Wednesday, August 3, 2011


“Rocketeer” director Joe Johnston’s “Captain America” (**** OUT OF ****) amounts to a timeless David versus Goliath tale set in the Marvel Comics’ universe where good always trumps evil. Unlike “Thor” and “Green Lantern,” “Captain America” ranks as a thoroughly spectacular but larger-than-life extravaganza with a genuinely charismatic hero struggling against a marvelously malignant villain. Chris Evans’ engaging performance as the ‘First Avenger’ is something else, too! If you recall, Evans had the time of his life several years ago playing egotistical Johnny Storm, aka ‘the Human Torch,’ in the two “Fantastic Four” flicks. Make no mistake; Evans is nothing like he was in those two super heroic sagas. Indeed, “Captain America” boasts some amazing special effects, but its best special effect is the sincerity that Evans brings to the role of Steve Rogers. Whether he plays Rogers as either a scrawny, 98-pound zero or a brawny, fleet-footed hero, Evans imparts heart to this $140-million thriller. During the first half of “Captain America,” Johnston gradually builds the momentum to let us grow accustomed to Evans as a scrappy little fellow who suffers the wrath of bullies. This pathetic weakling refuses to let anybody keep him down, and it’s fun because Evans makes it look so authentic despite the obvious CGI effects. Hugo Weaving registers as the ideal villain who holds the upper hand throughout most of the supercharged shenanigans. Tommy Lee Jones and Hayley Atwell co-star respectively as Captain America’s superior and his love interest.

“Captain America” opens in the present before it reverts to the past. Typically, movies with contemporary openings and endings sacrifice any sense of suspense. After all, you know if the characters thrive in the present that they must not have suffered in the past. Basically, this constitutes nothing more than a narrative cinematic convention. The chief difference here is that we’re only given a glimpse of Captain America’s legendary star-spangled shield instead of the eponymous protagonist himself. Anyway, the film unfolds in the frozen wasteland of the Arctic Circle as a Russian oil expedition stumbles onto something buried in the ice. They contact the Americans who slice into the ice with a laser, find a commodious craft of unknown origin, and uncover a circular red, white, and blue shield with a star. The scene shifts to March 1942 as despicable Nazi officer Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving of “The Matrix”) and his men storm into T√łnsberg, Norway, and confiscate an enigmatic tesseract. Essentially, this is a magical cube boasting incalculable power. Supposedly, the tesseract was a fabulous jeweled artifact that belonged to the legendary Norse god Odin. Once anybody lays their eyes on it, they are no longer the same.

Meanwhile, in New York City, the U.S. military brands Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) unfit for duty owing to a myriad of health problems. The resilient Rogers tries to enlist again when his buddy James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes (Sebastian Stan of “Black Swan”) takes him to a showcase of futuristic technologies. Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci of “Easy A”) eavesdrops on Rogers' conversation with Barnes about his desperate need to get into combat. Suitably impressed by Rogers’ attitude, Erskine allows him to enlist. Moreover, Erskine recruits Rogers as part of a "super-soldier" experiment under the aegis of Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones of “Coal Miner's Daughter”) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell of “The Duchess”). Phillips displays considerable skepticism about Erskine's contention that Rogers qualifies as the ideal candidate for the procedure. One day during a training exercise, Phillips lobs a grenade among the recruits. Everybody but Rogers scrambles for cover, while he smothers the grenade with his frail body. Predictably, the grenade is a dummy, but Rogers’ act of self-sacrificing bravery convinces the colonel that he is the appropriate choice.

No sooner has Rogers emerged from the procedure as an entirely new man with a buffed up body than a Nazi saboteur steps in and kills Erskine. As it turns out, Erskine keep no notes except those in his head. After Erskine dies, Rogers experiences his new-found strength and captures the saboteur. The saboteur lives long enough to warn Rogers that he has to face more of his kind before he crunches on a cyanide capsule and croaks. Roger wins fame and acclaim across the country, but he suffers a setback because he is the first and only of his kind. Colonel Phillips reassigns him and Roger ends up at War Bond rallies where he acts like a cheerleader surrounded by dancing girls. Eventually, when our hero learns that his best friend has been caught, he disobeys orders and leads an inspirational rescue behind enemy lines. Now that Rogers has proven himself, he must face the Red Skull. The Red Skull is Nazi officer Johann Schmidt and he is so ambitious that he not only wants to crush America but also Adolf Hitler. Talk about a villain to end all villains!

Anybody who has read the reprints of the World War 2 era “Captain America” comic book should be thrilled with the way that “The Chronicles of Narnia” scenarists Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have handled the original material by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Of course, Johnston and his scribes have ratcheted up the hardware for the big transformation scene that turns Steve Rodgers into Captain America. In the original comic, instead of being injected with several drugs and sprawling in a large contraption, Rogers was given a vial of chemicals that he drank before he turned into the eponymous hero. Altogether, “Captain America” is a predictable but entertaining comic book movie with sensational special effects and a sympathetic hero. If you are a Marvel Comic fan, you should stick around after the lengthy end credits for a glimpse of the forthcoming “Avengers” film due for release in May 2012.