Before superheroes got all dark, twisty and self-conflicted they were simple stalwart representations of idealised concepts. You know, stuff like truth, justice and machine-washable spandex. Such a one is Captain America, a superhero who’s brave, strong and holds evil-doers in contempt. While this sounds like every other superhero out there, Cap the movie is different – it’s cracking adventure, equal parts funny and action-packed and loyal to fanboys without sacrificing momentum.
It’s the 1940s and puny 90 pound weakling Steve Rogers is desperate to join the army so he can fight Nazis. He’s so desperate that he’s tried enlisting in five different cities to no avail. That is until his persistence catches the eye of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who sees something in him greater than in common soldiery. After proving he has characteristics beyond the physical, Steve is strapped into the good doctor’s magical sarcophagus and injected with super serum, after which he emerges with a body straight out of a Charles Atlas promotional poster.
But Steve is just one soldier and so is given the unenviable task of selling bonds to families by performing in theatres as a mascot. Keen to do more, he gets his chance when a squad of men is held hostage by Hydra, a rogue Nazi weapons research division led by the sinister Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and with the help of dashing special agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Iron Man’s dad Howard Stark (Dominic West), he leads a mission to get them back.
The early scenes do well to establish Steve Rogers as a determined and spirited character with a sense of justice who is easy to get behind, even before he becomes a pumped up perfect specimen, Evans is convincing both as plucky punch bag and herculean hero.
Director Joe Johnston captures the retro feeling of the age perfectly, a kind of optimistic futurism in which flying cars will be the vehicles of tomorrow. This leads to the film’s best and most memorable scene – a surprisingly well-judged and funny (not to mention ear-wormingly catchy) song and dance routine which provides an explanation for Cap’s conspicuous costume in a nod to his original writers.
Peggy Carter also shines as a character in her own right; she’s not just a girlfriend to hang off Cap’s arm, and she gives as good as she gets. Tommy Lee Jones is also on good form as Colonel Chester Phillips and gets some of the best lines of the film thanks to some great comic timing.
But the real star is Hugo Weaving as The Red Skull. Weaving’s got an odd face at the best of times, which (along with Willem Dafoe) looks like it’s made entirely of polygons. This makes him perfect for villains and here his unblinking stony stare is constantly unsettling. This is coupled with accent that sounds like an eerily accurate Werner Herzog impression which makes him a formidable and memorable villain.
And because we care about the characters, the action scenes are exciting and thrilling. CGI is used liberally but director Joe Johnston has wisely decided to keep special effects special by using them to enhance action scenes rather than substitute for them.
That’s not to say that Cap is without its problems. There are numerous plot nitpicks which will niggle away at viewers. For example, why does the Captain hold on to his old shield with the stars and stripes motif when behind enemy lines, when at this point it’s about as useful as an ironing board?
However, the biggest problem is the use of the modern bookends intended to tie Captain America to the forthcoming Avengers movie next year. They rob the film of the satisfying ending that Cap should have had; a feeble final punch in an otherwise muscular production. Regardless, Captain America is still one of the finest in Marvel Studios’ canon, which along with Iron Man should be the standard to which all future Marvel movies aspire.