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Movie Review: 'Captain America: The First Avenger'

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Last edited 1:25 p.m., July 29, 2011

“Captain America: The First Avenger”
Directed by:  Joe Johnston
Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Samuel L. Jackson
Rated: PG-13

If you've seen any of the recent Marvel Comics superhero movies, you've no doubt seen Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (played by Samuel L. Jackson), in cameos hawking another Marvel film. As we've learned from the first “Thor” movie, the second “Hulk” outing and both episodes of “Iron Man,” Marvel's “The Avengers,” featuring the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man and Captain America will be hitting screens in the spring of 2012. It seems it's being positioned as Marvel's most thrilling film to date.

If films have taught us anything, they have proven that sometimes, what seems like a good idea on paper doesn't quite translate to the screen. I keep that in mind when viewing previews for “The Avengers.” I'm not sure if this many superheroes can check their super egos at the door.

There are so many mutants - both good and bad - in the latest “X-Men” film outing that it's nearly impossible to keep them all straight. “The Avengers” may suffer from that syndrome. It remains to be seen.

In “Captain America: The First Avenger,” the action takes place in the 1940s when America was engaged in World War II. Young Steve Rogers is a textbook example of the 98-pound weakling seen in millions of comic books. He desperately wants to enlist and fight the Nazi menace, but he's simply too scrawny.

Watching Rogers at every one of his attempts to get in the Army is Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). They have some sympathy for the kid and notice that while the body may be scrawny, Steve Rogers's heart is big, brave and full of commitment. Phillips and Erskine think the kid might be just the specimen they've been looking for. They need to test a new, top secret biological weapon. It's a serum that can turn an ordinary (even puny) person into a super-soldier housed in a perfect human specimen's body.

The closest “real life” has come to this type of experiment was seen the year baseball player Barry Bonds showed up with a head three times the size of the one he'd been seen sporting at the end of the previous season. There were a number of extensive, showy and serious investigations. Major League Baseball, much like Claude Rains at the end of “Casablanca,” was shocked at the thought of high paid baseball “heroes” using banned substances.

A lot of people feel the same way in “Captain America.” Tampering with mother nature can get you in trouble. But the Nazis manage to scarf the last remaining vial of “super-soldier serum” and set about creating one of their own.

In the meantime, back on the American front, Rogers/Captain America has been rolled out as entertainment for the troops, and while it's always a good thing to take care of our fighting men and women, Captain America's gig is a bit disheartening for a bona fide super hero.

The good Captain gets back to serious work when he decides to go after a Nazi who is so crazy the other Nazis are afraid of him. Hugo Weaving plays Johann Schmidt/the Red Skull and does so with a nice flair for scare. The Red Skull has his own army and plans on deposing Hitler and then taking over the world with the help of the occult and some dandy (if completely improbable) scientific/magic gadgets.

Captain America has a love interest, of course. Here it's agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), and in her tight military skirt and bountiful, ruby red lips, she quite resembles many pin-up girls of that era.

The last acts in this kind of film are never surprises, and there are none here. The film's ending leaves little doubt that Marvel is going for a franchise here.

We're all used to the concept of CGI, the art/science that has stretched the envelope of special effect capabilities in films. In “Captain America,” the filmmakers use it in an unusual way. Sure there are explosions, crashes and chases,  but the most interesting effect was that used on the body of Steve Rogers/Captain America. In the early, pre-Captain scenes, actor Chris Evans appears to be quite small, frail and scrawny. But after the injections, he sports a superhero body. In reality, he's closer to the buff version; the scrawny body was CGI, with Evans' head attached.

“Captain America: The First Avenger” isn't my favorite film in Marvel's canon. But I see them all out of respect for the fact that Marvel Comics changed my life when I was in grade school.
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