Captain America: The First Avenger is a fun origin story in the Spider-Man model. It’s got the heart of an underdog really experiencing the wonder of his new powers. I’m not saying it’s as good as Sam Raimi’s film, but I’ll take a solid copy of that over the likes of Thor or even the amusing Green Lantern.
The film spends a healthy first act on Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as the digitally shrunken 90 lb. weakling. It establishes Rogers’ nobility and sincerity well so that you’re really proud of him when he becomes the super soldier, instead of resenting Evans for having such impressive abs.
The ‘40s World War II setting does a lot to enhance the sense of wonder of a comic book movie. You really get to live in a fantasy world, with old New York City and a World’s Fair-esque Stark expo. The idea of Captain America first used as a marketing tool to sell war bonds makes the period really engaging. You get to see production numbers and the patriotism feels innocent when it’s WWII.
Supporting characters shine in this section too. Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) is hardass deadpan funny. Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) never overdoes it as a potential love interest. The movie never really allows Rogers to enjoy his new ladies man status, but at least Carter isn’t reduced to an object.
Meanwhile Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) is so evil that the Nazis are too small time for him, so he starts his own Hydra party. Eventually we have to stop having fun so Rogers can rescue the troops Schmidt captured, expose him as Red Skull and fight bigger and badder opponents.
The action is actually not Captain America’s strong suit. A lot of it looks obviously green screen. I mean, when there are miles and miles of factory or warehouse behind them, I know they didn’t build that set. That makes a chase scene lack any feeling of distance. There are no knockdown, drag-out fights. Each confrontation has one gag that the enemy tries against Cap, and then he solves it.
It’s still fun to see the Steve Rogers we know is all heart finally get a body to match. His first foot chase through New York has the thrill of discovering his own strength, along with a few goofy jumps from car to car. A train sequence is well constructed, though still 50/50 fake looking. The montage really highlights all of Cap’s moves, and plenty of lame CG shots too, but it showcases his powers and there could be a whole other movie in those WWII missions.
I enjoyed the film overall, I’m just explaining why it’s not quite Spider-Man, or X-Men: First Class or even Iron Man. But if the fans of Iron Man can forgive a 15 minute flashback including a Powerpoint presentation of Stark family backstory, they should love Captain America equally, flaws and all.