Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

By Stephen Rebello

Actor Chris Evans turns in an admirable performance about a World War II superhero.

Director: Joe Johnston Rating: PG-13 Studio: Marvel Studios

In 1941, when Marvel Comics launched Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s red white and blue flag-waver Captain America, it was as much a whiz-bang good vs. evil adventure comic book as it was a gung-ho WWII recruitment poster and morale booster. Its hero was tailor-made for America’s deepest needs—a stand up, muscle-bound, square-jawed, apple pie hero fully able and willing to sock Hitler on the jaw and send him scrambling. Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer; The Wolfman) directs the new Captain America: The First Avenger, based on Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s script, in a star-spangled, shiny, faux-retro style that aims for the derring-do of an old time movie serial or the nostalgic vibe of a Raiders of the Lost Ark rather than, say, an angst-ridden Chris Nolan revisionist-style Batman movie.

As this summer’s glut of superhero movies goes, let’s just say that it’s no X-Men: First Class but at least it’s more enjoyably goofy than Thor. The parameters of the original tale remain pretty much the same. Short (weighing in at 90 pounds) and asthmatic, nice Brooklyn boy Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, with a mighty CGI assist) gets repeatedly rejected for military service but is spotted for his grit, patriotism and humility by a U.S.-of-A-friendly German scientist (Stanley Tucci, in twinkly, endearing mode) and by cocky billionaire researcher destined one day to create Iron Man (Dominic Cooper, in just-right, scene-stealing mode).

Evans gets injected with a top secret serum that transforms him into a strapping, ripped new breed of Allies super-weapon, no assist from CGI required. He’s a two-fisted hunkster Frankenstein monster who’s designed, says military colonel Tommy Lee Jones, to go up against the Nazis’ own brand of mega-weapons and to “personally escort Adolf Hitler to the gates of Hell.” But because a dastardly Nazi has swiped the magic serum formula—with all that sleek, silvery, cutting edge equipment no one bothered to keep notes?—Evans isn’t sent to the front but instead is humiliatingly trotted out at movie theaters, in screen serials and on USO tours as a war bonds-selling figurehead. Fed up, he infiltrates enemy lines where he shows his mettle by fearlessly rescuing 400 fellow recruits, kicking the Nazi butt of enjoyably campy bad guy Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and being taught how to be a real man by pretty Brit soldier Hayley Atwell, who, by present day standards, might be considered a tough cookie but who, in the 1940s screen heyday of, say, Barbara Stanwyck and Ann Sheridan, would be a painted, powdered waxwork cream puff.

The movie doesn’t lack for action sequences but much of it feels like one long setup for next summer’s long-awaited Marvel superhero summit The Avengers. As these things go, it’s amiable, light-hearted and aims to please. As World War II adventure movies go, it’s anachronistic as hell, what with its 2011-style dialogue and squeaky clean, Spielberg movie-meets-theme park vision of the 1940s. But even though the big emotional moments and a few of the big set pieces fizzle, it’s still a more than okay time-passer thanks mostly to the admirable, easy to underrate Evans who plays it all straight and narrow and nicely fills the boots of an old time movie idol. He, like his costars, seems to be having a good time and, although the movie they’re in sometimes drags at two hours and change, the fun is catchy. But only occasionally.

About the Author

Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2011. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.


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