Captain America is as good a B movie as a B movie can get. By that, I mean that it hits mostly high notes, and when it misfires, it does so mostly in ways that you can overlook. Set in the 1940s, the movie follows the story of a young man whose body is as small and sickly as his spirit is large and resilient. He is singled out for this largeness of spirit by a scientist looking for a man who will be able to bear the mantle of “supersoldier” with humility and compassion.
With the help of some science-magic (some kind of serum that is wiz-bang-charged with half the electricity in New York City…whatever) Captain America is born. Somehow (again…whatever) Captain America takes two or three breaths into his new super-lungs and is thrown into a thrilling barefoot chase through 1940-era New York city after a Nazi spy. Bullets fly, cars crash, a spy submarine emerges in the Hudson, a young boy is saved, and…. Kapow!: Captain America is launched into the U.S. propaganda machinery. Captain America’s career starts big and flashy and showy–just the way it should–turning up the red, white and blue lust in laughable ways as soon as it can before it leaves the overt battles between axis and allies behind (for the most part) in order to fight an covert war against a psuedo-nazi regime called “Hydra” (led by Agent Smith with a German accent and a Satan complex).
The WW2-era setting feels natural, gritty, and authentic. The style of the film doesn’t draw too much attention to itself but it is solid: colors are often muted, silvery, with dramatic bursts of red, white and blue here and there. The textures are tactile: brushed, scraped, dirty metal vehicles and structures. Creased, oiled leather jackets and hats abound. Landscapes are filled with real things: rain, mud, fog, tangled trees and the twisted wreckage of buildings and military equipment.
There is something refreshing about the hyper-heroics of this movie. There are few grey areas between good and evil. The characters we root for are from another era. An era with little irony where neither the villains or the heroes suffer inner conflicts or self doubt. Neither side hesitates to be all they were born to be (or transmorphed to be). The characters may not be complex, but neither are they mere caricatures. The actors are competent and intelligent, reflecting a range of emotions and concerns.
Not to give too much away, but since the Captain is obviously going to be showing up in next year’s “Avengers” film, it should be a treat to see more of his journey from one era to another. He should offer some much-needed levity to the ancient Nordic pomp (Thor) and the glib, fast-talking hero-cynic [Iron(ic) Man]. The lineup for that movie could use a bit of the straightforward sincerity represented by the epitome of the “greatest generation.”