Captain America (2011)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 5/27/12
Director: Joe Johnston
Music: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, cameo by Samuel L. Jackson

After seeing Chris Evans' grippingly earnest performance in "The Avengers" (2012), I decided I needed to check out "Captain America." It's disappointing, but still enjoyable. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny asthmatic kid who desperately wants to go to Europe and fight the Axis powers during World War II, but the army keeps turning him down due to his medical history and frail physique. A chance encounter with a military scientist (Stanley Tucci) allows him to take part in an experiment to create super soldiers, which brings about the birth of a big and beefy Captain America. Initially used as a publicity gimmick to promote war bonds, he eventually finds his way to the front lines and makes a name for himself as a real hero. His mortal enemy is Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), who heads up a super powerful organization called Hydra, and the two of them clash over the fate of the world. Hydra's technology is based on the power of the Tesseract, a mystical artifact which ties into both "Thor" (2011) and "The Avengers."

Visually, the film looks great and the period costumes and sets are wonderful. Having directed "The Rocketeer" (1991), Joe Johnston is no stranger to the genre, and you can see hints of that film coming through in the tone and execution. For the first half of the film, Evans' head is awkwardly grafted onto the body of a short and skinny teenager, which definitely approaches the Uncanny Valley. His voice also doesn't seem to match his frame, which works against the effect. Otherwise, he gives a strong and solid performance. Hugo Weaving makes a delightful adversary as Red Skull and keeps the character strong and serious, where it would be so easy to go over-the-top crazy and campy. Tommy Lee Jones plays the cynical and wise-cracking Colonel Phillips, which lightens the overall tone, while Hayley Atwell provides a coy and conflicted love interest as British Agent Peggy Carter. Alan Silvestri delivers an upbeat and heroic score that nicely complements the time period. The production is about on par with what I expect from Marvel Studios these days, except that "The Avengers" has now significantly raised the bar.