A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
It was a pleasure to realize, once "Captain America: The First Avenger" got under way, that hey, here is a real movie, not a noisy assembly of incomprehensible special effects. Of course it's loaded with CGI. It goes without saying it's preposterous. But it has the texture and takes the care to be a full-blown film. You know, like with a hero we care about and who has some dimension. And with weight to the story. As we plunge ahead into a limitless future of comic-book movies, let this be an inspiration rather than "Thor" or "Green Lantern."
The words "The First Avenger" are fraught with significance for Marvel fans. We have already had films inspired by Iron Man, the Hulk and Thor. Still to come, without doubt, are Ant-Man and Wasp. This film opens with the discovery of an enormous flying wing embedded in polar ice, and when a gloved hand reaches out to brush away the ice on a window, why, there's Captain America's shield! This film's plot involves his origin story and adventures during World War II, and I'm sure we'll discover in sequels that he was revived after the cryogenic nap to crusade again in the new day.
We open with an archetypal 90-pound weakling; comic books of that period featured ads showing muscle men kicking sand into the face of such specimens, who were advised to mail-order Charles Atlas for body-building help. Young Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a puny Brooklyn kid who is routinely beat upon by bullies; he dreams of joining the Army and defending America against the Nazis. Turned down as 4-F, he tries again and again to enlist, and eventually makes it into basic training, where he's always falling off the rope and bringing up the rear.
But the kid has courage. This attracts the attention of the hard-boiled Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and a scientist named Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who supervises a secret government program. In no time at all, and without really receiving any explanation, he's being strapped into an ominous sarcophagus in Erskine's laboratory, which emits sparks and smoke, and eventually the new Steve Rogers, now a foot taller and built like Mr. Universe. He adopts a costume and a stars-and-stripes shield, which serve primarily to make him highly visible, although the shield has special powers (but apparently only when it's positioned correctly).