The last Marvel superhero to get his own movie before next summer's The Avengers, Captain America has been around since WWII, famously punching Hitler in the face on an iconic cover that actually makes an appearance in the movie version of Captain America: The First Avenger.
Chris Evans, a hottie with boy-next-door good looks and a body that makes me cry is Steve Rogers, a short, skinny and bullied asthmatic who wants nothing more than to join the Army and fight for his country. After five rejections, he and his buddy Bucky Barnes are overheard at the World's Fair by Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who decides that Steve is perfect for his experimental serum to create a super soldier. Steve soon finds himself in a secret lab run by Erskine and Howard Stark (father of Tony "Ironman" Stark, played by Dominic Cooper) where he is injected with Erskine's serum and bombarded with Stark's 'Vitarays.' When it's over, Steve has become the epitome of muscular pulchritude; super-strong, super-fast and super-good looking.
Steve's C.O., Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), wants him shipped off to a lab for study but a senator overseeing the project decides to send him off on tour, shilling bonds for the USO under the moniker Captain America. When the tour reaches Italy and Steve learns that Bucky has been captured behind enemy lines, he springs into action, aided by Stark and the beautiful Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and the superhero we know and love is born.
Bucky has been captured by the evil Johann Schmidt, AKA Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), who heads up Hitler's secret science team HYDRA. Using an ancient energy source stolen from Odin's palace in Valhalla, (a reference to Thor), Schmidt has created weapons that can decimate entire cities. Schmidt, of course, was the first to use Erskine's serum, which amplifies everything about a person. So while Steve becomes a hero, the already evil Schmidt becomes a monster, bent on nothing less than world domination, der Fuhrer be damned.
Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have written a highly entertaining and often very amusing origin tale that works on several levels. Staying mostly true to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's comics, their script deviates slightly from the Marvel Universe's story line (Semi-Spoiler: In the Marvel Universe, Red Skull kills Peter "Spider-Man" Parker's parents, but that no longer makes sense in the Marvel movies) and also manages to make a cheeky reference to Raiders of the Lost Ark early on.
Director Joe Johnston has surprisingly crafted this summer's best superhero movie, and that's saying something considering this is the man who gave us last year's dreary The Wolfman and the insipid Jurassic Park III. That's not to say he's a terrible director; he did make The Rocketeer and Jumanji, so it's not shocking that Captain America is as good as it is. Of course, much of the credit goes to near-perfect casting. Evans is fine (in more ways than one) as Steve/Cappie and Dominic Cooper is perfect as the young version of Robert Downey Jr's father. Weaving is an intimidating Red Skull despite his almost German accent, while Jones, Atwell, Tucci and the rest of the company all give earnest enough performances. The action (once it gets going) is exciting without being confused by dozens of jump cuts and blurry camera pans. The film's "science" may be a bit silly but this a comic book superhero movie, not a treatise on physics. Alan Silvestri's score is appropriately rousing and the very amusing USO song, "Star Spangled Man" by Alan Menken and Dave Zippel is dead-on hilarious.
D and I both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves (though the young child in the row in front of us was obviously bored). If you go, make sure to stick around after the credits for an Avengers teaser. *** (Three Out of Four Stars).