Andy Bockelman: Sincere approach makes ‘Captain America’ strong superhero movie

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

Now playing:

“Captain America: The First Avenger”

3 out of 4 stars

124 minutes

Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell and Tommy Lee Jones.

Now playing at West Theatre and Steamboat Springs’ Metropolitan Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.

Some images are timeless, even if the intent behind them changes year after year.

When the hero of “Captain America: The First Avenger” socked Adolf Hitler square on the jaw on his first comic book cover, he ingrained himself in the minds of the country he loves.

In 1942, the U.S. war effort is well underway, as young men across the nation drop everything in their lives to serve their country in the Armed Forces. While Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) may have just as much gumption as all the other boys shipping off, his 98-pound weakling frame doesn’t show it.

One recruiter after another says he can forget about being a soldier, but upon meeting scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) he finds his ticket in. Thanks to the doctor’s recommendation, Rogers gets the opportunity to show his worth to skeptical military training supervisors (Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell).

When Erskine subjects Rogers to a series of medical tests that includes an injection of his specially crafted Super Soldier Serum and exposure to “vita-rays,” the procedure leaves him a new man — literally. The puny underdog that used to get beaten up regularly is replaced by an Adonis who can run faster, jump higher and punch harder than the old Steve Rogers could have ever dreamed.

Though the newly developed powerhouse is eager to flex his muscles overseas, Congress has different ideas, having Rogers tour the country as marketing gimmick Captain America, a patriotic performer promoting war bonds. Dissatisfied with being little more than an advertising spokesman, Rogers seeks a way to aid the troops in Europe who are risking much more than he is.

With roles in “Fantastic Four,” “The Losers” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” Evans may as well start carrying business cards inscribed, “Comic Book Actor.” Nevertheless, he treats the character of Captain America with the utmost respect, never trying to make him an action hero or even a hero — just a good-hearted man trying to do his part against the Axis Powers.

Leading an insurgency within the ranks of America’s enemies is Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt, the head of the Nazis’ science division, HYDRA, who plans to overthrow Der Fuhrer in his own bid for world domination. And, just like the true face of the man known as the Red Skull, his scheme isn’t going to be pretty.

Tucci is memorable as Erskine, originally a German scientist who refused to play into Nazi politics, while Toby Jones employs his best mad scientist voice as Schmidt’s collaborator Arnim Zola.

Fighting tooth and nail for the Allies are Jones as consistently unimpressed Col. Chester Phillips and Atwell as British agent Peggy Carter, who shows just why you don’t want to backtalk a woman who’s worked her way through the ranks of a male-dominated field.

Look no further for worthwhile brothers in arms, with fellow fighters like Gabe Jones (Derek Luke), Jim Morita (Kenneth Choi) and bowler hat-wearing Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough) leaping from the pages of comic book obscurity. Then, of course, there’s Sebastian Stan as Rogers’ best friend Bucky Barnes, promoted from his original position as Cap’s teenage sidekick to a regular adult soldier.

There’s a lot of ground to cover in tracing back Captain America to his earliest days, which predate the Marvel Comics title itself. But, back when he went under the banner Timely Comics and later Atlas Comics, Cap’s purpose of bolstering patriotism faded as superheroes’ popularity took a nosedive in the 1950s.

But, ever since his 1960s revival, he’s been going strong, serving his namesake with little more than an indestructible shield and unwavering dedication. And, rather than mock the character’s earnest Boy Scout personality, director Joe Johnston contrasts the schmaltzy icon expected by 1940s society and the new attitude of those of us 70 years later, with Cap more than aware that endless blathering about duty to one’s country isn’t the same as actually doing something.

The corniness of “Star-Spangled Man,” David Zippel’s and Alan Menken’s theme for Cap’s touring sideshow in the States, hilariously sums up how something so powerful could be turned into a joke.

But, once the song and dance is dropped and we get into some combat, that’s when we see the man in red, white and blue as he was meant to be.

If the title of “Captain America: The First Avenger” doesn’t give it away, the timeframe of World War II isn’t the last we’ll see of Steve Rogers. Be sure to stick around through the credits to get a glimpse of some familiar faces, all together for the first time.

It brings a tear to this comic book nerd’s eye.

Now playing at West Theatre and Steamboat Springs’ Metropolitan Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.

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