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Hollywood Product: Captain America: The First Avenger 

Latest big-screen hero film is more like Captain A-meh-rica

Chris Evans stars in Captain America: The First Avenger

Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios

Chris Evans stars in Captain America: The First Avenger

GENRE: Superhero for Greatest Generation nostalgia

THE PITCH: During World War II, an experimental serum turns 90-pound asthmatic Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) into super-soldier Captain America, who devotes himself to stopping the high-tech arsenal of the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), head of Hydra, the Nazi's "Deep Science Division."

MONEY SHOTS: For the first act, director Joe Johnston puts Evans' head on a puny body Benjamin Button-style, and only occasionally do the CGI seams show. As a costumed stage performer, Cap punches a fake Hitler to sell war bonds. Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) shoots at bad guys in an oncoming car — in 3-D! Captain America and the Skull face each other from the ceiling of an exploding factory.

BEST LINE: Cap's old friend Bucky: "What happened to you?" Now-bulked-up Cap: "I joined the Army," amusingly tweaking recruiting-poster hyperbole.

BEST BAD LINE: "It's completely vibration-resistant," inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) says of Captain America's new vibranium shield, a claim neither as impressive nor as comprehensible as he must think.

WORST LINE: "So, you ... do you two ... fondue?" Cap jealously asks Agent Carter of her relationship to Stark.

BODY COUNT: Around 50, accounting for the passengers of various blown-up vehicles. The Red Skull's ray guns disintegrate numerous G.I.s and bad guys alike. Other kills include falling off a mountainous train-trestle, wearing an explosive flamethrower and falling into a plane propeller.

FASHION STATEMENTS: Weaving sports terrifically creepy skull make-up, but also dons a leather overcoat so tight, it looks more like a Jean Paul Gaultier dress. Agent Carter wears a slinky red gown when she visits Cap at a pub, but they separate almost immediately.

SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHT: Alan Menken and David Zippel pen a George M. Cohan-style patriotic ditty, "Star-Spangled Man," for Cap's war-bond drives. (I'm surprised they didn't borrow the "Captain America anthem" from the 1960s cartoon.) Incidentally, Alan Silvestri's score sounds a little too much like John Williams' Empire Strikes Back music.

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES: Despite all the showy World War II derring-do, one of the best moments is a low-key encounter between Tommy Lee Jones and Toby Jones as an irascible colonel and a wormy Nazi arms builder, respectively.

TIES TO MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE: From Thor, the Skull's cosmic cube was "the jewel of Odin's treasure room." From Iron Man, rakish Howard Stark is the father of Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony. Cap's commando team, including mustachioed Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough), were the sidekicks of Nick Fury during his World War II days. Speaking of which, a certain spymaster makes a requisite cameo.

CLOSING CREDITS EXTRA? Rumor has it that a teaser trailer for next summer's The Avengers follows the credits but it wasn't attached to print at the advance screening.

HOW'S THE 3-D? Compared to the directors of this summer's other 3-D hero movies, Johnson makes more of an effort to shove objects toward the audience — at one point I actually flinched when Cap threw his shield and it bounced back toward the camera.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Captain America flags in its attempt to evoke the same kind of matinee-era thrills as the Indiana Jones flicks or Johnston's own 1991 comic book adventure, The Rocketeer. Evans makes an appealingly earnest hero, but the more ripped he gets, the less interesting the role becomes. The appealing vintage concept deserves a more inspired treatment than merely setting up The Avengers.

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Captain America: The First Avenger 3D
Rated PG-13 · 125 min. · 2011
Staff Rating:
Official Site: captainamerica.marvel.com
Director: Joe Johnston
Writer: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Producer: Kevin Feige
Cast: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Hayley Atwell, Richard Armitage, Natalie Dormer, Sebastian Stan and Neal McDonough

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