After the modern-day discovery of a craft in the Arctic, Captain America: The First Avenger jumps back to the days of World War Two. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, who played the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies) is a scrawny 90-pound weakling with a host of health problems -- who also never backs down from a fight and keeps trying to enlist with the army. He gets the attention of a military group that includes German scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), British agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), and the tough Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). Erskine gives Rogers the Super Soldier formula, transforming him into a buff, tall fightin' machine: Captain America! And after a brief, comical stint on a public relations tour, Captain America hits the battlefield to fight Nazis -- or Hydra.
It turns out that Erskine was forced to use an early version of his formula on the Nazi Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), turning him into the Red Skull. The Red Skull has found and harnessed an energy source from Asgard (and the movie Thor) and is using it to power weapons designed by mousy scientist Arnim Zola (Toby Jones). But the Red Skull has his own plans, turning on both the Allies and Axis powers to lead his own evil organization called Hydra. ("Hail Hydra!") Can Captain America and his team of soldiers defeat Hydra before America is destroyed? Will the flirtation betwene Steve and Peggy lead to anything more? And how many 3-D shots of Captain America's shield flying at the audience will be get? (The answer to the last question: quite a lot.)
Captain America: The First Avenger is big, simplistic fun. Chris Evans clearly has fun playing the ultimate do-gooder, someone so ready to stand up for what's right (both before and after being turned into a Super Soldier) he'd be a saint if he wasn't beating people up all the time. Hugo Weaving spends much of the movie under horrific red makeup, but he brings a certain style to an otherwise typical megalomaniac intent on world domination. Hayley Atwell's spunkiness manages to elevate Peggy from a token love interest to an independent woman who can kick butt. And the other characters are all either good guys to root for, or bad guys to hate (and cheer when they're beaten or killed). The action is generally handled well (though one montage looked more like a video game than a live-action movie), and the ending does a good job setting the scene for The Avengers next year. Captain America: The First Avenger may be simplistic in many ways, but it's still fun.
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch