The last of this summer’s superhero movies is its best. I know I was unreserved in my praise for Thor, but Captain America noses it out to be the best superhero movie in a summer of very good superhero movies. (Even the low man on the list Green Lantern isn’t outright terrible.) Captain America is a snappy as Iron Man but with an added dash of war movie and Indiana Jones adventure. It is a fun and exhilarating ride with even a hint of tragedy.
Captain America is about Steve Rodgers, a 98-pound weakling, who after being declared unfit for service in WWII many times is finally drafted for a super-soldier experiment by the lovable but slightly off-kilter Dr. Erskine. The experiment is a success and Rodgers ends fighting with Germany’s own super science division Hydra, whose leader Johann Schmidt has broken ties with Hitler to try to carve out his own empire with his advanced technology.
Chris Evans plays Steve Rodgers and he is terrific. He is the straight man in this ensemble, as opposed to Tony Stark in Iron Man whom is usually the one providing the jokes. Steve is a good guy’s good guy, and the movie nails this. Early on, when Steve is still trying to pass his physical, a man comments “lots of our boys are dying over there, kind of makes you reconsider signing up,” to which Steve simply replies “No.” The fact that it is dangerous doesn’t dissuade him at all. He doesn’t like bullies, and you have to stand up to bullies. Captain America, like Superman, is one of the few superheroes that makes the ultimate good guy thing work. There is never any doubt that he will do the right thing. There is none of Iron Man’s seediness or Batman’s darkness. He is a true hero, through and through.
The rest of the cast is very good as well. Tommy Lee Jones is an irascible old colonel, a role perfectly suited to him. Hayley Atwell plays Peggy Carter, an anomalous female agent and Steve’s prospective love interest. There is an ensemble that plays Cap’s unit, who all perform adequately. Hugo Weaving plays the absurdly villainous Red Skull, a man too evil to be a Nazi. And Dominic Cooper plays Howard Stark, a weapons designer for the US Military, who is just as much of a lothario as his son will be.
The only real flaw I can see is that the film rushes through everything. Yes, it is mostly a breezy period action movie, but it is relentless to the point of being hurried. If you are not already familiar with the story of Captain America you will know from the opening minutes that he ends up frozen in the arctic. In order to get to that point Captain America runs through two or three films worth of material. More time to breathe past the first act would have been preferable, but it is barely a knock on the movie.
Captain America is pure fun from start to finish. Marvel had learned from the mistakes of Iron Man 2 about how to deftly weave in bits from other Marvel films without them seeming jarring or out of place. Take the elder Stark, for instance. If you’ve seen Iron Man, then you’ll get a kick out of seeing Tony’s dad play hero, if not he is just another member of the supporting cast. I only hope that the man out of time aspect of Captain America is explored in the assured sequel or, if there is time in the Avengers. While there is still a month of movies left to go, this might be the last great movie of the summer.