Summer’s cavalcade of superheroes comes to an amusing, if nowhere near amazing, end with Captain America: The First Avenger. While it boasts a slick retro feel and does a good job of showing us what the title character is made of, it comes up a little short on the action pow.
Chris Evans, no stranger to superhero films, having done two as the Human Torch in the absolute shite Fantastic Four films, steps into the role of Steve Rogers, a 90-pound weakling eager to fight for his country in WWII. After repeated attempts to pass a physical, Rogers is left head-hanging dejected, like the first one to take a stinger in the face during a round of dodgeball.
Steve’s valiant efforts have not gone unnoticed, for a nebbish German scientist named Abraham Erskine (a thickly accented Stanley Tucci) has been keeping an eye on him. Erskine is looking for a little guy with a big heart to take a massive infusion of experimental amplifying serum that will make a good man super great and powerful. Steve, who jumps on a dummy grenade to save other members of his company during an impromptu test conducted by crusty Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) seems the perfect candidate.
The 90-pound weakling version of Steve is the result of some marginal CGI work that places Evans’ face on a frail man’s body. There are moments in the film when this trick works to lesser effect than others. After the blue serum crank infusion, Evans pumps up to the actual size he achieved for this movie—and it’s impressive. Evans clearly hit the gym and ate lots of beef at 3 in the morning for Captain America—sporting shoulders, abs and pectorals that would make the likes of Hugh Jackman and Taylor “Dig My Awesome Stomach” Lautner clamor and curse with jealousy.
Rogers is supposed to be the first in an army of super soldiers, but when those plans don’t pan out, he winds up pushing war bonds on the performance circuit. This gives us stage one of the iconic Captain America suit, made primarily of felt and looking like something you could order on Amazon.com for $10.50 (shipping and handling included). The Captain America war bond show, which features Rogers repeatedly knocking out Hitler, amounts to decent comic relief in the film.
Marvel Comic fans will rejoice in the presence of Iron Man’s dad, Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), as one of the men providing Rogers with his second suit and the ever reliable, impenetrable shield. Of course, you can keep a lookout for Stan Lee, because he will most assuredly make an appearance. In a cool twist that sets the stage for Captain America’s participation in the modern-day The Avengers next summer, Samuel L. Jackson makes his requisite appearance as Nick Fury.
Much of the action staged by director Joe Johnston is OK, but it gets a little sleepy at times. Lots of footage features Evans running around in the dark on multiple rescue missions that just sort of blend together. On the plus side, there was never a moment when I felt like what I was seeing was altogether bad. It’s just a little tedious at times.
Of course, these things generally don’t work if the villain is a big pussy. Such is not the case with Johann Schmidt/Red Skull, played fiercely by Hugo Weaving. Schmidt had a previous engagement with Dr. Erskine, forcing him to hand over some of the amplifying serum. But since Schmidt is a full-on asshole, and the serum amplifies pre-existing personality traits, he becomes Supreme Leader of All Assholes, a.k.a. Red Skull post-injection.
The combo of the Evans bravura performance and Weaving’s menacing presence helps take Captain America over the “Decent Movie” line. Stay post-credits for a quick, rapidly edited look at The Avengers that provides glimpses of all the heroes, with the exception of the Incredible Hulk—Marvel isn’t ready to let us see what he’s going to look like in his next screen presentation just yet.