Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving
Directed by: Joe Johnston (“The Wolfman”)
Written by: Christopher Markus (“The Chronicles of Narnia” series) and Stephen McFeely (“The Chronicles of Narnia” series)

In preparation for the larger than life “Avengers” film set for 2012, Marvel Studios has been fast tracking films loaded with back story on several characters that have yet to see a major film incarnation. In the final tune up for “The Avengers,” one of the most iconic comic book heroes, Captain America, is brought to the big screen. While far from perfection, “Captain America: The First Avenger” is a largely successful adaptation of a comic-book franchise looking to fit into a grander scheme of things.

Set in the early 1940s, the story begins with a scrawny and often sickly Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) trying and failing to enlist in the Army. On his sixth attempt, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) finally accepts Rogers into the Strategic Scientific Reserve, run by Colonel Chester Philips (Tommy Lee Jones) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). From there, Rogers is a guinea pig for the super soldier serum, made to genetically alter soldiers into “super-soldiers.” The experiment is successful, and Rogers, soon to take over the alter ego of Captain America, begins his mission to prevent the evil HYDRA leader Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) from taking over the world.

Chris Evans is a fine choice for Captain America, making sure to establish charm as the frail Steve Rogers and having it carry over to the suddenly bulky and heroic Captain America. However, while Evans is good in his role, it is the strength of the supporting cast that elevates the film. Tommy Lee Jones makes it look easy in his role as the hardnosed Colonel Philips, displaying among other things, perfect comedic timing. Stanley Tucci also turns in a charismatic performance, making every second of his screen time count. While Red Skull is not the most well-rounded villain, Hugo Weaving does his best to intimidate and exude evil.

Although this is one of the better all around superhero movie casts in recent memory, director Joe Johnston (“The Rocketeer”) deserves a lot of praise. Johnston nails the setting of the 1940s perfectly, with elaborate sets (especially at the Modern Marvels of Tomorrow exhibition) and costumes giving legitimacy to the film as a period piece. The action scenes are expertly shot and choreographed, using modern special effects and weaponry and applying it to the 1940s backdrop. Stylistically speaking, Johnston’s best choice was de-saturating the colors, providing a unique, muted presentation to an explosion-packed film and giving the worn down suit and shield of Captain America an even more rustic look.

Unlike fellow pre-“Avengers” film “Thor,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” strives to be its own stand-alone film. Absent from “Captain America” are the constant winks and nudges to the “Avengers” series as well as the general campiness and silliness that audiences saw in “Thor.” Instead we get a relatively well-rounded period film in which “The Avengers” isn’t even in the audience’s consciousness until the very end.

While the final act of the film is clumsy and feels quickly thrown together, “Captain America: The First Avenger” is an overall success, and proves itself to be at the top of the pack of comic book movies this summer.

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