There are very few comic book characters that come with a heavy dose of jingoism and bombast pre-installed for your enjoyment. Superman has been pictured in front of the stars and stripes so many times that we can give him an honorary Uncle Sam Jr. badge, and Iron Man has become a representation of the United States in many ways, buffered by his filmic message of peace through superior firepower. But it's Captain America who stands alone at the head of the line as a character from the funny pages meant to embody not just a hero, but the hopes and dreams of an entire nation as well.
His costume is based on the American flag, and even the shield he carries with that single star emblazoned on the front screams "AMERICA!" louder than Team America ever did. He even has a giant "A" smack dab in the middle of his forehead, just in case you forgot who he was representing. And who is that, really? Where Superman is a visitor from another planet who gains his powers from our yellow sun, and Captain Marvel summons the forces of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury by shouting SHAZAM!, Captain America represents only the pinnacle of human performance, something that could possibly be achieved by tons of hard work and a rigorous diet. Or by a steroid-level dose of the Super Soldier serum and a spectrum blast from Howard Stark's Vita-Ray.
At least, that's what happens in Captain America: The First Avenger. The character, who has been around since 1941, was actually the first Marvel hero to appear in film thanks to the Captain America film serial in 1944. So has the character changed much in the intervening 67 years? Although the film serial had Captain America with the alter ego of district attorney Grant Gardner who carried a gun instead of a shield, thankfully Cap has almost always been Steve Rogers, the scrawny soldier who couldn't pass muster in the draft, only to get bootstrapped in when he becomes the successful recipient of the Super Soldier serum.
That's where the movie starts off, granting surprisingly believable CGI-puny Chris Evans with a hunky physique endowed with bigger boobs than those of most Hollywood starlets. The film is shot tin a sepia-toned look the leans hard on the nostalgia button, but doesn't devolve into cartoonishness. Rogers because bulked-up in a manner of minutes, but a bulldog Army Colonel played by Tommy Lee Jones wants to lock him up for future study, especially since serum creator Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) is bumped off shortly after the succesful experiment. But before he can go under the microscope, a Senator whisks him away for a "Buy War Bonds!" tour, and he becomes the faux face of the U.S. military overnight.
But despite his cushy new job and overnight fame, Roger still yearns to be a part of the fight. While he believes himself to be doing good work drumming up support on the homefront, when he travels overseas to visit actual soldiers, it is quickly revealed that they view him as a joke while they're doing the real work. It's a painful reminder of the mocking (and beatings) he took back when he was a 98-poind weakling. Even though he's now super-amped (seemingly well beyond the abilities of the comic book Cap), he's still powerless.
Shortly afterwards, Rogers goes on a secret mission of his own to rescue some POWs, aided by British military vixen Peggy Carter and Tony Stark's pop, Howard, he drops behind enemy lines and frees a large group of prisoners, including some that will become his "Howling Commandos" (including Neal McDonough, who might not have been a bad choice for Cap back in the day as enormous-mustachioed Timothy "Dum Dum" Dugan), and his best buddy James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes. Along the way he has his first run-in with the film's villain, the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), who has been using the Cosmic Cube to provide enormous power machinations brought to life by his scientific henchman, Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones).
The Skull, formerly Johann Schmidt, was a scientist working with Erskine on the Super Soldier formula in Germany, but when he forcibly took the serum himself, it endowed him with strength, but also hideously burned away his skin in the process, leaving him with a red skull, provided by some spectacular makeup effects on actor Weaving. Formerly a part of the Nazi machine, Schmidt has broken off from the Reich and formed his own splinter army, Hydra. "Cut off one head, and two grow back in its place."
The rest of the film concerns itself with Cap's climactic confrontation with the Skull, and the subsequent lore of Captain America. Comic book readers will know very well what happens to Steve Rogers, which is no real stretch or spoiler due to the fact that everyone knows he'll be appearing in Joss Whedon's The Avengers. Although it might sound like the movie is painted with broad strokes, and it is, that doesn't mean that it isn't highly enjoyable. While I thoroughly enjoyed Thor at the theaters earlier this summer, Captain America: The First Avenger has provided a much more satisfying comic book adaptation with terrific performances all around. Especially from Chris Evans, who manages to nail the overgrown Boy Scout bravado and the gee whillikers innocence of Captain America.
Although it might not pack the explosive tech and next-gen punch of an Iron Man, it certainly feels looks like it came directly from the pages of a 1940s comic book. As far as adaptations of superheroes go, Cap manages to impress on nearly every level, and my only regret in the movie is that they had to rush his ending to dovetail with The Avengers. I could easily watch Cap battle Nazis, Hydra, Baron Zemo, and Doctor Doom for at least two more movies all on his own. This is one summer superhero flick that you'll enjoy seeing, or taking the whole family to. Also, if you're looking for a date flick, this is a good choice. Just expect your significant other to ask you to start working out afterwards.