There’s something refreshingly dependable about “Captain America: The First Avenger.” It’s like an old pickup truck; it’s low on frills, gets you where you need to go, and only occasionally lets you down (stupid carburetor!)
For those of you unfamiliar with your comic book history, Captain America debuted in 1941 and spent the war years fighting Axis powers and socking Hitler on the jaw.
Here in 2011, Captain America is the final character to be introduced before next summer’s super-mega-super-hero-extravaganza, “The Avengers,” where Cap will be united with contemporary blockbuster-makers like Iron Man, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk.
But before all that, Captain America needs his own movie; and fortunately for us the powers that be decided to keep the World War II motif in place to introduce the movie-going world to this star-spangled hero.
At the height of the war, we meet Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a 98-pound weakling from Brooklyn with a list of ailments so long he wouldn’t be allowed to join the Cub Scouts, let alone the airborne infantry.
But Steve is determined to serve his country and after several failed attempts to enlist, he catches the eye of Army Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanly Tucci, who has never phoned in a performance in his life and isn’t about to start now), who decides that young Steve would be a perfect candidate for his top-secret, super-soldier serum.
Steve is transformed into a muscle-bound, manly man (fortunately putting an end to the scenes where clunky special effects grafted Evan’s head onto a smaller body).
In spite of some doubts by commanding officer Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), Steve is allowed to join a special division that includes Brit beauty Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and inventor and industrialist Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), who just so happens to be Tony “Iron Man” Stark’s daddy.
Equipped with his signature, indestructible shield Captain America takes to the battlefield to face off against HYDRA, Hitler’s secret science division headed by the gruesomely deformed Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).
What makes “Captain America” interesting is that it is simultaneously a war movie and a superhero movie, executing all the trappings of both very well.
This brings home the idea that maybe these two genres weren’t all that far apart, to begin with, especially when you consider that John Wayne was basically playing Captain America in every war movie he was in. (We can debate The Duke’s possession of superpowers at another time).
Director Joe Johnston (whose best work includes “The Rocketeer”) has some problems with pacing because “Captain America” is never as rip-roaring as it should be. Still, action fans will not be disappointed as there are plenty of “Blams!” and “Ka-Pows!” to go around.
I’m still on the fence about Evans’ performance. On one hand, there’s not a lot of zap and charisma to his character, but on the other the dogged determination he brings to the role is admirable.
The final verdict will come next summer when he is thrown into the mix with the oversized personalities of his superhero brethren.
Until then, “Captain America” is a solid little piece of summer entertainment and a fine way to beat the heat in the air-conditioned cool of your local cineplex.
“Captain America: The First Avenger” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action.