Okay, so I am probably the last person on earth to see Captain America: The First Avenger. What a pleasant surprise! I was expecting something long, boring and overambitious, like Ang Lee’s wildly misbegotten Hulk (2003). Inside, I got a charming fantasy about a little guy with nothing to offer but heart, who in the course of trying to fight Nazis finds himself rebooted into a superbeing (not to mention a super looking being).
In 1940s wartime Brooklyn, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a ninety-pound weakling with asthma, multiple health disorders and a hero’s unshakable resolve. Desperate to enlist, he tries over and over, always branded 4-F. Then a scientist chooses Steve for his Super Soldier Serum, and Steve is reborn. (Ironically enough, into the very picture of that “master race” the Nazis were keen on creating.) Meanwhile, the first recipient of that serum, Johann Schmidt (the always brilliant Hugo Weaving) has been transformed into the villainous Red Skull. His master plan? To use a stolen gem from Odin’s treasure house to power a series of bombs that will “decimate” New York City and all other major U.S. cities. (English being his second language, I don’t think old Skullie realizes he’ll only be killing one in ten people.)
We don’t know how the gem was stolen from Odin, why it was needed to create Infernal Weapons (in a world that already possessed the atom bomb) or even how the Red Skull’s shockingly non-aerodynamic bomber stays aloft. But we know this: Hugo Weaving is more intimidating without the red makeup, Hayley Atwell is a delight as trigger-happy Peggy, and Steve will Do What’s Right. He’s an endearing character and Chris Evans hits all the right notes. Also, Tommy Lee Jones is at his best at the sort of role he was born to play — a bad-tempered hardass with a soft heart. If you enjoy comic book movies, fantasy violence and stylish fun, see Captain America.