The 25th Best Movie I Saw This Year: Captain America: The First Avenger

It’s really been the year of colons, huh? Well, it’ll be even worse this year, when we all see Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace: The 3D Experience. When I review that movie, I promise to only refer to it by its full title (Boy, isn’t that review going to be fun? I can see it already. “This Jar-Jar character is terrible. And he’s coming right at me!”)

After watching Captain America, I referred to it as “a slow-witted Indiana Jones movie,” and I see no need to reverse my opinion now. Still, that’s not as much of an insult as it sounds. It may lack Indy’s sardonic wit, but it’s long on adventure and explosions and features a perfectly acceptable number of people gadding about in stiff 1940s cotton. It’s a solid, watchable summer popcorn film, with all the Pirates and Green Lanterns swamping the summer multiplex, solid and watchable are all I ask for. In fact, I require that the films that shouldn’t take themselves seriously don’t try to. Have you ever seen Michael Bay take himself seriously? Watch The Island sometime. Or Transformers 2. Vomitous.

The story unfolds like an origin story should. We meet our hero (Chris Evans’ head attached to a scrawny digital body. They could’ve made the exact same movie with me, but the digitizing would just have to be done in reverse.), a scrappy, deserving fellow waylaid by a frail mortal shell. He meets a miracle worker, who sees his potential. A mysterious, “scientific” process of supersizing muscles and bones begins, but after a successful test on Evans, the equipment is (shockingly!) destroyed by the Nazis. Let events vaguely similar to World War II commence!

The best part of the story happens after: in a shocking bit of realism, the commanders of the U.S. Military don’t send him out on secret missions only he can manage. Instead, they make him a figurehead and send him on a USO tour to cheer up the troups. He spends several months criss-crossing the country, glumly rallying support. It’s a neat bit of storytelling, and if I were a pastor, I bet I could get three weeks of sermons out of the metaphors there. But no matter. There are Nazis to kill! And some of them have the evil version of the serum or whatever that Captain America has! Will the Army let him go fight them, or will he have to strike out his own? That’s a mystery that… oh, well, you know the rest. Good news: it involves zip lining onto a train!

Joss Whedon has mentioned that The Avengers (the long-awaited combined sequel to Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, and Captain America) will mostly be told from the point of view of Captain America, and after seeing this movie I see no problem with that. Evans is handsome and muscular and big-chinned and all that, but he’s also wryly funny and surprisingly relatable. He lacks that movie star emptiness we’ve grown accustomed to in action flicks. It’s hard to root for a good-looking guy carrying a shield and wearing a goofy suit while espousing the value of American democracy, but Evans sells it better than anyone should, and the movie works pretty well because of it.

Not to mention: zip lining onto a train!