I have to admit, I didn't have high expectations for the Captain America movie. They're tried to adapt it twice before and... well, it was ridiculous. And I'm not just talking about the costume.
So it came as a pleasant surprise that this latest comic book movie is not only better than the previous adaptations of Captain America's story, but is a robust, action-packed thriller in its own right. "Captain America: The First Avenger" has an earnest, idealistic tone mingled sometimes poignant realism -- exactly what it needs to have.
The time: World War II. Scrawny asthmatic Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) desperately wants to defend his country, but he's too puny to enter the army. Dr. Abraham Erskine sees the goodness and courage in Steve's heart, and enlists him in a top-secret experiment to create a super-soldier. Within minutes, Steve has superhuman strength, speed and big shiny muscles. HOORAY!
Unfortunately, the army seems more interested in using the superpowered Captain America as a mascot than a fighter. Are you really surprised? This is the GOVERNMENT we're talking about.
When Steve learns that his best buddy has been captured by the Nazis, he singlehandedly invades an enemy base and rescues dozens of soldiers. But this brings him to the attention of the Nazi super-science division Hydra, and its malevolent leader Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) -- who is the only other man as strong as Captain America.
This summer has had a lot of comic book movies -- some were horribly disappointing ("Green Lantern," "Priest") and some were wonderful ("Thor"). I wasn't entirely sure which kind of movie "Captain America: The First Avenger" would be, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well-written and solidly-plotted it was.
There's also a lot of gritty, smoky action with flying bullets (and shields), fiery explosions, and speeding trains carrying machine-gun robots. But the writers don't neglect the human side of Captain America's story, whether it's his friendship with a fellow soldier or his budding romance with an icy sharpshooter.
My biggest criticism is the MacGuffinness of the subplot MacGuffin, which really doesn't do anything except also be an unnecessary deus ex machina. Really, was there ANY reason for the Odin cube to be in this?
As for the cast, they're uniformly solid. Chris Evans plays Steve as earnest, sweet and loyal, but with iron-clad determination and plenty of courage, and he's backed by excellent performances by Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones and a steely-nerved sharpshooting Hayley Atwell. And Hugo Weaving is AWESOME -- this guy can play a Nazi in a red latex mask, and still come across as insanely scary.
"Captain America: The First Avenger" is a lot like Captain America himself -- robust, action-packed, with a good earnest heart at its core. Thoroughly enjoyable.