“…because a weak man knows the value of strength, the value of power,” says Dr. Erskine in a small but memorable performance from Stanley Tucci when asked why miniscule Steve Rogers would make the ideal super soldier. Captain America tells the story of a “small in size, but large in heart” wannabe Army soldier Steve Rogers, who becomes a government experiment, turning him into Captain America. Chris Evans does a fantastic job, playing both Captain America, as well as pre-injection Steve Rogers (with a little help from the CGI department).
It is, in fact, Evans’ convincing portrayal of Steve Rogers in the beginning of the movie that gives the film its heart, and makes the nearly invincible Captain America so worth watching. There’s a great scene when Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Colonel Chester Phillips, tosses a grenade into the team of recruits in an attempt to prove that Steve Rogers is not the right man for the job. While the other soldiers run away for safety, Steve Rogers jumps on top of the grenade (which turns out to be a dummy grenade) to save the lives of everyone around him. It’s one of those great moments that sets the tone for the entire movie, showing us why we want to follow this character into battle.
Many superhero movies feel like comic books on the screen, with flashy action sequences and larger than life characters. Although Captain America does have elements of this, it ultimately feels more like a World War II drama (with its beautiful battle sequences and gritty realism) that just happens to feature a colorfully dressed soldier with an extremely patriotic shield. And, yes, there are some cheesy moments (a memorable montage of Captain America selling war bonds and a slew of one-liners from Tommy Lee Jones come to mind), but these moments do not feel out of place. In fact, these lighter moments simply enhance the rest of the—at times, very dark—story.
Director Joe Johnston creates a film that feels, in many ways, like a film he helmed two decades ago, The Rocketeer. Both films feature a strong superhero (or superhero-esque) protagonist, both films take place during World War II, and both films combine a mostly dark story with moments of lightness and wit. Johnston’s stamp is felt strongly in Captain America and let’s hope that his next film is more like this and less like his most recent Wolfman. Thank you, Mr. Johnston, for getting back to your pre-2000 glory days.
Aside from a (surprisingly) one note, albeit entertaining villain, portrayed by the talented Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), there are very few flaws of which to speak. With so many complex and interesting villains coming out in films the last few years, it was slightly disappointing to see a bad guy with absolutely no positive qualities (he may as well have been twisting his mustache while tying a girl to a train track). That aside, however, Captain America delivers the thrills, romance, and spectacle that should be expected of a comic book movie, while still being extraordinarily character driven and rooted in reality. If you’re going to see a superhero movie this year, make sure that it’s Captain America.