A refreshing change of pace from the brooding DARK KNIGHT template which often seen in many superhero genre these days, Joe Johnston's CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER is a good old-fashioned throwback to the action adventure where everything are all about being fun and entertaining.
The movie opens in the present day where an arctic exploration crew discovers Captain America's shield buried somewhere deep in the ice before the action winds back in 1942 during WWII. We are introduced to Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a 98-pound weakling who dreams of enlisting in the Army to serve his country. However his physical ailments and skinny frame prevent him from being accepted.
Still he refuses to give up and tries his luck again when he is in a military fair with his best buddy, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) who's already a soldier himself. That is where a twist of fate arrives when he meets Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a German scientist who confident he has found a brave, honest and high-spirited soldier to test out his latest experiment. Steve is eventually being accepted to join the Army and it doesn't take long before he is successfully being transformed into a taller and muscular version of himself via super serum injection. As a successful experiment of a "new breed of super soldier", Steve quickly earns the nickname of Captain America and becomes an all-important government propaganda.
After spending most of the time being ridiculed like a U.S. military mascot, he is finally up for serious business when he join forces with beautiful military agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and wealthy engineer Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) to rescue a group of American soldiers held captive by a group of Nazi-based organization called Hydra, lead by Johann Schmidt a.k.a. Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). During the deadly mission, Captain America finds out that Johann is secretly using an ancient artifact that shaped like a cube which able to possess a high source of energy. With the help of Dr. Zola (Toby Jones), the energy is enough to power a revolutionary weapon that Johann believes he can rule the world in a matter of time.
First of all, it's good to see the much-maligned Joe Johnston who previously suffered a major setback from directing THE WOLFMAN (2010) is finally back in form. As an overall result, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER has that feel-good, pulpy fun Johnston once did it handsomely in the beloved, if underappreciated THE ROCKETEER (1991). Working from a script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the story is efficiently told especially during the first 45 minutes. During that stretch alone, the pace moves briskly while it's particularly interesting to see how Evan's physical transformation from a skinny weakling to a hulking hero.
Speaking of Evans, he's a perfect fit to play Steve Rogers/Captain America role. I mean, I'm kind of skeptical at first when Evans was being selected to play such an iconic Marvel character especially given the fact how one-dimensional he has done last time around with his Human Torch role in the two FANTASTIC FOUR movies. Never before I would have thought that Evans can pulled off a spirited performance here you can't help but care for his character. The rest of the supporting cast are equally good, with Tommy Lee Jones steals every scene he's in as a gruff Col. Chester Phillips where he gets all the best one-liners here. It's good to see him back in his trademark sarcastic role he used to play so well in his Oscar-winning role for THE FUGITIVE (1993). Hayley Atwell is perfectly typecast as Steve's strong-willed love interest in an otherwise thankless role you often found in many superhero movies. Furthermore, it's nice to see her romantic spark with Steve feels more natural than an unnecessary filler. Others including Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones round up the competent cast with respectively credible performances.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Hugo Weaving who plays Johann Schmidt/Red Skull. It's kind of surprise, especially Weaving always made a terrific villain (among them are his iconic Agent Smith role in THE MATRIX triogy). But here, he's unintentionally laughable and it's hard to see him as a threatening figure whatsoever. Perhaps his awkward-sounding, fake German accent fails to lift up his role considerably while his character is terribly underwritten. If that's not insulting enough, the makeup effect of his Red Skull face looks like a B-grade mask sold in Halloween costume store.
Despite most of the good stuff, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER falters once the movie showcases Steve in a Captain America costume and start fighting his enemy. From here onward, it seems that Johnston loses focus and filled up most of the action sequences playing more like a collection of montage. Except earlier on, there is a dramatic action set-piece where the bulked-up Steve pursues a spy across the street worth mentioning for. But the rest of the action sequences are lazily constructed. Not surprisingly, the final showdown between Captain America and Red Skull is disappointingly cut-rate. A bit of shame though is that there aren't enough shield action I'm sure a lot of die-hard fans out there are expecting otherwise.
Technical credits are mixed bag. Alan Silvestri's music score is exciting, while Shelly Johnson's bold cinematography and Rick Heinrichs's elaborate production design perfectly captured the stylized look of 1940s setting with retro sci-fi undertones. The special effects are surprisingly adequate, despite being blessed with $140 million budget.
All the glaring flaws aside, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER remains a reasonably entertaining movie worth watching for. In the meantime, remember to stay after the credit.