Take away the (frankly lame) 3-D and a few CGI bells and whistles, and Captain America: The First Avenger feels like the kind of movie a little tyke might’ve sprung 10 cents for in 1945 and caught as part of a double-feature matinee.
And that’s exactly what director Joe Johnston is going for.
This is an old-fashioned movie, set during WWII and based on the popular Marvel comic book, with a 98 pound weakling named Steve (even the name Steve feels so charmingly square, doesn’t it?) who just wants to fight bullies (read: Nazis) overseas. He keeps trying to enlist, but gets rejected because he’s too frail.
But a German scientist (Stanley Tucci), with loyalties to the Allies, recognizes Steve’s true strength (of character, that is) and recruits him for a secret project: He’s going to turn into a Steve a super soldier.
So Steve goes into this sci-fi-ish looking metal chamber, surrounded by men in white lab coats, and emerges looking like, well, Chris Evans. The CGI here is great—for the film’s first half hour, they managed to plausibly shrink the buff Evans into a cute wimp (using a body double whose face is replaced by Evans’—Winklevoss-twin-style). Steve’s newly rippled muscles, however, require no special effects—they were apparently created by Evans in the gym (and/or by God, depending on your point of view).
A forward-thinking Senator sees Steve’s potential for propaganda and promotes him as Captain America—all-American hero, Nazi-killer, and, of course, war bonds salesmen. But Steve is itchin’ to do some real fighting. So he joins forces with the gruff Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), the beautiful agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), and Dominic Cooper’s dashing scientist Howard Stark—aka Iron Dad—to fight the evil Dr. Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a Nazi scientist who has taken this über-mensch thing a little too literally.
I guess I enjoyed the first half of the film (as Steve is transformed and then exploited) more than the second (as he becomes a one-man Nazi killing machine) but there is fun to be had throughout. All the supporting cast is spot-on—although Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci are particularly welcome presences. And Chris Evans, who can rival even Ryan Reynolds for smirks-per-second, downplays his frat-boyish jocularity and makes Steve appealingly earnest.
As for the ending? Without giving too much away, it’s a doozy. Hint: There’s a reason this film is subtitled The First Avenger. (And be sure to stay through the credits for a little fanboy goosing.)