Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) ***1/2

It should really be no contest.  In the Marvel/Avengers universe you have the Iron Man franchise, featuring an awesome, flying, rocket-shooting suit, inhabited by the wisecracking Robert Downey, Jr.  Then you have Captain America, a musty, earnest, old, WWII-era patriot.  The “Iron Man” franchise should easily be superior in every way, with its messages about renewable energy and its complex, flawed-genius hero.  And yet, I found myself enjoying “Captain America: The First Avenger” much more than I did “Iron Man.”
Maybe it’s because “Captain America” has the courage to play it straight.  Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers not as some complicated/dark/glib anti-hero, but as a genuinely swell guy who happens to be scrawny and asthmatic.  He stands up to bullies, and, like Cool Hand Luke, he keeps getting up every time they knock him down.  Steve’s greatest wish is to join the Army with his friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan) to fight the Nazis.  While he has the heart, the rest of him is completely unfit for military service.  Then his multiple attempts to enlist bring him to the attention of an Army doctor (Stanley Tucci) who is recruiting volunteers for a military experiment.  The procedure turns Rogers into a buff, superhuman fighting machine.  Meanwhile, the Nazis have their own superman, the megalomaniacal Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving).  Schmidt gains access to an energy-filled cube called the Teseract, and uses its power to create unstoppable weaponry.  Wearing red, white, and blue, Rogers sets out to stop him.
What makes “Captain America” compelling is that it isn’t about the muscles.  Whether he is skinny or buff, Steve Rogers has a lot of heart.  It’s what makes him willing to give his life to save others, where Iron Man’s Tony Stark seems like he would rather be hitting on Gwyneth Paltrow than saving the world.  Maybe that makes “Captain America” a bit earnest for our age, or maybe it’s just old-fashioned enough to feel new.  The Captain America sequel “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” comes out this spring, and I’ll definitely give it a chance.

3.5 stars out of 5

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