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Like almost everybody else this weekend, I felt an obligation to go see the film adaptation of “Captain America.”

Growing up I was a big fan of the book. What intrigued me about the character wasn’t that he was a man out of time or that he was a symbol of perseverance and American pride. Rather, it was the stories that were written portraying him as a man conflicted, often finding himself at odds with what his government wanted him to do in the name of his country. Most Captain America stories, particularly those written in the 1970s and 1980s, were a far cry from the jingoistic image of Cap slugging Adolf Hitler smack dab in the jaw. In more complicated times with menacing but not unequivocally evil challenges to our nation’s position in the world, the genetically enhanced kid from Brooklyn often put honor before  policy. On more than one occasion when faced with the choice of falling in line or continuing as Captain America he gave up the mantle entirely and “retired.”

The trap for comic writers is that in writing these stories they can potentially isolate part of their audience. More importantly, unless it’s done carefully, what’s intended as a creative statement on what it means to be an American can come across as goofy and contrived. They are, after all, comic books.

Which is why this film focuses on Captain America in simpler times with an evil enemy. And it works. The action scenes are intense, the CGI is very impressive (particularly the seamless trick of creating the illusion of a ninety-pound pre-serum Chris Evans), and as Roger Ebert noted in his review, it includes a love story that you actually want to see and enhances rather than detracts from the narrative. The film also makes an effort to remind us that what makes Steve Rogers as Captain America an effective hero is the former part – Steve Rogers – rather than the latter. That ninety-pound kid has an organically heroic nature even before he meets the man that changes him forever, and while admittedly cheesy at times (a conceit one must make when going into any summer blockbuster let alone a comic book flick), it surprisingly doesn’t come across as melodramatic.

The film does much to set up the story and anticipation for next Summer’s long-awaited “The Avengers,” which will team the revived Captain America with the other franchises established by Marvel: Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk, among others. What will be missing, though, is what makes this the hands down best superhero film since “The Dark Knight” and arguably the equal of Marvel’s other great offering “Iron Man”: a focus on one man, one protagonist, with one journey. The greatest challenge “The Avengers” will face won’t be Loki or Hydra, it’ll be measuring up to the surprisingly high measuring stick of The First Avenger, as the title calls him, “Captain America.”

BONUS: The trailer for the 1990 “Captain America” film, which featured Cap jumping onto the back of many a van.

3 Responses to Captain America: surprisingly good

  1. Eric says:

    My favorite part of this review was this bit at the very end —

    “Related articles:
    Adolf Hitler ordered blonde sex”

  2. Steve says:

    I loved the origin story. The villains never seemed menacing enough, though, even with their superweapons. Also, the cg in the fight scenes were pretty darn terrible.

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