The latest in a seemingly inexhaustible supply of superhero films based on vintage Marvel Comics characters, Captain America: The First Avenger is set partly in the present but mainly in the distant past. The 40s to be exact, when America had just entered the war against Japan and Germany and idealistic young men were queuing up to enlist in their droves. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is just such a man, but unfortunately not a very impressive one.
Short and slight and weighing in at 90 pounds, he has been turned down by the army but keeps trying to enlist under assumed names. This dogged attitude catches the attention of Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a German-born scientist who's been working on a secret government project. Erskine has created a mysterious but untested serum that when injected into the body of an ordinary man will turn him into a super soldier.
He chooses Steve as his first subject, and for Rogers the experiment is the beginning of a painful process that will turn him into a national hero and America's only hope in the battle against a mutant maniac.
Directed by Joe Johnston from a script lovingly tweaked by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, Captain America might easily have been just another tired action yarn along the lines of The Fantastic Four and its dreary offshoots. That it isn't is down to that fine script, some clever casting and the robust, no-nonsense storytelling of Johnson.
The wartime period is nicely evoked, and Cgi is skillfully used to make the strapping Evans appear to be a seven-stone weakling in the opening scenes. Those passages are the film's most enjoyable and witty, and cleverly earn our undying sympathy for Steve before he turns into an overbearing bully. But even after Captain America does appear, Johnston manages to control the various threads of his story admirably. Both in terms of music and overall tone, Raiders of the Lost Ark seems to be Captain America's primary inspiration, and the first Indy film is lovingly referred to time and again.
Captain America has a great villain too, in the shape of Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a demented Nazi who thinks Hitler doesn't dream big enough. Tommy Lee Jones could play hard-bitten military types in his sleep, and does just that here but to most entertaining effect. Add Evans as the square-jawed hero, and Hayley Atwell as the love interest, and you've a slick, efficient and thoroughly enjoyable product.
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