Published Jul 21, 2011Let's start at the end, shall we? That's where Captain America begins, his familiar flag shield buried in ice. Thankfully, the film that follows this hint of secondary origins to come doesn't feel like a simple preamble to the whole First Avenger bit.
Flashing back to 1942, we're introduced to Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving, The Matrix), head of extremist (even for Nazis) occult science division Hydra, as he searches for the Tesseract cube, a cosmic source of nearly infinite power. Now that we know our foe, we're afforded the privilege of meeting our hero, sickly patriot Steve Rogers (Chris "don't call me Johnny Storm" Evans), as he's turned down for enlistment in the armed services for the fifth time. The effect of putting Chris Evans's thinned head on a scrawny body is impeccable, allowing the force of Steve's will to shine through his frail frame as he gets his ass handed to him by a bully jeering at recruitment ads.
Undeterred by previous failures, Steve accompanies his soldier friend "Bucky" to Howard Stark's Future Fair, where he's more interested in another chance to enlist than the double date his buddy hooks up. Noticing his determination, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, with a mouthful of German accent) selects Mr. Rogers for a top-secret military program after asking him if he "wants to kill some Nazis," to which he answers, "no, I just don't like bullies."
Old school morality fits Captain America like his star spangled tights, informing the entire tone of the film. There's no approach more suitable to handling a character that's supposed to be the moral compass of the entire Marvel universe while dressing in an American flag costume. The cheese factor is tempered by the period appropriate presentation and antiquated, stiff-jawed nobility. It helps that the Captain is used as a propaganda icon by the American government before he sees any real combat, starring in pep rallies and patriotsploitation movies.
Captain America actually works best before he gets his iconic shield upgrade from the "Q" of this universe, Howard Stark, and becomes an action montage-driven Nazi eradicator. The action sequences are competently shot and choreographed, but the condensed approach to Cap's early combat exploits takes some of the wind out of the film's sails leading into the third act.
Strong supporting turns by Tommy Lee Jones as caustic Colonel Chester Phillips and Hayley Atwell as taker of no man's bullshit, and Steve's burgeoning love interest, Peggy Carter reliably bolster the film, but are ultimately overshadowed by Hugo Weaving's controlled psychosis, which is made all the more entertaining by his choice to speak with an accent seemingly influenced by the cadence of Werner Herzog's speech.
Chris Evans' spot-on performance as the Captain should silence naysayers; he's noble, humble, dedicated and charming. Anyone who's excited to see the character of Captain America come to life on the big screen won't likely be disappointed by another solid, if not wowing, chapter in the ongoing lead up to The Avengers.
Others will be merely satisfied by a decent action adventure of a man strong of heart overcoming his physical limitations in the name of "doing what needs to be done." Something that doesn't need to be done: seeing The First Avenger in 3D. Whatever value the post-conversion adds in depth of field is negated by the dimness of picture. (Paramount)