124 minutes

In the midst of the current onslaught of super-hero-themed visual effects extravaganzas, director Joe Johnston's take on Captain America comes across as a cheerful, refreshingly old-fashioned throwback to an earlier, kinder, simpler era. Yes, Captain America: The First Avenger is another piece of the Avengers puzzle – the marketing agenda is firmly in place and the film is peppered with a number of clues and links to the other heroes of the Marvel universe (its bookend prologue and epilogue linking it to the 2012 super-hero “mash-up” directed by Joss Whedon). But the saving grace lies in Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely's scripting decision to have the star-spangled hero's “origin story” remain in the World War II-era US, when the character was originally created.

     In keeping with Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's original set-up, the film has scrawny Brooklyn kid Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) turned into a super-soldier, but then promptly sent off into... a war effort propaganda tour from which he longs to break free, and actually does as he takes a leading role in the battle against Hydra, the Nazi occult science division led by the megalomaniac villain Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). Yes, it's all very derivative from both 1940s adventure serials and its post-modern recreations – there's a strong whiff of cut-rate Raiders of the Lost Ark (G. I.s and Nazis struggling for unspeakable magic powers). But it's that deliberate throwback to a simpler morality (good vs. bad, right vs. wrong) directly brought from the comics' original incarnation, and its lean, B-grade storyline (Captain America and the US Army take on Hydra), told efficiently with a number of sly meta-fictional digs (the Cap himself is a comic-book hero at the same time as an actual living warrior), that win the movie.

     Well, that and the wondrous retro-futuristic production design from Rick Heinrichs, rendered in pitch-perfect period patine by d. p. Shelly Johnson and Christopher Townsend's visual effects team. That's not surprising, since the highpoint in the career of mr. Johnston, a former visual effects man turned competent if unimaginative director, has so far been 1991's endearingly retro Rocketeer, a cult movie based on Dave Stevens' graphic novel, with which the world of Captain America has more than a few similarities. Even if it didn't have to fit in so tightly with the remainder of the Marvel comic-to-film universe, its charms would be enough to raise it above the current super-hero assembly-line and make it into an unpretentious, enjoyable adventure.

Starring Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke; and Stanley Tucci.
     Directed by Joe Johnston; produced by Kevin Feige; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the comic-book character created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; music by Alan Silvestri; director of photography (colour, DeLuxe processing, Panavision widescreen), Shelly Johnson; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; costume designer, Anna B. Sheppard; film editors, Jeffrey Ford, Robert Dalva; visual effects supervisor, Christopher Townsend.
     A Paramount Pictures/Marvel Entertainment presentation of a Marvel Studios production. (US distributor and world sales, Paramount Pictures.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9 (Lisbon), August 2nd 2011. 


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