Captain America: The First Avenger

Cynical concerns to the contrary, Captain America: The First Avenger is a perfect popcorn movie–full of adventure, intrigue, courage, loyalty, bravery and romance. Eye-boggling action scenes, scenery, costumes, and plenty of humor add to the fun.

I don’t really like super-hero movies. They usually put me to sleep, but I loved Thor earlier this season, liked Green Lantern (because it paid so much homage to Superman) and I think Captain America is the best of the lot. It has a compelling storyline (so what if it’s preposterous, it works), a gorgeous, likeable hero, an equally likeable female lead who holds her own, a great surrounding cast, and baddies who just keep getting badder. Escapist fare doesn’t get much better. Director Joe Johnston (The Wolfman, which I also loved) has served up his offerings on a silver-trimmed red-white-and blue platter. Heavy helpings are encouraged.

It’s modern day and somewhere in the bitter cold near the North Atlantic sea, American soldiers find a beat-up old round shield. Flashback three generations to World War II…

The Nazis are always ideal villains because they are so darn evil everybody wants to exterminate them. But the Nazis in Marvel Comics are even worse. A megalomaniac scientist named Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) has acquired a block of mystical power dating from the ancient Teutonic gods. To hell with Hitler and his puny plans of European domination. Schmidt intends to take over the entire world. His top secret Hydra experiments are already close to building the perfect, unkillable Aryan warrior.

Meanwhile in the United States, every young American man wants to join the Army, fight the Nazis, stride with pride and get the girls. Alas, nature was not kind to poor Steve Rogers (digitally scrawnified Chris Evans). He tries four times, under various aliases and different locations, to enlist in the Army but each time, his 90-pound asthmatic weakling image gets his application stamped 4-F. His good friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), splendid in his new Army duds, tries to be encouraging, but it’s no use. Steve knows he’s never going to get the chance to be a hero.

In steps fate in the person of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). He overhears Steve’s expression of patriotism and knows that the young man’s inherent compassion makes him an excellent candidate for an extraordinary secret experiment. He maneuvers Steve’s acceptance into an elite Army fighting unit, under the command of gruff Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones at his usual gruff self) and the observant eye of British military attaché, feisty Captain Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). By the time the audience has come to know and love skinny Steve, he’s hustled into a super-scary futuristic operating room. He’s put into a sarcophagus-like device, injected with Super Soldier serum, and shot with Vibra waves. He emerges from the device a foot taller, with muscles like the early Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a neck as thick as a football. Everyone’s impressed including especially Captain Peggy and the entire female audience. Everyone’s good luck is that Steve promised Dr. Erskine he would always be himself, no matter what he was turned into.

A Nazi assassin has sneaked into the room. He shoots and kills Dr. Erskine. Shoeless, the newly invigorated Steve rushes after the escaping bad guy, amazing himself and everyone who sees him, with the extent of his new super powers. Headlines make Steve an instant hero. Too valuable to be sent off to the front lines, Steve is turned into a propaganda mascot, performing in his ridiculous Captain America tights, amidst a bevy of dancing beauties selling war bonds. It’s all great WWII nostalgia fun, except that Steve wants to be real hero, not a marquee attraction.

Meanwhile the Nazis, under the nefarious Schmidt–who tears off his face mask to reveal his true inner self as the Red Skull–is getting worse and more powerful.

When Steve learns that pal Bucky Barnes has been captured and is being held behind enemy lines, Steve goes a.w.o.l. from the Busby Berkeley routines. Captain Peggy and brilliant scientist/pilot Howard Starks (Dominic Cooper), who we know will father chip-off-the-old-block scion Tony Stark (who will become Iron Man, better known as Robert Downey, Jr.) fly Steve behind enemy lines into the forest in Germany. Using his natural intelligence, his super powers and his handy round shield made of impenetrable vibranium, Steve storms the enemy citadel and rescues the prisoners. At last he has become a real hero and if you’re not cheering with everyone else in the audience, well, you just don’t like Mom and apple pie.

Alas, as we all know, war is not a fair game and Steve sets out on one last mission.

I’m not going to give away the ending. Let’s just let it say that I was so disappointed with it that I took a half-point off the rating. My pal who accompanied me to the movie, happens to be a big Marvel Comics fan, and already knew what the ending was going to be–he thought it was fine. But I, forgetting that Captain America is supposed to come back next year leading the humungous gathering of super heroes in The Avengers, was bitterly disappointed.

Label me “incurable romantic”–and see the movie inspite of my reaction. Ninety-nine percent of a good movie is more than you’re going to get with most films these days anyway. The 3-D is good in this film, but I don’t feel it’s necessary. When I see the film again, I’ll choose 2-D to enjoy the full range of its outstanding cinematography.

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