Captain America: The First Avenger wastes no time in tricking you that it's a straight-up comic book movie. At first glance, that sounds painful. However, it is exactly that characteristic that makes this late summer offering a refreshingly classy and pulpy take on the iconic American superhero.
Chris Evans is a fine choice for the title role. He's likable, not hard to look at, and has a softer side to him that allows us to think that Steve Rogers (the man he was before he became Captain America) is actually a good man. This trait is crucial in the findings of a candidate for Dr. Abraham Erskine, the man who has discovered the scientific capabilities to turn a normal soldier into a super one. He believes that the better than man, the better the solider. Colonel Chester Phillips disagrees, suggesting that America needs the physical strength to win World War II and defeat the Nazis. To him, Steve Rogers is just a short and physically weak man who seems to be rejected by the army more times than Ralph Nader has ran for President.
But the reason Dr. Erskine is so insistent on choosing Rogers is because he never gives up. It is because he keeps getting rejected and insists on trying again that makes him so special. So when he finally lets Rogers in the army, the final test of his heroism comes when the Colonel needs some convincing. During basic training, he throws a grenade into a group of soldiers. Every single soldier scatters and runs for cover, expect Rogers, who bravely dives on the grenade to protect everyone except himself. Turns out the Colonel played a trick, throwing a dud grenade instead of a real one. Clearly impressed, the colonel responds. "He's still skinny."
So Rogers gets turned into Captain America. But not after going through some serious physical changes. The best visual effects in this movie is not what you'd expect.
At the same time Captain America is created, the Nazi's have their own secret weapon. Johann Schmidt aka the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and his secret HYDRA research department, develops the same technology as Dr. Erksine. When Steve Rogers loses someone close to him (I won't give away any deaths in this review), he vows to seek justice. Yet something interesting happens here. Captain America becomes a propaganda machine. It works at first, but eventually, he becomes the laughing stock of the military. Destined to do bigger things, Rogers decides to use his alter-ego in much more fitting way: to kill Nazi's and protect America.
In a time where cinema seems to be breeding comic-book movies every week, here's one that actually has a good message (along with actually making American propaganda look like a noble cause). Being a real hero means being a good man, one who believes in the morals that represent the best of America. Dr. Erskine is the polar opposite of a character like, say, Saruman from The Lord of the Rings, where he is only interested in physical and numerical strength. Dr. Erskine believes that if someone like Steve Rogers is already a good man, think about how great of a man we will become after the experiment. Captain America: The First Avenger isn't a great movie, but it's still a good one. It leaves the idea that maybe, just maybe, next year's The Avengers will be that much better.