NY Daily News
July 21, 2011
Need a top-notch comic-book movie to stop this summer’s march of mediocre superheroes?
“Captain America: The First Avenger,” reporting for duty.
The latest cinematic transplant from the house of Marvel has a greater mission than just solving its hero’s neuroses or arrogance. This muscular, red-blooded adventure has a decent heart and the stuff of Saturday afternoon serials running through its veins.
In a present-day prologue, government agents find an aircraft containing a frozen passenger in the Arctic. Then it’s 1942, and scrawny Brooklynite Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is 4F and can’t serve in WWII. Little guy Steve never backs away from a fight and hates bullies, which is how he sees the Axis powers.
At an expo at Flushing Meadows park, Steve’s complaints are overheard by Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a military scientist who offers Steve a chance to be part of an experiment that’ll bulk him up into a super-soldier.
It works, although enemy agents steal the serum to help a scary renegade Nazi called the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) harness otherworldly powers. As the only super-soldier, Steve is assigned by cranky Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and comely officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) to the USO, selling war bonds as a character called Captain America.
But when he hears a friend’s unit is lost, Steve, in costume, leaps into action behind enemy lines. He saves the troops and is awarded a team to fight the Red Skull.
How he winds up in the ice involves the Red Skull’s flying craft and Steve’s indestructible, boomerang-like shield. But the real kick is the pitch-perfect tone harnessed by director Joe Johnston (“The Rocketeer,” “Honey I Shrunk the Kids,” “The Wolfman“), a genre stylist specializing in classic movie moments. He and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely make sure we know skinny Steve (Evans’ head is believably CGI’d onto a smaller body) before his transformation to give the story a solid backbone.
Meanwhile, the nifty wartime setting adds to a “Raiders of the Lost Ark“-lite feel. And there are secret laboratories behind bookshelves, a mountainside fortress and tie-ins to the Marvel characters who’ll assemble in next year’s “The Avengers.”
Anchoring it all is Evans, striking the right balance between old-fashioned corniness and retro-style integrity. Jones is enjoyably gruff, Tucci adds a twinkling, kindly conscience, and Weaving would be deliciously loathsome even if he didn’t look like a sunburned Valdemort.
Though the action scenes are rousing, an impressive last battle is regrettably missing. But hang in there: A head-spinningly cool finale will have you seeing more stars than there are on Cap’s iconic costume.
Magic Moment: When Captain America throws his mighty shield — and the 3—D thwacks it into your face.