For a summer blockbuster, Captain America: The First Avenger stands up remarkably well.
Perhaps it’s the film’s faithful attention to detail as it portrays ’40s America, or because it chronicles a simpler era, when the lines were clearly drawn in what can be considered as the last “just war”.
Drawn from the Marvel Comics pantheon of comic-book heroes, Captain America was the pre-eminent and best-selling title for Marvel’s predecessor, Timely Comics. Its first issue sold a million copies on its debut in March 1941.
A full six months before Pearl Harbor, its uncompromising cover featured the Captain punching Adolf Hitler in the jaw.
The same unabashed patriotism pervades the film. With a straight-ahead plot that doesn’t rely excessively on special effects, Captain America moves along sharply and entertains well.
Chris Evans, last seen locally in 2010’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, plays Steve Rogers, a skinny kid from Brooklyn seeking to join the US army. He’s rejected as physically unfit for service, but his determination arouses the interest of a special division working on a serum they hope will produce a super-soldier.
Rogers volunteers for the program, and is soon transformed into a new kind of patriot/superhero. Although he has no super powers, the serum endows him with amazing endurance and an enhanced immune system.
The army realizes that his strengths are too valuable to waste in combat, and instead decks him out in an American flag-themed costume, and sends him on USO tours promoting Victory Bonds, accompanied by a bevy of similarly bedecked chorus girls.
This is perhaps one of the film’s most amusing moments, as unlike predecessors Thor and Green Lantern this season, it displays a welcome capacity for self-parody.
The wartime media machine soon turns its public relations spotlight on Rogers, churning out jingoistic comic books featuring the new all-American hero in his patriotic get-up, a ploy that works until he’s booed off the stage by a troop of soldiers who find his antics less than entertaining.
But when the soldiers of the division he’s attached to all disappear behind enemy lines, Rogers vows to rescue them singlehandedly, and his combat role begins.
Along the way to the heroic rescue of his compatriots, he encounters the forces of Hydra, a secret German division rivalling Hitler himself, employing advanced technology and led by the diabolical Red Skull.
Australian actor Hugo Weaving, who played in the Matrix series and was the voice of Megatron in the Transformers series, plays the Red Skull, a lobster-visaged villain who looks like Voldemort with a terminal case of sunburn.
He proves a formidable opponent for Captain America, who heads off in pursuit of the Hydra mastermind in an attempt to thwart a plot to bomb New York City and Chicago.
For my money, Captain America is easily the best of this summer’s crop of comic book-based movies this summer. Its virtue is its straightforwardness. Its hero is not conflicted with angst, he’s just a square, uncomplicated patriotic figure.
The film’s treatment is also square and unembellished, with a pulpy quality that owes much to the days of Saturday afternoon serials and their uncomplicated heroes and villains.
Captain America plays at the Qwanlin Cinema Centre at 7:00 and 9:30 pm, with weekend matinees at 1:00 and 3:30 pm, and is rated PG for violence, not recommended for young children.
Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.