They did it.
Captain America -- The First Avenger is so far the best movie of the summer movie season. It truly is about courage and giving your all. I know some people complain about jingoism in movies (only in American films, productions from other countries that show national pride NEVER get that criticism), but this doesn't really have any of that. It is an epic story that works because of the dichotomy of the hero -- his powers are limited, but his heart is limitless.
The movie not only follows the traditional origin of Captain America, but also incorporates real world facts about the character. Set in the early 1940's, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, who was in The Losers, TMNT, Scott Pilgrim, and the Fox Fantastic Four movies. Is there some sort of competition between him, Sam Jackson,and Michael Clark Duncan to see who can be in the most comic book movies?!?) was a 98 pound weakling from
Evans does a hell of a job acting. Little movements and subtly keep the character grounded, a little fixing of his hair here, setting his jaw when he's about to undergo the super soldier process there. Cap would be a very easy character to camp up, but the script and Evans make him determined, as opposed to the cocky swagger of Thor or Tony Stark. It is up to him to sell Cap as a man who refuses to fail instead of some superdude who just can't be stopped, more like Jackie Chan and less like Arnold Shwartzenegger, and he does it with aplomb. Part of this ties into Cap himself. Cap is a super soldier, but he's not Superman. He's just an enhanced human, and can be taken out if you do it right. He's very vulnerable for a superhero. This makes him closer to the viewer, and easier to identify with.
The director, Joe Johnston (Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, The Rocketeer, Jurassic Park III), keeps things moving. The set pieces have frequent long takes enabling you to follow the action and be thrilled by it instead of the fast cuts that disguise and confuse (anyone who's seen the Borne trilogy knows what I'm talking about). But the real star behind the scenes is his frequent cinematographer, Shelly Johnson. Thanks to sepia-toned scenery and great angles, Johnson creates a truly immersive environment for the movie. You feel you are watching events unfold instead of a series of chapter stops on the DVD. Also, props to Robert Dalva and Jeffrey Ford for their editing. They keep the timing and pacing brisk, and the comic moments like the capture the flag bit from basic training, even if you know what's coming, feel natural and not overlong. Even as the set pieces escalate and become more comic booky, they never lose their grounding. At first, I was having occasional flashbacks to Metal Gear Awesome ("Oh, gee whiz, I hope a giant tank doesn't totally come out of nowhere and own me!"), but they got left behind by the time the second act started.
The supporting cast is awesome. There's a bit of a war going on to see who can steal the most scenes, Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips or Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark. Cooper in particular had me thinking, Like father, like son. Hayley Atwell plays Peggy Carter, a woman who is actually a woman -- she doesn't take shit from the boys, but she isn't just a man with tits, either. Although whenever Stan Lee wants to stop whoring himself out for cameo appearances, fine by me. Really. It's starting to get distracting because people notice you and it takes them out of the movie. Stop that shit.
Speaking of "stop that shit," please, for the love of God, no more motorcycles with guns mounted on the handlebars! That means you can only shoot at things you are driving towards and they will be impossible to aim. It was stupid in Megaforce, it was stupid in Delta Force, and it's stupid during the third act of Captain America. I know the Nazis had some whacked out ideas for weapons, but they weren't THAT fucking dumb.
The script incorporates pieces of Captain America's actual history, like how he was created for an ad campaign to sell war bonds and balances it against what the characters find themselves in, such as Phillips slowly but surely coming around to admiring Steve Rogers instead of just dismissing him. You can see the change happening, it really is amazing to watch.
After losing ground over the years to John Powell as my favorite movie score composer, Alan Silvestri is back with a vengeance. Using military music and period pieces as his launching point, Silvestri's score is amazing to listen to, particularly during the truly amazing train raid. I'm grabbing this one first chance I get.
Incidentally, the stinger on this one? It's shit. All you see is Rogers working out when Fury approaches him, then a preview of a few bits from next year's Avengers movie. Despite the footage on YouTube of Agent Caulson giving Rogers his shield in Times Square, that doesn't appear anywhere in the film, so I'm guessing it will be a flashback in Avengers. Whatever. It just ends the movie to abruptly, and the stinger is just a promo, not a hint of what's to come. But that's pretty much my only real bitch about the movie.
Captain America -- The First Avenger would be an awesome movie during any summer, but with the competition this year, it stands out proudly. It's the first time in a long time I actually felt a movie was worth the time AND money I spent on it.