For Your Information: Star Ratings Out Of Five (★★★★★) Stars

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger


Can the movie-going public really be so hungry for 3-D, big-screen superheroes that they'll settle for the most outdated and sickeningly wholesome one in existence: Captain America? I guess they must, cause here we are watching "Captain America: The First Avenger" -- a popcorn-propaganda action flick that feels like an eagle-scout produced live-action cartoon about American Military gusto. The central He-Man is Steven Rogers (Chris Evans), a stars-and-stripes adorned golden boy who spends most of the movie battling a Nazi scientist so evil even the Nazis sent him packing. Yet, considering the comic-book movie tripe we've been subjected to lately (Green Hornet, or Lantern... take your pick), a little wholesomeness isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"Captain America", for the most part, has the best intentions. And since the original comic strip -- first published during WWII -- was essentially a "be all you can be" Military leaflet in the form of action hero histrionics, the fact that the film does its best to reflect that is at least decorous. And the film, admirably, longs to relate messages about duty, friendship and self-confidence. This moralist quest is completely incorruptible and its hero is equally so.

Steven Rogers -- a Brooklyn kid who was probably "born on the fourth of July" -- longs to answer the call and join up with the Army. Problem is: he's a 90 pound asthmatic -- not exactly a super-soldier. Luckily, one of his stubborn attempts at enlisting leads him to Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) -- an Einstein-influenced, German-Jewish emigre with a knack for genetics -- who gives him ten minutes in an experimental steroid-incubator and Rogers comes out looking like Mark McGuire during his "record breaking" season.

Evans, who plays both the squirt and the beefcake, is probably better suited for the role than any other actor. He has a powerful yet unthreatening look to him that, especially while sporting that 40's combover, is archetypically All-American. As Evans plays the part with a sympathetic twinkle of self-doubt, he comes off as a gentle giant -- a man unaware of his own abilities. A parable for isolationist America, sure, but also a character made so righteous and forthright that he's immensely likable without every being truly compelling. We like our heroes with more flaws than that. Why? Because we have flaws.

Rogers' problems are fixed almost instantly after his man-meat microwaving and, even while he's forced to preform like a trained monkey at USO shows, he's at least helping the cause. Pretty soon he's given his trademark suit and shield and taking on Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), a devilish-red, mutant scientist. All the while he's playing footsie with Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), a British operative who beckons Rogers to love his scrawny self, but then, once he's a transformed stud, she falls under the spell of his sculpted pectorals.

It's fair to say that "Captain America" doesn't always practice what it preaches, yet, it is a serviceable summer blockbuster that makes the wise decision of never overreaching. Even more, it's not the worst tonic for a melancholic public who may have forgotten that American foreign policy once involved the ingenuity, integrity and resolve that the film's hero purely encapsulates. And this superhero doesn't have to worry so much about the "battle for Gotham's soul", the love of one red-headed coed, or his history as an alien orphan from Krypton; all he wants to do is fight for his country, no matter what. "Captain America" doesn't come close to achieving the wow-factor of those other comic-book titans, but how can you hate a guy with that kind of straight-arrow patriotism?

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