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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Thoroughly square and appealingly unironic, “Captain America” is a reasonably watchable origins movie, focussed on another of Marvel’s B-Listers ahead of next year’s “Avengers” flick.

If, like me, you thought “The Avengers” was a 60’s spy caper TV show featuring bowler hats and leather catsuits, then you’ll probably be underwhelmed at the prospect of spending two hours watching a movie about Captain America, only to find out it’s only really a prologue to the main event next year.

However, if the prospect of Captain America + The Hulk + Nick Fury + Thor + Iron Man floats your boat, then you should be in a pretty happy place during this film.

Aside from modern day bookends, “Captain America” is set during WWII. Nazi officer Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), like all the best dastardly Nazi officers, is hellbent on harnessing the occult to help win the war; not for his Fuhrer, you understand, but for himself and his army of gimp-suited stormtroopers.

Meanwhile, back in the States, titchy Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is dying to sign up for Uncle Sam and blow away some Nazis, but keeps getting rejected for the Army because he’s approximately the same size as Hitler’s one ball.

However, Roger’s indomitable spirit catches the attention of scientist Dr Erskine (Stanley Tucci), and is allowed to enlist under a super soldier programme, overseen by grouchy Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and sultry British agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).

Erskine’s working along similar lines to the evil Schmidt, and with the help of Iron Man’s Dad, Howard Stark, Rogers is injected with some glowing blue stuff which pumps up his diminutive frame, and hones his speed and reflexes.

Unfortunately, there’s a Nazi spy in their midst, and Erskine is killed and the equipment destroyed before the super soldier scheme can be put into full production, leaving Rogers the only one of his kind. Humiliatingly, instead of fighting the Hun, Rogers ends up singing and dancing in a chorus line to boost morale in a ridiculous Stars-and-Stripes outfit…until, while performing at one USO show, he learns his old friend is missing behind enemy lines.

The film takes it’s time to build some form of character arc, and hopefully that will pay dividends when “The Avengers” rolls round next year. Evans is a likeable actor, although disconcertingly resembles Martin Short when he’s shrunk down to a weakling; perhaps, instead of blowing Rogers up, they could have gone the other way – he could fit inside a regular GI’s ration kit, sneak behind enemy lines, tie Hitler’s shoelaces together, that type of stuff.

Hugo Weaving does his usual bad guy thing as Schmidt/The Red Skull – entertaining as he always is, he’s pretty much phoning it in these days. Tommy Lee Jones perhaps enjoys himself the most as the gruff Colonel, and gives plenty of value, always a pleasure when he’s on the screen.

The film’s look is muted, with ruddy colours and understated effects. I’ve read comparisons to Indiana Jones, but of course the film it resembles most is Director Joe Johnston’s own “Rocketeer”, an excellent homage to the golden era of cliffhanger serials, with it’s own distinct period flourishes.

The action is fairly standard – perhaps in a conscious effort to get the family friendly certificate, Captain America has to resort to clubbing, clobbering, bludgeoning, twatting and frisbee-ing bad guys with his shield, while his comrades get to disintegrate villains with laser guns. The only bit of gore of note is an unfortunate, fragile human body/propeller interface which seems to be a direct nod to “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.

Entertaining enough, but nothing to stand out in particular in this era’s bumper crop of superhero movies; certainly not as humorous or visually exciting as “Hellboy” 1 & 2, nor as interestingly basketcase as “Watchmen”. It’s enjoyable enough to maybe swing some casual viewers towards “The Avengers” next year.

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