It seems that Marvel Studios/Paramount have had better luck with their superhero offerings that the other studios: Warner Bros. Green Lantern was disappointing and Sony/Columbia’s The Green Hornet wasn’t even that good. But X-Men: First Class was an expected hit, Thor was a “surprise” hit, and the hits seem to continue with Captain America: The First Avenger.


Part of the success might lie in the “streamlining” of the origin story, it’s part of the main story and not the set-up to the main story. Cap isn’t from another world seeking his place in this one or on a long road to discovery after a childhood trauma. He’s Steve Rogers, a kid from Brooklyn, who wants to do his part for the war effort. Period. He has his great responsibility long before he gains his great powers.


The filmmakers make some very smart choices, making Captain America a mostly straight period piece rather peppering it with a constant stream of ironic winks to modern popular culture; meta-moments like when the Red Skull says he’s making real progress while “the Fuehrer wastes time looking for relics in the desert” or how Cap’s early costume and shield look exactly like the ones in his comics debut—and very silly in real life—work. There is a parallel between World War II and present-day U.S. military operations in the Middle East, but the analogy is handled with subtlety. And the script is filled with other little homages, like how entering the laboratory in the middle of Brooklyn is very reminiscent of UNCLE headquarters from the ‘60s TV show and the CIA shop in Three Days of the Condor.


The special effects are mostly impressive, although occasionally you can notice when a real stunt performer has been replaced by a CG one and a really simple effect—an airplane—looks homemade in some shots. But the big set pieces are sufficiently “wow” inspiring to make up for the lapses. The acting is solid (with a couple of scene-stealing performances, one bombastic, one quiet) and the script is (as we may be coming to expect from the Marvel movies) pretty smart—


But… while Captain America is a good (maybe even very good) movie, there are things that keep it from being a great one. For one thing, while it is good to see people of color represented in a WWII movie (in fact, one brother is so prominently thrust into the middle of a scene he looks for a second as if he missed his mark and was surprised to be there), their representation is at odds with history, even in a “special unit,” even in a comic book world. There’s an Asian GI at a time when Japanese Americans were being placed in interment camps (although, to be fair, there is a passing reference to this prejudice) and black GIs are seen routinely comingling with whites when real-life black soldiers—American citizens—complained of having to sit in the back rows of USO shows and movies while German soldiers—captured enemy combatants—got to sit up front. And while HYDRA recruiters no doubt look for allegiance rather than intelligence, the good guys mow through their ranks too easily.


But the main problem with the movie is, remember that movie where Hitler is looking for relics in the desert? Even thought you know how the war ends, you still wonder what’s going to happen now. In this movie, even if you don’t already know Cap’s fate, you never get the feeling he’s not going to win, ever. He’s just killing time (and bad guys) until he turns up in the present.


But summer isn’t summer without a big popcorn movie or two—hey, a big popcorn movie is good anytime, actually—and you could do a lot worse than Captain America. It’s got action, explosions, sentiment, and a soul. And (SPOILER ALERT!) sit through the credits for a sneak preview of next summer’s The Avengers.)


*He's got the brains of Einstein and the bod of Mister Clean (“Captain America,” by Jimmy Buffett)

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