Starring Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones and Hugo Weaving
Some comic-book heroes are tailor-made for the big screen. The iconic and dark crime stories of “Batman” seem perfectly suited for a film. The high-tech action of “Iron Man” is something that makes for a good popcorn movie, as does the epic fantasy landscapes of Asgard in “Thor.’ The one comic adaptation I was most intellectually curious and concerned about was “Captain America.”
“Captain America” was one of those superheroes I always loved as a kid, but as I get older, I begin to understand the ridiculousness of a guy who puts on a red, white and blue uniform—complete with tiny eagle wings on his head. He fights for truth, justice and the American way. He came from an irony-free time where a guy dressed like a flag could kill our enemies with a wink and a smile, and plant the stars ‘n’ stripes in the ass cracks of our fallen enemies.
His origin was always a little less nuanced than other comic-book alter egos. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny kid who wants to punch Nazis in the face, but his health issues prevent him from enlisting. He’s an honest, well-intentioned guy who only wants to do what is right. He’s given the opportunity to serve his country by becoming a guinea pig for some army scientists who turn him into a super-soldier by shooting him up with a special serum and exposing him to radiation.
The experiment is a success, and just like that, scrawny Steve Rogers is transformed into the embodiment of everything right with our way of life. The army uses him as a poster boy to sell war bonds, dressing him in a ridiculous outfit, teaming him with some leggy dames and trotting him out to audiences with the USO. While Steve is glad to help, he was hoping his involvement in the war would involve more machine guns and less choreography. While touring through Europe, Steve finally gets his chance to shine, heading into enemy territory to rescue some captured soldiers from the evil organization known as Hydra.
Led by the villainous Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), Hydra has gone from the scientific wing of the Nazi army to its own evil organization with its own schemes for world domination. With the help of a relic known as “the cosmic cube,” he now has an arsenal that includes laser guns, gigantic building-sized tanks, and bombs that can wipe cities off the map in microseconds. Since total annihilation and enslavement of the human race don’t really match up with America’s foreign policy, we send Captain America and friends to save the day.
Captain America is an earnest character in an extremely earnest film. The line between right and wrong is as clearly drawn as the red and white on an American flag. The Red Skull is evil. Captain America is everything right with the world: He’s a boy scout who always does the right thing and will sacrifice himself if necessary to save the lives of others.
It’s funny when compared to our current cynical age how refreshing a clean-cut do-gooder seems. There’s no dark side or hidden agenda. Steve Rogers is the kind of person we all wish we were a little more like. Director Joe Johnston captures the spirit of the character and revels in the way he gets to stage his own wacky version of World War II.
More than any other comic-book film wihin the past few years, “Captain America” feels most closely linked to the source material. This is a grand comic-book-style movie. There aren’t any overblown themes or valuable lessons. It’s just good, old-fashioned, action-adventure filmmaking at its finest. The action is big and bright; the movie isn’t afraid to poke fun of the propaganda-like nature of a guy in tights, clad in red, white and blue. Chris Evans has been around for awhile, but it seems he’s finally found a role that could bring him crossover success. He develops the kind of sincerity to a role that could have easily ended up cornier than a river of Canola.
Not everyone throws themselves into the film with Evans’ energy. Tommy Lee Jones sleepwalks through a textbook-commanding officer role. Hugo Weaving does his best to make Red Skull remorselessly evil but doesn’t really have anything to do other than opine about world domination.
There’s not a lot of nuance to “Captain America.” Nuance would have strangled a movie like this. Still, it’s a fun, action-packed adventure, with a little romance, and it ends up being pretty damn endearing.