With the clunky-but-needlessly-thought-necessary-because-everyone-hates-America-named Captain America: The First Avenger (or as I call it Captain America (F*ck Yeah!), Marvel Studios turns the hat trick of superhero movies in 2011. Along with the good fellow Avengers setup film Thor and the sublime X-Men: First Class, Marvel has soared while rival DC had their Green Lantern fizzle out. (On the upside, this should free up Ryan Reynolds for a Deadpool movie. Make it so!)
If X-Men went retro with its early-1960s setting, Captain America is true to its WWII origins with scrawny Steve Rogers (a digitally-diminished Chris Evans in a career-changing role) trying to enlist but being turned down for being scrawny, asthmatic and generally a 90-pound weakling. He's got gumption, but that's not what the Army is looking for. Fortunately, it is what Stanley Tucci's scientist is seeking for his Super Soldier project in which serum and vita rays are meant to turn him into the ultimate fighting man. That the last guy who'd tried it turned into the Red Skull is problematic, but that's because he was a bad guy.
Keying the whole show is Chris Evans' portrayal of Cap, both before and after his transformation. It would've been very easy to play the noble, patriotic Steve Rogers as a bit of a stiff, a steroid-infused Boy Scout, but it works because Evans makes us feel the frustration of wanting to contribute, but being on the wrong end of the genetic card deal. If you only know the cocky Evans from his Human Torch role in the lackluster Fantastic 4 movies or light comedies, he's a revelation. (If you saw Sunshine, Danny Boyle's sci-fi "trip to reignite the dying Sun" movie, it's a little less of a surprise.)
It helps that he's surrounded by a top-notch cast including Tommy Lee Jones, the luscious Hayley Atwell as a spunky, sexy English agent, and Hugo Weaving as Red Skull. Dominic Cooper plays Howard Stark, Tony's father (who was played by John Slattery in Iron Man 2), and it's interesting to see how his influence on his son would've manifested.
The most valuable player (after Evans) has to be director Joe Johnston whose film The Rocketeer and his work as visual effects supervisor for Raiders of the Lost Ark prepped him ably for the period look and feel of a slightly sci-fi'ed up version of WWII. Giant flying wings and airplanes that look like rockets with giant pusher propellers feel matter-of-fact and that guileless tone makes the more fantastical elements go down easily. The way they handle his costume, which would
There was some angst from conservative quarters about the tacking on of "The First Avenger" part and initial concerns it would be released without the Captain America half in order to placate supposed anti-American sentiment around the world (only Russia, South Korea(?) and Ukraine chose the alternate title) and a couple of particularly stupid hacks at Big Hollywood whined that it wasn't jingoistic enough for their tastes, but take it from me, there's nothing to their complaints. It's patriotic and not the least apologetic about the inherent goodness of America and doesn't try to temper its pro-USA tenor other than not piling on needless flag-waving on top of a star-spangled avenger battling evil. We get it; stop crying, bitches.
Captain America (F*ck Yeah!) easily joins other top shelf Marvel comic book movies like X-Men 2 and Iron Man and nicely sets the table for next year's Joss Whedon-helmed The Avengers. Bring it on!
Score: 9/10. Pay full price.