I became a bit curious about the series because the Marvel franchise is owned by Disney and the rest of my family enjoys the films. The WWII setting made CAPTAIN AMERICA a good entrance point for me into the Marvel world.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny young man who wants to join the army and fight for his country, but he's turned down as 4F. It's worth noting that Evans' thin appearance in the early scenes is thanks to CGI but that aspect is fairly seamless.
Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a U.S. government scientist, sees something special in Steve and not only gets him into the army, he also puts him into a top secret program. Steve is injected with a serum which makes him a "super soldier," ultimately known as Captain America.
Steve joins Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), and inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) fighting a Nazi spinoff organization called HYDRA, headed by Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), who (of course!) plans world domination.
The above is an attempt to describe a sprawling 124-minute film as succinctly as possible. The movie's running time is both a blessing and a curse; the movie is a bit too long, yet there is lots of back story and information missing. Viewers are told next to nothing about important characters like Carter and Stark; sure, there was a secret program underway but I would have loved to know what on earth a female British agent was doing commanding male troops in the U.S., let alone fighting in combat!
Of course, I went into this film with zero knowledge about Marvel superheroes, so it's possible some background info may have been absorbed by audiences elsewhere along the way.
Evans does a good job, successfully conveying the formerly short, insecure man who still exists inside a newly powerful body. He may be a superhero, but, among other things, he still doesn't know how to talk to women.
I also thought Atwell and Jones were excellent, and I enjoyed the bits of humor they added to the film. I also liked that Atwell's character was simultaneously feminine and tough. Atwell brings a fresh film persona and a unique character to the movie, which I appreciated.
The movie's biggest drawback is the lack of a good musical score. My husband calls the scores for these superhero movies "wallpaper," and he's right. You don't even notice the score is there. I can't help remembering how my friends and I left the theater humming John Williams' SUPERMAN (1978) theme when that movie came out; a top-drawer score can do so much to lift a film to another level of excitement, and that aspect was sadly missing here.
A side note, the final sequence has definite echoes of RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983), what with the speeders in the forest and trying to break into a bunker. I later learned that the film's director, Joe Johnston, was the art director for RETURN OF THE JEDI so that seems to shed some light on the similarity!
All in all I thought CAPTAIN AMERICA was a pretty good film of its type; it had a solid story with humor mixed in, and it avoided taking its violence to a level I wouldn't want to watch. I also liked the WWII setting, although that won't be a factor in other Marvel films. I enjoyed the movie enough to be interested in watching the sequel, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014) or another film in the Marvel series. I'll also probably check out the AGENT CARTER TV series.
CAPTAIN AMERICA was directed by Joe Johnston and filmed by Shelly Johnson.
Parental Advisory: CAPTAIN AMERICA is rated PG-13 for "intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action."
CAPTAIN AMERICA is available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Update: Here is my review of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014).