Captain America saves best film for last Joe Johnston’s Captain America is a gloriously old-fashioned bit of shoe-leather adventure. While there are plenty of elaborate special effects, the emphasis remains on character and narrative. Like the best of the recent comic book films, this is a genre film first and a comic book adaptation second. It is, at its core, a genuine World War II action picture that happens to be based on a comic book. It is filled with terrific actors doing wonderful character turns. It is filled with colorful heroes and dastardly villains, plus dames who have more important things to do than stand around and look pretty. It has a wonderful score, a variety of exciting locations, and a number of solid action sequences that feel real even when we can see the strings. It is, to put it simply, a real movie, a genuine piece of pop-art that is the kind of comic book film built for those who generally aren’t in to comic book movies.

A token amount of plot: World War II is raging, and everyone is doing their part to beat back the Nazis. But Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) finds himself unable to enlist, due to well, the fact that he’s really short and not very strong. But fortune smiles as his fifth attempt to enlist is witnessed by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who is searching for suitable candidates to test out a new ‘super soldier’ formula which he developed before defecting from Germany. Rather than looking for the biggest, strongest, and toughest soldier that he can find, Erskine is looking for someone who will not take this newfound power for granted, someone who is a genuinely good man. Rogers ends up fitting the bill. When tragedy strikes, Rogers soon finds himself as the one and only ‘Captain America’, which leaves the US government unwilling to put their prize possession into actual combat. But the machinations of Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) and his Hydra organization soon put not just the Allied forces but the entire world in immediate peril and the would-be Captain America may be the only man who can stop him.

What makes the film work is the genuine affection that Joe Johnston has not just for the character but for the whole World War II film genre. The picture walks a fine line between acknowledging the horror of global war and remaining a relatively fun movie. Of course, the movie does cheat a little bit by having Schmidt’s Hydra organization morph into something more resembling Cobra in the latter half of the film, which allows Rogers and his fighting friends to eventually kill faceless super-villain goons as opposed to scared German soldiers. Being a war picture, the film goes out of its way to emphasize the random and arbitrary peril of war (it’s quite violent, if relatively bloodless) and the off-the-cuff courage of those who fought in this particular conflict. Steve Rogers is not an all-powerful superhero, but merely another brave soldier who has a few physical advantages that he uses to help his fellow freedom fighters. We follow not just Rogers, but several other colorful soldiers, played by the likes of Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Kenneth Choi, and Sebastian Stan. Aside from giving the film several colorful characters, this ensemble army gives weight to the action sequences, as they are never just ‘Steve Rogers and a bunch of faceless soldiers do battle’. We always have someone familiar to cut to during the major set pieces.

Photo by Paramount Pictures

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