Bravo to Joe Johnston, who finds the sweet spot with Captain America: The First Avenger, churning out an occasionally workmanlike but immensely enjoyable over-the-top action flick.

rating: 4

No one could deny America€™s stranglehold on the action market in the 1980€™s €“ a series of shoot-em-up big-budget extravaganzas embedded into the fantasies of adolescent boys who grew up on muscled heroes taking on do-or-die missions, machine gun in hand. Cheese aplenty, but the best films to come out of the era, like Mark L. Lester€™s Commando, had a fine sense of tone, acknowledging the inherent comedy in watching a bulky Schwarzenegger face off against a villain with an outfit inspired by either The Village People or late-career Freddy Mercury. Bravo then to Joe Johnston, who finds the sweet spot with Captain America: The First Avenger, churning out an occasionally workmanlike but immensely enjoyable over-the-top action flick. With Captain America, Marvel Studios continue to build on an interconnected universe that will come to a head with Joss Whedon€™s The Avengers next summer. The story of brave but scrawny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is familiar even to those who haven€™t ever picked up a comic book €“ it€™s the purest version of the triumph of the underdog, so Johnston (along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) plays it with a wink and a frequent smile. Evans is rightly cast for the role, despite an eerie CGI-job with his head stacked on top of a 90-pound, 5 foot body for the first 40 minutes of the film. (Yup, that sequence looks no better in the film that it did in the trailer). Steve Rogers can€™t make it past the doctors at the recruitment center €“ weak and racked with a variety of health issues, the young patriot can€™t wait to get on the front lines but instead has to watch his friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) enlist and ship out. Rogers crosses paths with sympathetic Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, reminding us why he€™s a damn irreplaceable supporting actor), who inducts Steve into the Super Soldier program, overseen by Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones, cracking wise and looking just the right kind of too old for this shit), Dr. Erskine and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper). The experiment is successful and Steve emerges gifted with an advanced sense of healing, strength and speed €“ how he will put these gifts in action on the front lines remains to be seen. Back in Deutschland, the first test subject of Erskine€™s super serum plans the annihilation of all those that will stand in the way of the Hydra, Hitler€™s occult division. The subject is none other than Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), scarred both internally and externally but possessing some of the same qualities that will make Captain America a symbol. Skull has €œliberated€ the Cosmic Cube, a source of extraordinary power (we are told it was once in the possession of Odin, linking Thor to this film). With the help of Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), Skull outfits his men with superior weaponry, but he€™s not counting on Captain America and his squadron to tear it up base by Hydra base. Aided by a robust Alan Silvestri score and a generally unnecessary but not distracting post-3D conversion, Captain America deals largely in absolutes: the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and the soldiers on a mission are here to prove that good wins over evil. The relationships (Hayley Atwell does well as no-nonsense love interest Peggy) are developed just enough so that you have an emotional anchor as the film runs a breathless two hour course. Exposition is an all time low and once Steve Rogers is done proving himself to be a man with a heart of gold, we are treated to scene after scene of Captain America wielding his signature shield and kicking ass against squadrons of Wolfenstein 3D rejects (I mean that in the best possible way). The scale is appropriately huge, with Hydra bases seemingly endless monoliths with machinery pumping non-stop. A final set piece aboard a futuristic jet fighter makes great use of the confined spaces €“ the general atmosphere, provided by DP Shelly Johnson, is reminiscent of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow with a dash of Saving Private Ryan. For fans of the Marvel universe, the film features satisfying tips of the several proverbial hats, but anyone can get on board and enjoy the show. Overall, Captain America: The First Avenger is a comfortable fit, a satisfying superhero popcorn film that doesn€™t take itself too seriously but still gets you rooting and clapping. It€™s one of the best times you€™ll have at the movies this summer €“ make sure to get plenty of cheese on your nachos. Captain America is released in the U.S. on Friday and in the U.K. on Friday July 29th.

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