Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

(In theaters, July 2011) The inherent nationalism of the Captain America character makes it a tricky sell outside the United States.  How best to translate a superhero originally developed to tap into pro-American anti-Nazi fever to an international audience that, to put it politely, may not believe as much in American exceptionalism?  Nazis, unsurprisingly, are part of the answer: This Captain America not only takes places during World War 2 (albeit a dieselpunk-verging-on-atompunk fantasy version of WW2) and squares off against a supernatural Nazi opponent, but director Joe Johnston also adopts an un-ironic filming style reminiscent of classic adventure films.  Fortunately, it all fits together, with a little surprise at the end: Trying something a bit different from other films superhero films proves to be a good idea, and Captain America turns into a refreshingly old-fashioned entertainment.  A good chunk of the fun belongs to Chris Evans, who takes on the square-jawed heroics with unselfconscious honesty; good supporting roles also go to Hugo Weaving as the villainous Red Skull, Stanley Tucci as an eccentric mentor and Tommy Lee Jones, chewing on the kind of gruff military man role he’s so naturally suited for.  The story plays itself out over a few years, with a few unexpected hooks and references to the real-world history of Captain America: keep your eyes out for a reproduction of the real Captain America #1 cover during the film’s amusing showbiz digression.  Fans of the Marvelverse put on film will love the references to Thor and the Iron Man hooks with the importance given to Tony Stark’s father.  Add to that a few good supporting characters, a decent romance with chronological room to grow, a nifty coda and some fascinating special effects and Captain America isn’t just good enough to become a high point of Summer 2011 in Hollywood, but a superb lead-in to 2012’s The Avengers.

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