Is Captain America: The First Avenger a worthy companion to Marvel's Iron Man franchise, or does it just seem that way because we've been treated to so much ripped-from-the-comics drivel -- Thor and Green Lantern spring to mind -- lately?
I'm not sure I have a good answer to that question. It's hard to keep things in perspective with so much in the way of lousy comic book adaptations around these days. What I can say for sure is that Captain America is enjoyable and entertaining. In a summer virtually devoid of quality cinema, it was refreshing for more than just the air-conditioned theater.
Chris Evans -- no stranger to comic book adaptations as The Human Torch in the lamentable Fantastic Four series -- plays Steve Rogers, the diminutive World War II-era Brooklynite transformed into the titular character when injected with the super soldier serum perfected by Dr. Abraham Erskine.
Evans is, in my estimation, somewhat forgettable as Captain America, though not in a negative way. I'm just not a big fan of him -- maybe it's me. Certainly, your girlfriend/fiancee/wife will appreciate Evans a little bit more, especially post-injection, when his features are de-super-imposed from the body of an apparent 10-year-old boy and put back onto his sculpted physique.
Anyway, what really made the movie for me was the string of memorable supporting characters, starting with Erskine, who is played wonderfully by Stanley Tucci. Erskine is gunned down almost immediately after injecting the serum into Rogers by assassins sent by Johann Schmidt, the head of advanced weaponry under Adolf Hitler.
Schmidt aka Red Skull, played by Hugo Weaving, is another in that line of memorable supporting characters, and it soon becomes apparent that he's operating HYDRA -- a terrorist organization -- outside of even Nazi authority. With weapons powered by a tesseract of Norse-god vintage, Schmidt sets upon global destruction, with only Captain America able to thwart his plans.
As you might guess, he eventually does, but only after a dizzying series of action sequences, punctuated intermittently by the scene-stealing, one-lining performance of Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Chester Phillips. The whole thing truly is, when set against a World War II backdrop that hearkens back to Raiders of the Lost Ark, authentic retro fun.
There are some cringeworthy moments along the way, of course. The kiss shared by Captain America and Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell) as he pursues Red Skull is true hackery and totally ridiculous. I'm still confused by why the planes in Red Skull's Valkyrie had city names painted on them (in English, not German, no less). And I could have done without the modern-day bookends to the Second World War tale. I know Marvel has to set up The Avengers, due out in May 2012, but I don't see why it had to be done now, and in such a way as to distract and confuse moviegoers not familiar with the backstory.
But those are merely reasons why Captain America: First Avenger isn't an instant classic. There's no shame in not being The Dark Knight, especially when the final product is something that's nearly as enjoyable as the first Iron Man.