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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 15, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 28
Retro Captain America a red, white, and blue sensation
Arts & Entertainment
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Retro Captain America a red, white, and blue sensation

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Captain America: The First Avenger
Opening July 22


Primarily set in the waning days of WWII, Marvel's Captain America: The First Avenger is the best film the studio has made as part of this ongoing franchise and as a lead-up to next May's The Avengers. Better than either Iron Man flick. Better than The Incredible Hulk. Heck, it's even better than Thor, a movie I was happily impressed with. Director Joe Johnston (The Wolfman) and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (You Kill Me) have done a splendid job bringing this star-spangled superhero to life, delivering an entertaining high-flying frolic that held me merrily spellbound for most of its 125-minute running time.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a 98-pound scrub from Brooklyn who wants to go fight Nazis. He's asthmatic. He has multiple health issues. He can barely do a single push-up. Yet he also has the heart of a lion, refuses to back down, uses his brains over his underdeveloped brawn, and wants to fight for his country not to kill, but because it's the right thing to do.

Enter government scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). He's impressed with Rogers' fortitude and spirit and sees something that could potentially make him perfect for a project he's been working on for years. Even though the colonel in charge, the iron-willed Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) doesn't quite agree with the choice - and British secret agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is worried for the young soldier's wellbeing - Erskine knows he's picked the right man.

He's right, of course, mainly because if he wasn't, decades of Marvel comic book lore would have to be thrown out the window and I wouldn't have a movie to talk about. But all that being as it may, who'd have thought an old-school, unabashedly patriotic (some might even say jingoistic, but I can't go that far) action film would be quite this wonderful? It's like an Indiana Jones spectacle but with a shield-throwing superhero clad in red, white, and blue at its center instead of a fedora-wearing archeologist. It's like The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare but focused on a genetically engineered 'super soldier' instead of a team of hardened roughnecks led by the likes of Gregory Peck, Richard Burton, or Clint Eastwood.

And that's all well and good if you ask me. Johnston finally delivers on the promise hinted at in The Rocketeer and nearly realized with October Sky. He's managed to craft a retro 1940s-style WWII potboiler, yet one colored with the pyrotechnic razzle-dazzle of this still-young century. He's captured an ethos and a style few modern filmmakers have been able to rekindle (Steven Spielberg being the obvious example with Raiders of the Lost Ark), and he's done so in a way that's so appealing it would take a heart of stone to admit to not being moved by it.

So the basics, like most comic book movies, can get a little silly, and as much as actor Hugo Weaving throws himself into making central baddie Johann Schmidt aka The Red Skull a memorable villain, the script never quite gives him enough to do to make him as formidable an opponent as, say, Loki was in Thor or Dr. Octopus was in Spider-Man 2. I'll also say the present-day bookends of the film aren't particularly worthwhile, both only reminding the audience that as enjoyable as what they've been watching is, the whole thing has really been nothing more than a feature-length commercial for The Avengers.

But so what? Captain America: The First Avenger gets the job done. Evans is perfectly cast as our stalwart hero, Tucci steals the show during the first half, and the luminous Atwell is a delectable delight as the female lead. Johnston paces things to perfection, stripping the fat away from the narrative's bones and assembling a mostly lean and joyfully mean thrill ride holding more than its fair share of surprises. When the Avengers do finally assemble in summer 2012, here's hoping their initial engagement is half as thrilling a spectacle as this one proved to be.

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