Star-spangled Avenger

Captain America gets us pumped for a new superhero franchise

More than a little Captain in him.

More than a little Captain in him.

Captain America: The First Avenger
Starring Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving and Tommy Lee Jones. Directed by Joe Johnston. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

This two-hour foreplay leading up to The Avengers is actually a lot of fun in its own right. Of course, most of that credit goes to director Joe Johnston. Some folks might remember The Rocketeer, his 1991 WWII-era dip into nostalgia. Based on the cult comic book, it was one of the first big attempts to jump on the Indiana Jones retro-adventure wagon. While it handled the World War II-era verisimilitude with a faithful fondness for detail, it was squeezed through the Disney homogenization process to the point that the cast wandered through every shot with a “gee whiz” mien.

But that was then and this is now, and Johnston is at the top of his game at re-creating the way-back-then, to the point that evoking the vérité of the Good War at times overshadows the story of just how Captain America gets created, saves the world and heads back to the dressing room to prep for The Avengers.

Which isn’t a bad thing. Captain America is still (considering the period it’s set in) a surprisingly fresh take on the whole superhero thing, probably due to the fact that it really doesn’t feel like a superhero movie. Dovetailing with its neo-retro veneer, the approach to narrative itself takes its cue from the pre-MTV style of filmmaking, allowing the first half of the film to play out according to the demands of the story rather than the action beats.

Here we meet 90-pound weakling Chris Evans moping over being repeatedly rated 4F while his buddies are marching off to die fighting the Nazis. He has the heart of a lion trapped in the body of a house cat. Fortunately, a German ex-pat scientist (Stanley Tucci) has developed the technology to restore Evans’ bobble head from his CGI un-hanced stick figure back to the actor’s original pile of muscles. Throw in a bunch of racially diverse sidekicks, Tommy Lee Jones being Tommy Lee Jones promoted to colonel, and a Brit hottie (Hayley Atwell) to stand around making cow eyes at Evans (when she’s not kicking ass to show she can kick ass). Oh, and there’s the equally bobble-headed Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) commanding the first army of neo-Nazis, back before anyone was goofy enough to even think of such a thing.

Of course, it’s not perfect. There’s a vibe that the origin story was so slim that lots of padding was needed, so as the film builds into the second half it starts throwing in nonsequitor montages of action blasts to get it to the end credits—which are capped with a trailer for some upcoming Marvel movie called The Avengers.