The time is 1942 and America is at war, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a patriot more enthusiastic than young Rogers -- what he lacks in physical strength and size he more than makes up for with persistence and passion. It's this drive and strong sense of morality that makes him the ideal candidate for the U.S. Army's super-secret "super-soldier" program, an attempt at creating not only the perfect living weapon but a compassionate leader who will pave the way to victory against the Nazis. Rogers is injected with some glowing blue stuff and suddenly this 90-pound weakling is transformed into the tall, muscular, dashing, shield-wielding war hero known as Captain America.
Cap finds an enemy -- and physical equal -- in Johann Schmidt, the leader of the Nazis' science division, HYDRA. Schmidt was an earlier "guinea pig" of the super-soldier serum and experienced much more radical and gruesome effects (let's just say they don't call him "Red Skull" for nothing). After Schmidt ends up being responsible for the death of someone close to Rogers, their battle becomes personal -- and, indeed, super-human.
There's also the hottie military lady with the cute British accent; the gruff yet fair army colonel; the brilliant yet obviously doomed German doctor who's behind the super-soldier serum; a gang of multi-national misfits that become Cap's go-to team; and even Tony Stark's father, Howard, who's every bit the charming, womanizing genius his son will one day become.
Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Oh boy, it is. The last stand-alone character adventure before next summer's Mighty Marvel Mash-Up, The Avengers, Captain America: The First Avenger is a highly enjoyable, often rousing and deeply satisfying fable. It has a likable and endearingly humble performance by Chris Evans, a phoned-in yet still amusing one by Tommy Lee Jones, a sweet and sexy one by Hayley Atwell, a scenery-chewing one by Hugo Weaving and a rather touching one by Stanley Tucci. Director Joe Johnston brings the same kind of pleasing hyper-stylized design and energy to this "period piece" that he brought to The Rocketeer 20 years ago. Cap's heroics are inspiring and filled with the kind of sweeping emotion that comes from mixing nostalgia, patriotism and comic-book theatrics with skill and gravitas, and by the end you're more than pumped for The Avengers, now that Steve Rogers is officially part of the team.
In many ways, Captain America is the most "mature" of the Marvel movies, a film that has a deep respect not only for one of the comic book medium's most beloved characters but also for a particularly volatile time in history. Johnston and his team manage to capture all of the fear, uncertainty, pride and, yes, even excitement of World War II-era America, giving the film a sense of authenticity and verisimilitude that is extremely rare for a "comic book movie." You feel like you're there. And you believe in Steve Rogers and all that he stands for.
So go see Captain America: The FIrst Avenger -- you don't have to be a comic-book fan or even an American to enjoy it. But if you happen to be both, you might just be going to see your new favorite movie.