous Red Skull, leader of the Hydra-faction of Nazis, and he is consistently engaging, without ever resorting to hamming it up.  The music by Alan Silvestri adds an extra level of excitement.  Tommy Lee Jones steals a number of scenes as Steve's Army Sergeant.

On the negative side, the script is fairly standard-issue superhero origin stuff, and the movie does lose some steam in the end, when the action takes over and the cool retro vibe is shoved aside in favor of massive amounts of gunfire and crazy sound effects (courtesy of Cappy's shield).  Still, Captain America's '40s wartime setting (together with the '60s Cuban-missile crisis setting of X-Men First Class) makes a very strong case for making every superhero film a period one.  Bring on The Avengers.

 

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