It appears Iron Man finally has another Marvel Comics comrade worth sharing a movie with, as they will in 2012's The Avengers.
Captain America: The First Avenger succeeds where Thor didn't and the Incredible Hulk hasn't, twice. Unlike those drags, director Joe Johnston keeps things relatively simple and pleasantly stupid.
"Captain America" is the propaganda nickname hung on Steve Rogers, a scrawny 4F reject during World War II who is determined to fight for his country. Steve becomes a guinea pig in a secret military experiment to create supersoldiers. Before you can say human growth hormone, Steve emerges hunky and hankering for action. The military brass decides he'll do more to defeat Nazis as a war bonds sales tactic.
Chris Evans plays the role with freshly scrubbed machismo and a hint of the geek Steve is, under all those muscles. The pre-transformation scenes feature the neat trick of Evans' head digitally reduced and imposed on a 98-pound-weakling physique. I've heard complaints that the effect looks phony, with the head too big for the body. That didn't bother me but after the transformation Evans' real, head seems too small for his buffed-up build.
Steve plays along with the cheesy stage productions — shades of Flags of Our Fathers — until his best friend, Sgt. Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) gets captured behind enemy lines. Assisted by Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), an Army babe with a British accent, Steve rescues Barnes, plus a few hundred other soldiers for good measure. Even skeptical Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) realizes he has a superweapon on his hands.
That's really all this movie needs to do, setting up Captain America as a patriotic butt kicker for the Avengers flick. Oh, and give Samuel L. Jackson one more cameo as Avengers honcho Nick Fury, this time before the end credits, so you don't need to stick around as long.
Captain America gets a familiar Marvel villain to dispatch — Hugo Weaving plays Red Skull as a cross between Fire Marshall Bill and Hellboy. Red Skull is so nasty he thinks Adolf Hitler is a wimp, creating the Hydra regime of storm troopers to take over world-conquest matters. His defeat seems almost too easy; when it happened, I couldn't believe nearly two hours had passed. That's actually a compliment for Johnston's pacing, and a cast making each empty minute count.
The action sequences are war movie elemental with a few sci-fi embellishments, including Cappy's super-metal shield that returns like a boomerang after he throws it at someone, decades before Frisbees. Red Skull's forces use decimator rays, but largely this is two-fisted violence and run-of-the-bullet gunplay. Johnston gets the 1940s period right, in dingy colors except for reds, whites and blues. The 3-D effect isn't essential, and often dimly conveys the images. Save the extra $3. It's the American way.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.