CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (Rated PG-13 for plenty of violence, some profanity, drinking & thematic elements): is another one of those sci-fi flicks explaining "how it all began" to feature one of the most likable aw-gosh heroes as its world savior.
No kidding, this character from Timely Comics (precursor to Marvel Comics in the early 40s), about a 90 pound weakling turned into a muscle machine with brains (played here with almost innocent, wide-eyed naiveté by Chris Evans as Steve Rogers aka Captain America, whose expressions, acrobatics, & flat voice are strongly reminiscent of silent comic Buster Keaton - intentionally?) He has a heart of gold, a warm spot for his mentor Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), and an intense desire to get into the war (it's in the 40s) to win one for the Gipper - er, I mean, for the world.
He has an evil nemesis (surprise surprise), an arch-enemy, one Johann Schmidt aka the Red Scull (Hugo Weaving) in Nazi persona - ambitious not just to win the war, but with bigger plans to conquer the world). He, too, has been inoculated with a super-duper pick-me-up with mind & body building juice, but while it brings out the best in Steve, it nurtures baser instincts in Johan that develop him into evil personified.
"Wars are fought with weapons, but won by men," says the scientist doing the inoculations. So while the war's being fought on one level, the war to save the entire globe is waged on a grander scale. It's on that level that the film takes on its intensity. Picture a final battle in which all of Hollywood's most advanced digital pyrotechnics emblazon the screen for what seems like hours - noisily, dizzingly, until, well, let's just say that the movie in two hours accomplishes a great set-up for at least one sequel.
Taking his cues from the comic book formula & format, director Joe Johnston (who had loads of retro fun with "The Rocketeer") gives us a comic-book-movie in every way, including the feel of the times (meticulously 40s), the acting, and - thanks to a script from Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely - even the dialog. ("Hey," one character says in the midst of battle, "it's not exactly a Buick!" or, pessimistically, by another character, "Fear not, the Captain's invincible!") I particularly enjoyed Red Scull's pseudo-German, "Ve haff left humanity behind!"
Even Anna B. Sheppard's use of make-up & costumes and Jeffrey Ford & Robert Dalva's editing have that kind of rush that made the Batman & Superman stories so retro pumped up. Best of all, though, is Alan Silvestri's bloated score which, as in the classics, underlines every mood, every action, every prediction.
The cast is perfect down to the lesser roles: Tommy Lee Jones doing what he does best as the scruffy Col. Chester Phillips and Stanley Tucci as the wise old scientist. But it's really Chris Evans' game in his bare-faced, praiseworthy holier-than-thou attitude with that underplayed Keaton tone making us enjoy & like him at the same time. As the weakling Brooklyn kid or powerhouse Captain, he turns on the charm as few other comic book characters have. (Incidentally & curiously, he was pumped up and filmed for all the muscle shots first, then was digitalized down in bulk for the earlier shots.)
The special effects are up to snuff with all the other sci-fi flicks, as is Shelly Johnson's camera work, all created here at a sum total bargain price of only $150 million, but, hey, what else is there to spend that money on? Accepted as a perfect tongue-in-cheek take-off, the movie's a delight - if a bit noisy, overlong, & overblown - certainly a cut above the previous comic book derivatives done in deadpan serious mode.