‘Captain America’ explodes with visual vigor and patriotic pizazz

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

From the brilliantly done “Iron Man” to the recent godly might of “Thor,” we’ve seen each of the heroes triumph as they slowly assemble into the almighty Avengers. Before summer 2012 however, the superheroes need to recover their missing leader. Enter Chris Evans, starring as the titular character in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Set during World War II, Evans plays Steve Rogers — a scrawny asthmatic who transforms into America’s star-spangled avenger. Although it has its flaws, “Captain America” comes out guns blazing with explosive optics worthy of a summer superhero blockbuster. Besides, who doesn’t love frenzied battles with high-tech Nazis?

After a frosty opening in the Arctic, we find the nefarious Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) coming into the possession of the almighty Cosmic Cube — a cube that wields cosmic powers, if you didn’t get that — where he plans on harnessing the power to conquer the world. Cut to the U.S., where we see Steve’s unsuccessful attempt to join the army. The 90-pound short-stack eventually is able to enlist in the army with the help of the quirky Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). After a brief training montage with Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and the feisty agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Rogers is chosen to become the first super-soldier of the American forces. Once America’s super-soldier eschews his propaganda gig, Steve becomes the hero he always dreamed of being, leading the crusade against the technologically-advanced forces of Hydra and the Red Skull in a series of intense battles and vehicular mayhem.

Throughout all the fighting, the movie never fails to disappoint visually. Looking like a living comic book, the film’s ’40s deco style adds a vintage touch to the film’s rich palette. Hydra’s jet-black, futuristic soldiers look like bad-ass stormtroopers, while the jet planes and submarines have a glossy sheen to them, highlighting Hydra’s technical advancements. Even simple things such as the era-specific rounded knobs on the machinery or the grey-tinted camera filter add to the WWII comic book detail. The cosmetic details are equally impressive, with Captain America’s costume making him look more soldier-like and less like a man in tights. The Red Skull actually manages to not look cheesy with a costume that could’ve easily been comical, opting instead for a menacing and demented demeanor, Nazi trench coat and all.

While the characters may be visually epic, there really isn’t that much in terms of depth. Evans does a decent job of portraying the straight-laced, all-American soldier that is Captain America, but the actor lacks the dynamism to keep your attention. Evan’s typical good guy can’t match Robert Downey Jr.’s lovable, asshole qualities, or even Chris Hemsworth’s Asgardian swagger.

Much more disappointing was Weaving’s performance, as he did not live up to his character’s full potential. It’s discouraging when the costume is more intimidating than the actor himself, as Weaving’s portrayal of the Red Skull can only be described as lackluster. The other characters end up being forgettable, as none seem to be able to break out of the cookie-cutter mold and become more than your typical soldier or love-interest. The only exception to this would be Jones, as the veteran actor trumps the cardboard cast with an old-timer colonel charm. His military attitude is balanced by light-hearted comedic relief and although that sounds cliche, Jones is convincing enough to create a stand-out character.

Even though the acting leaves much to be desired, “Captain America” is still a worthwhile adventure. From a humble beginning to a high-altitude confrontation, the battles never cease to be exhilarating throughout the film’s patriotic zeal. The high-octane motorcycle escapades and shield-slinging combat are gripping, as the first Avenger leads the assault against the Nazis. Next summer, the Sentinel of Liberty will return to lead America’s finest in the modern day, when the Avengers finally assemble.