Captain America: The First Avenger review

As an eight-year-old boy, I owned a Captain America action figure. No, it wasn't a doll. It was an action figure (that's my story, and I'm sticking to it .. I also had Spider-Man and Superman). I read Captain America comics, and watched reruns of the 60s Captain America cartoon ("When Captain America throws his mighty shield/All those who chose to oppose his shield must yield"). So it's safe to say that as a childhood Cap fan, I was somewhat looking forward to this big-screen outing. And I was not disappointed.

Marvel Studios have recently developed a knack for simply getting it right when it comes to adapting their comic book characters to the screen – both Iron Man and Thor were first rate – and with Captain America: The First Avenger, the filmmakers are once again right on the money. The casting is spot-on, the story perfect, the action plentiful, the villain properly evil and nasty, the hero good and believable, the heroine hot ... which all comes together to produce the perfect summer popcorn flick. Evans is Steve Rogers, a weedy but gung-ho Brooklynite keen to sign up for WWII to go and fight those evil Nazi bastards for his country; what a shame, though, that he's 4F all the way. That is until clever boffin Dr Abraham Erskine (Tucci) taps Rogers up for some experimentation – with the help of Iron Man's dad – and turns him into a muscle-bound super-soldier who is then set loose battling the evil Red Skull (Weaving).

It's an origin story, yes; and it's also setting up next year's Avengers movie, which teams Cap up with Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow for a massive Joss Whedon-helmed adventure ... which, with all that star power, will be very, very good or awesomely shit. But back to this particular Captain America outing, which is one of the best superhero films I think I've ever seen. Evans – who played the Human Torch in those two very ordinary Fantastic Four films – is terrific here as Rogers/Cap. He brings just the right amount of sweet, awkward geekiness to the CGI-assisted early scenes as the weedy, wimpy Steve before his transformation to charming, buffed-up he-man. Rogers is a genuine good guy, with no ulterior motives; he's not keen to sign up just to kill Nazis, he genuinely believes in doing right and has a deep-trooted hatred of bullies. And Evans nails it just right with his performance, which I have to admit surprised me – I really didn't think he had it in him.

Also surprising for a comic book film are the supporting characters: all are well written, well rounded and performed by stellar actors giving it their all and firmly believing and trusting in the material. Tucci, Cooper, Atwell and both the Joneses – superb casting, and they all pull together to lift this film well above the ordinary. But rising above them all is Weaving as the nasty Nazi Johann Schmidt, aka Red Skull. Schmidt has formed a breakaway group called Hydra, which worships the occult and is hell-bent on world domination (yup, he thinks he's greater than Hitler). Weaving excels in this kind of role – his Agent Smith was the best thing in the Matrix movies – and his super villain is the perfect count to Captain America's super-goodness.

There are plenty of nods to the classic comic books, too – we get to see the original Captain America outfit, albeit being used for song-and-dance numbers to sell war bonds (and there is a truly great showbiz number in the film!). Plus Cap's original sidekick, Bucky Barnes (Stan) gets to play quite a pivotal role. Stan Lee, of course, makes his usual cameo (and here it works quite well, for a change). It's nice to see director Johnston helming a great film for a change, after last year's disappinting Wolfman. It's interesting to note that he directed both The Rocketeer and episodes of the TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. This film does have a touch of Raiders of the Lost Ark about it, and that's not a bad film to be compared to. The only slight niggle is the 3D – it's decent, but for the most part unnecessary.

Captain America is easily one of the best blockbusters you'll see this summer, and the best comic book adventure you'll see this year. It bodes well for The Avengers in 2012, another year we'll all be happy to declare: Make Mine Marvel.

Captain America: The First Avenger at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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