Chris Evans’s Steve Rogers is a plucky but puny youngster from Brooklyn who’s desperate to enlist in the US army and do his bit in World War Two. But the draft board repeatedly rejects the asthmatic shrimp until scientist Stanley Tucci’s experimental serum transforms him into a strapping super-soldier.
Now dubbed Captain America, Steve gets consigned against his will to the job of selling war bonds on morale-boosting propaganda tours, but when his best friend gets captured at the front line in Europe, his superior officer, Tommy Lee Jones’s gruff Colonel Chester, can no longer hold him back from the fray. Armed with his trademark shield, Captain America goes into action and finds himself up against Hugo Weaving’s evil Nazi commandant and his soldier hordes.
Director Joe Johnston’s cult 1991 fantasy adventure The Rocketeer also pitted a comic-book protoganist against Nazi foes. With its lovingly rendered period settings and costumes, his new movie has a similarly nostalgic retro feel.
In keeping with the upright hero and his era, Johnston plays things straight – with the exception of a handful of Marvel series in-jokes and nods towards next year’s Avengers movie, Captain America is free of the winking irony another filmmaker might have been tempted to insert.
The nifty CGI special effects are where the film shows off its sophistication – not least in making Evans seem scrawny as the pre-transformation Steve. In his latter guise, Evans’s patriotic hero dominates the action, biffing the enemy with that handy shield but overshadowing his sketchily drawn commando colleagues. The ever-reliable Weaving makes the most of his ranting megalomaniac-villain role, while Hayley Atwell, looking and sounding the part as Steve’s British-agent love interest, Peggy Carter, shines out on the side of good.
Far fleeter than most of its current comic-book-movie rivals, Captain America has some of the same rollicking Saturday-matinee spirit as Raiders of the Lost Ark, even if it can’t match the earlier film’s pace and panache.
On general release from 29th July.