If a man in a giant bat costume can be rationalized – intensely and dramatically – then so too can a man named Captain America. The name alone makes my skin crawl; it’s filled with so much camp and pomp. When I imagined what such a film would feel like I thought of Independence Day, a movie so USA-centric that it ends with the president declaring that American Independence Day is now a holiday the whole world celebrates. I guess you can do that when you’re the president and a jet fighter pilot. Swoon! With that as my prejudice, this movie had some challenges to overcome in the battle of authenticity versus believability. However, I am happy to report that Captain America nailed it.
You’ve probably heard a rumour that some part of the movie takes place in present day. Those are just bookends and are only there to position the Captain for next year’s super hero buffet The Avengers. The meat of the movie takes place in 1943 when we find a short, thin, sickly Steve Rogers attempting to enlist in the army for the fifth time. The justification for his passion is not found in the passing reference to his parents serving/dying in the Great War and is mostly attributed to his physical feebleness. In the first act, every character who is any character will made a snide remark about getting that boy a sandwich or telling a story about Rogers getting beat up. He is so picked on – yet so determined – that you can’t wait for him to become Captain America. And, of course, that’s the whole point; he was chosen to become a super soldier because he understands the value of power.
Once Steve Rogers is transformed, he kicks Red Skull’s ass and takes home the girl, right? No, he does not! What happens next is a brilliant sequence that makes the movie work. Immediately after becoming the most powerful man on Earth, Rogers is ordered to tour with a USO variety show, performing as cheesy, cartoonish hero named Captain America. His job is to make patriotic speeches, ask for donations to the army, and fake-punch fake-Hitler for cheering fans. This sequence is interesting because Rogers is physically powerful but not mentally powerful. We are reminded that Steve Rogers was fallible as a boy and continues to be as a man, still unable to take control of his life. This sequence is also a fantastic script choice because it recognizes the cheesiness of the character. From there, his image evolves but uses those origins as explanation for why Rogers maintains the suit and shield.
He eventually manages to wrangle his way back into the army and kick some ass. Oh yes, so much ass is kicked. He’s just badass! He’s a bit of a brawler, booting Nazis out of the way, and cracking skulls with his shield. He is eventually accompanied by a team of hand picked soldiers whose brief appearances are fun and well moustachioed. There are also some great supporting performances, such as Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark, Iron Man’s father. An army technologist, Cooper’s Stark is perfectly Downey Jr. inspired. Of course, we can’t forget Chris Evans who does a really nice job. He’s subtle, he’s vulnerable, he’s powerful. He’s acting!
Technically, the movie is great. There are several great set pieces to enjoy which are well paced. The 3D doesn’t make too much of itself and the CGI somehow comes across as minimal except when necessary. The Red Skull costume is excellently monstrous, yet simple.
This is a comic movie done right. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely took the Batman Begins approach and took the time to construct a believable Steve Rogers before transforming him. Director Joe Johnston makes the whole thing shine, doing a nice job with the colours and action.
Overall, it’s one of the best comic book adaptations I’ve seen and makes me excited for The Avengers. Make sure you stay after the credits for a teaser. But if you don’t like intense giggling and slappy fights with your friends, you should probably skip it.