An old-fashioned hero

The 90-pound weakling does the heavy lifting in the otherwise lightweight World War II-set Captain America: The First Avenger.

Usually computer graphics are used to add muscle

Usually computer graphics are used to add muscle

Captain America

2 1/2 stars (out of 4)

Rated: PG

The 90-pound weakling does the heavy lifting in the otherwise lightweight World War II-set Captain America: The First Avenger.

Sure as popsicles melt in a July heat wave, Hollywood wants to lure us into the nice, cool multiplex with a slew of superhero fare.

So far the summer of 2011, especially with offerings Thor and Green Lantern, has hardly been hitting them out of the park. And it hasn’t achieved that with the backstory for Captain America, setting him up as the final member to join Joss Whedon’s massive hero-fest The Avengers next year.

But it’s the best of the lot so far, thanks to the gentle heart, some snappy quips and the novelty of a 1940s setting.

The “before” picture capably played by Chris Evans (Human Torch in the Fantastic 4 flicks) as World War II wannabe solider Steve Rogers is the more interesting of the two sides of the superhero coin in Captain America. An earnest little guy — made truly little thanks to CGI trickery that seamlessly pares Evans down to puny size — he wears his patriotic heart on his sleeve.

He wants to do his bit for the stars and stripes in defeating Hitler although he’d rather not kill anybody in the process. He can’t get past the physical, but he’s got spunk and a can-do attitude that impresses scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, excellent as always) a New Yorker by way of Berlin who’s doing top-secret research to make a corps of super soldiers to send Hitler “to the gates of hell.”

That pithy quote comes from Col. Chester Phillips — played by Tommy Lee Jones with usual craggy wit and a smart lip. He begrudgingly lets the doc try out his super serum on Evans, who he’s dismissed as a “gerbil.”

Rodent put-downs don’t bother Rogers. He’ll do anything for his country, even try to make small talk with that pretty British solider lady with great lipstick (Hayley Atwell).

You can’t have a superhero movie without a villain. You’d think Hitler would be enough (shades of Indiana Jones), but instead we get Hugo Weaving as Red Skull, an evil-tempered German who’s having a bad face day. He looks like Hellboy’s better-dressed Eurotrash uncle.

Red Skull relies on a cowering toady, Zola (Toby Jones) to help him get on with world domination by building crazy-powerful weapons involving something to do with Norse mythology and being a god. Do these evil dudes never give up?

The attention to 1940s detail adds a sense of fun: countdown devices are flip clocks, the microphones are old-fashioned plastic items and machines run on toggle switches and wheels. Even the dialogue from screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely crackles with some period sass.

A satisfying bit part introducing us to Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) as the visionary inventor imbued with a liberal dose of Howard Hughes lets us see where Tony the kid gets his slick charm.

But the rest of the movie is ho-hum, let’s blow stuff up and mow down bad guys. Evans shows he can handle irony when he ends up shilling for war bonds with dancing Yankee Doodle dollies and cold-cocking a Fuhrer lookalike before he gets to kick enemy butt.

But his straight-up do-right 1940s persona as the Captain leaves all that in the dust and the characterization may not fly with 2011 audience, despite the fancy excess of explosions and mega-weapons, courtesy of Red Skull’s modern-looking arsenal.

Alan Silvestri’s rousing, military-inspired score helps set the mood, but the use of 3-D does little more than make many of the scenes look muddy behind the glasses and does no special feats beyond removing a few extra bucks from pockets. It works best for the entertaining closing credits which feature art from American propaganda posters from WWII.

Director Joe Johnston, who made the wonderfully sentimental October Sky, gets caught up in the bigness of the project (he did also direct The Wolfman and Jurassic Park III) and that’s when Captain America becomes just another superhero movie.

The small things — from the leading man to ‘40s flourishes — make the movie work. If only Johnston had sweated the big stuff as well.

Linda Baranard is a syndicarted movie critic for The Toronto Star.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
A CN rail worker stands on an idle locomotive as protesters opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion block rail lines, in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday, November 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
CN makes rival bid to CP Rail’s offer to buy U.S. railway Kansas City Southern

Offer tops proposal made last month by Canadian Pacific Railway

The Rogers Logo is photographed on a Toronto office on Monday, September 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
Rogers says wireless service fully restored after daylong nationwide outage

Wireless interruption had deep economic implications

President Joe Biden meets with members of congress to discuss his jobs plan in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, April 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Feds weighing how to respond after verdict in Chauvin trial

The verdict, and the aftermath, will be a test for Biden

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, centre, tables the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Monday April 19, 2021. The federal government unveiled spending plans to manage the remainder of the COVID-19 crisis and chart an economic course for a post-pandemic Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois to propose budget rewrites as debate starts

O’Toole has signalled that his party will propose its own economic recovery plan

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

San Jose Sharks centre Patrick Marleau (12) skates during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild, in San Jose, Calif., Monday, March 29, 2021. Marleau is skating in his 1,757th game. Only one other player in NHL history has hit that mark. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Tony Avelar
Patrick Marleau set to break Gordie Howe’s record for most NHL games played

Marleau was set to suit up for the 1,768th time Monday

FILE - In this Saturday April 17, 2021 file photo, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II follows the coffin in a car as it makes it’s way past the Round Tower during the funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip inside Windsor Castle in Windsor, England. Now that the Royal Family has said farewell to Prince Philip, attention will turn to Queen Elizabeth II’s 95th birthday on Wednesday, April 21 and, in coming months, the celebrations marking her 70 years on the throne. This combination of events is reminding the United Kingdom that the reign of the queen, the only monarch most of her subjects have ever known, is finite. (Leon Neal/Pool via AP, file)
Queen enters ‘twilight’ of reign after farewell to Philip

Charles’ increased role began gradually

This combination photo shows Oscar nominees for best actress, from left, Viola Davis in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Andra Day in “The United States vs Billie Holiday,” Vanessa Kirby in “Pieces of a Woman,” Frances McDormand in “Nomadland and Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman.” (Netflix, from left, Hulu, Netflix, Searchlight Pictures, Focus Features via AP)
Oscar predictions: Can anything beat ‘Nomadland’?

Best actress race is perhaps the biggest wild card

Letter: Restrictions have nothing to do with religion

Many have framed the closure of GraceLife Church near Edmonton by Alberta… Continue reading

LtE bug
Letter: Thanking volunteers in Red Deer

National Volunteer Week is April 18 to 24. At the Canadian Cancer… Continue reading

Letter to the editor
Letter: Good on MLAs for speaking out

This is a letter in regard to MLAs not standing united behind… Continue reading

Treena Mielke
Family: Happiness can be found in many ways

I’ve heard it said that necessity is the mother of invention. I… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators' Connor Brown, right, scores on Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom during second-period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Alta., Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Connor Brown scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 4-2 win over Calgary Flames

Connor Brown scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 4-2 win over Calgary Flames

Most Read