Joe Johnston, the director of numerous effects-driven adventures over the years (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji and Jurassic Park III, to name a few), brings sleek efficiency to this 3-D adaptation of the latest Marvel Comics staple to make it to the big screen, which is a nice way of saying that Captain America is a competent if uninspired opening salvo in what Paramount hopes is its next mondo franchise.
The story, set during the height of World War II and cobbled together by a pair of screenwriters, centers on Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), an alarmingly slight but determined guy deemed unfit for military service whose fortunes change when he is chosen for a top-secret research project that turns him into a buff superhero dedicated to defending America's ideals.
(Evans’ physical transformation, whether via special effects, more organic means or a combination thereof, is one of the movie’s few true wonders.) Captain America�is a throwback to less complicated times, an earnest era that synchs well with Johnston’s straightforward, workmanlike approach — think old-school movie serials with a bigger budget and capable supporting actors (Tommy Lee Jones, who brings much-needed grit as a veteran military man; Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, father of Tony Stark, aka Iron Man; Hugo Weaving as a red-faced and archly evil German lunatic who makes Hitler look lucid; and Stanley Tucci as a disheveled scientist).
Evans’ natural charisma can’t help by be muted by his character’s ludicrous costume (perhaps the most banal in superhero annals?), stilted dialogue and a romantic subplot with a brassy female military officer (Hayley Atwell, a voluptuous British actress who brings to mind myriad old-Hollywood sirens) that generates few sparks. Yet, besides its out-of-step, often corny proffering of American idealism long since evaporated, Captain America’s biggest liabilities are its lack of emotional resonance and lame, nearly nonexistent use of 3-D, which literally darkens the screen to the point of irritation. Grade: C
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