'Captain America' is star-spangled fun
Another summer, another handful of comic-book movies.
Sometimes it takes a shining example to remind us why they became popular in the first place - an engaging, but not too complicated story, a love of the underdog and a director's determination to not take the Spandex-laden adventure too seriously.
"Captain America: The First Avenger" delivers star-spangled fun, an old-fashioned foray into the pulp fiction of decades past, complete with an immersive retro setting, likeable characters and, most importantly, heart.
It's charmingly old school, and were it not for the modern special effects and, you know, 3-D, director Joe Johnston's ("The Rocketeer") love letter to '40s-era nostalgia would fit seamlessly in a previous decade.
America's embroiled in World War II, and diminutive teenager Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, "Fantastic Four") is bucking to enlist in the U.S. Army and battle the Nazi threat overseas. His reasoning? As a scrawny, asthmatic beanpole of a man, he loathes bullies.
But his physicals are never up to snuff, earning him rejection letters at every recruitment center in the tri-state area.
His dogged determination is noticed by German expatriate scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, "The Lovely Bones"), who's looking for a selfless subject to aid in a landmark experiment - the creation of a physically perfect, morally upstanding super soldier to turn the tide against Hitler and his top-secret research division, Hydra, led by the fanatical Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving, "The Matrix").
But Schmidt doesn't have the Third Reich's interests at heart. In possession of a powerful relic, he could care less, more intent on developing advanced technology that would claim the world as his own.
Rogers agrees to participate in Erskine's experiment, with the support of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell, "The Duchess"), a beautiful and tough-as-nails government agent.
The experiment is a success, physically enhancing Rogers to superhero proportions, but it's interrupted by a Hydra saboteur, hoping to claim Erskine's super serum for Schmidt. As an effective test drive for his new corporeal digs, Rogers chases down the saboteur and catches the public eye.
With research set back by years, super-soldier Rogers - praised by the press for his heroics - is contracted by the USO to perform in war-bond-selling stage shows as "Captain America," a red, white and blue hero who socks it to a vaudevillian Hitler night after night in locales across the country, all to the tune of patriotic numbers and high-kicking chorus girls.
An act in U.S.-occupied Europe affords him the opportunity to step off the stage and into the frontlines, albeit against orders, to rescue a platoon missing in action deep behind enemy lines.
Recognized for his selfless heroics, Rogers is promoted, given his own squad and equipped with state-of-the-art (and retroactively futuristic) weapons and armor, serving as Captain America, a fighting symbol that effectively kicks Nazi butt, while inspiring his troops and countrymen.
The charm of "Captain America" comes from its gee-willikers, American-as-apple-pie sensibilities, with director Johnston gleefully playing up the propaganda angle. Johnston's approach has a grounding effect that makes "Captain" incredibly immersive - we're not distracted by our hero's red, white and blue costume, our villain's outlandish deformity or the story's otherwise hokey premise.
It's pure pulp fiction from pure pulp comics, and this isn't lost on the cast. Evans shines as the Cap'n, blending a by-golly attitude with an unwavering determination.
As usual, Weaving is menacing as ever, while Tommy Lee Jones ("No Country for Old Men") pretty much plays himself, which is always fun, as the Captain's commanding officer. Atwell's Carter makes for a strong and memorable female lead, as opposed to typical comic-book movie eye candy.
But there's eye-candy aplenty, due to impressive, retro-futuristic visuals that remind one of 2004's underrated adventure, "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow." The film's post-production 3-D treatment is effective, but hardly necessary to enjoy the story.
Of course, "Captain America" is Marvel Studios' final piece in its "Avengers" puzzle, a superhero ensemble flick that's slated for 2012, and viewers should stick around after the credits for a teaser trailer featuring their favorite heroes from Marvel's previous outings. And Samuel L. Jackson.
"Captain America: The First Avenger," rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 16 or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.