It’s fun and has an agreeable, old-school tone, but Captain America, thanks in large part to Marvel’s short-sighted ambitions, doesn’t quite live up to its full potential.
Poor Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) is a 90-pound weakling with a giant ability to take a beating from bullies. He desperately wants to join the armed forces and defend the United States of America in World War II, just like his best friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan, Black Swan).
But even after masquerading as five different people from five different cities, he’s still a scrawny asthmatic no sane recruiter will sign.
As fate would have it, and fate often plays a large role in comic book movies, Steve’s burning yearning is overheard by a German scientist enlisted by the U.S. Army, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, Burlesque). He’s got the answer for what ails little Steve and it’s in the form of an experiment by Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, The Duchess). Yes, the Howard Stark, father of Tony Stark, who in turn became Iron Man.
Injected with a super soldier serum, Steve turns into a bulked-up man of war. An encounter with a street thug and a subsequent newspaper photo puts Steve on a detour through propaganda hell, dressing up as “Captain America” in a stage campaign to sell war bonds. After all, such an all-American kid can’t be thrown right into the lion’s den of Nazi Germany. That could too easily make for bad press.
But, in time, Captain America makes it into the treacherous trenches of war and a legend is born.
Like Thor and, to a certain extent, Iron Man 2, Captain America feels a heckuva lot like a prelude to next summer’s The Avengers, Marvel’s dream team production that pulls together a bull pen of super heroes.
Also like those other two movies, Captain America is perfectly entertaining and it has a really good heart. With Iron Man already established, there was a certain amount of tolerance for a brisk move toward The Avengers in Tony Stark’s sequel. Thor’s chase to 2012 could still dovetail nicely with a standalone series.
But... dang... Captain America goes for a single adventure, facing off with his nemesis, Red Skull (Hugo Weaving, The Matrix), and then zips into a conclusion that all-too-suddenly sets him on track for a modern-day Avengers adventure alongside Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson and so many others.
That is to say, Captain America’s bread-and-butter World War II adventures and romantic flirtations with the undeniably super woman, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell, Cassandra’s Dream), are left in the winds of history in order to expedite this character’s delivery into what is somewhat arrogantly being set up as a super-duper franchise.
That’s gotta be some kind of crime against comics.
Come on now. In director Joss Whedon’s hands, The Avengers very well might turn into a kind of super cheese that only super geeks will appreciate. And Captain America? Squandered in the hubris.
That’s the bad news: Offering up Captain America’s own potential franchise as a sacrifice at the altar of the Avengers.
The good news is found in all the elements Joe Johnston gets right within the confines of the story he’s dealt. Johnston, an art director on Raiders of the Lost Ark, has commented to the press on this movie’s quest to recreate the same serial thrills of Indy’s inaugural adventure. He doesn’t quite make it to that heady level, but Johnston imbues Captain America with enough fun to earn the Cap a recommendation.
Johnston throws in a great opportunity for geeky giddiness when Johann Schmidt (also known as Red Skull), while exploring Norway in search of fantastical religious artifacts, lambasts Hitler and his wasted efforts looking for trinkets out in the desert. Yeah, that’s a little zing at Raiders.
Throw in a winning performance from Evans, who is so much more likable here than he was as Johnny Storm, the cocky Human Torch of the Fantastic 4 movies, a delectable star turn from Atwell, and a terrific accent from Weaving, with or without flesh on his head, and Captain America adds up to a good movie.
But the heartbreak is this good movie could’ve been great.