Pretty on the Surface

'Captain America' has plenty of beefcake, but it falls short of other superhero flicks

Summer's cavalcade of superheroes comes to an amusing, if nowhere near amazing, end with Captain America: The First Avenger. While it boasts a slick retro feel and does a good job of showing us what the title character is made of, it comes up a little short on the action pow.

Chris Evans, no stranger to superhero films having done two as the Human Torch in the absolute shite Fantastic Four films, steps into the role of Steve Rogers, a 90-pound weakling eager to fight for his country in World War II. After repeated tries to pass a physical, Rogers is left head-hanging, dejected like the first kid to take a stinger in the face during a round of dodgeball.

Steve's valiant efforts have not gone unnoticed, for a nebbish German scientist named Abraham Erskine (a thickly accented Stanley Tucci) has been keeping an eye on him. Erskine is looking for a little guy with a big heart to take a massive infusion of experimental amplifying serum that will make a good man super great and powerful. Steve, who jumps on a dummy grenade to save other members of his company during an impromptu test thrown down by crusty Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), seems the perfect candidate.

The 90-pound weakling version of Steve is the result of some marginal CGI work that places Evans' face on a frail man's body (there are moments in the film when this trick works to lesser effect than others). After the blue serum crank infusion, Evans pumps up to the actual size he achieved for this movie ... and it's impressive. Evans clearly hit the gym and ate lots of beef at three in the morning for Captain America, sporting shoulders, abs and pectorals that would make the likes of Hugh Jackman and Taylor "Dig My Awesome Stomach" Lautner clamor and curse with jealousy.

Rogers is supposed to be the first in an army of super soldiers, but when those plans don't pan out, he winds up pushing war bonds on the performance circuit. This gives us stage one of the iconic Captain America suit, made primarily of felt and looking like something you could order on for $10.50 (shipping and handling included). The Captain America war bond show, which features Rogers repeatedly knocking out Hitler, amounts to decent comic relief in the film.

Marvel Comic fans will rejoice in the presence of Iron Man's dad, Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), as one of the men providing Rogers with his second suit and the ever-reliable, impenetrable shield. Of course, you can keep a look out for Stan Lee, because he will most assuredly make an appearance. In a cool twist that sets the stage for Captain America's participation in the modern-day The Avengers (coming to screens next summer), Samuel L. Jackson makes his requisite appearance as Nick Fury.

Much of the action staged by director Joe Johnston is OK, but it gets a little sleepy at times. Lots of footage featuring Evans running around in the dark on multiple rescue missions just sort of blends together. On the plus side, there was never a moment where I felt like what I was seeing was altogether bad. It's just a little tedious at times.

Of course, these things generally don't work if the villain is a big pussy. Such is not the case with Johann Schmidt/Red Skull, played fiercely by Hugo Weaving. Schmidt had a previous engagement with Dr. Erskine, forcing him to hand over some of the amplifying serum. But since Schmidt is a full-on asshole, and the serum amplifies pre-existing personality traits, he becomes Supreme Leader of All Assholes, a.k.a. Red Skull post-injection.

Weaving got on my nerves in the Matrix sequels and The Wolfman, primarily for his slow, dig-my-growly-voice delivery. This time out, he speaks at a pleasing pace with a convincing German accent. His red makeup is stellar; I couldn't tell how much of it was practical or CGI, and I don't want to know. I just liked watching the way his mouth and forehead moved. It is the very definition of badass.

The combo of Evans' bravura performance and Weaving's menacing presence helps to take Captain America over the "decent movie" line. You won't catch me getting super-excited for Captain America sequels unless they switch up writers and directors and get some more whiz-bang for the bucks.

Stay post-credits for a quick, rapidly edited look at The Avengers that provides glimpses of all the heroes (with the exception of the Incredible Hulk; Marvel isn't ready to let us see what he's going to look like in his next screen presentation just yet).

If you look at all the origin movies for the other characters that comprise the upcoming Avengers movie (the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor), it's arguable that Captain America got the weakest vehicle with this movie. That said, it's still OK as far as superhero movies go, and worlds better than the summer's superhero misfire, Green Lantern.

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