The first time I saw Captain America, I walked out of it thinking, “Okay. That was a solid period piece/superhero film. A decent set up for The Avengers.” The more I’ve watched it, though, the more it’s grown on me. And The Winter Soldier only helped its standing in my personal superhero cinema pantheon. First Avenger sews story seeds that, while not exactly unfulfilled, come to bloom in its sequel, making me appreciate it all the more.

That’s not to say that I’m for films being rife with unanswered questions. It’s more that I enjoy films whose questions are answered satisfactorily, and then expanded upon in their sequels in ways you hadn’t imagined. First Avenger is a prime example.

It’s also a highly enjoyable romp in its own right. A loving, fairly straightforward homage to a gilded, bygone era with rousing action, witty banter, and some genuinely touching moments. Essentially, other than the blue, otherworldly cube of death that acts as its MacGuffin, this movie clearly harkens back to films of the age its story takes place in. Rollicking tales with distinct lines between good and evil. Of course, those lines get muddied up in Cap 2, but for this film, at least, the focus is entirely on the goodies kickin’ some bad guy butt. I mean, the hero is the prototypical All-American man dressed in red, white and blue fighting a Nazi warlord who is – literally – a bloody skeleton. Doesn’t get much more clear-cut than that.

Chris Evans is a pitch-perfect Captain America. Square-jawed, beefed up but not too beefed up, and filled to the brim with a good ol’ boy charm that doesn’t come off as superior or trite, which is a feat unto itself. He’s surrounded by a stellar cast, each of whom have their moment to shine: Stanley Tucci as an insightful and kind scientist, Tommy Lee Jones as a militaristic hard-ass (which at this point you’d think would come off as tired, but it works, and well), Sebastian Stan as Steve Rogers’ imperfect but nonetheless steadfast friend, and Hayley Atwell, who convincingly makes her character a force to be reckoned with in a male-dominated sphere.

Joe Johnston directs this picture with a deft touch, infusing it with a retro, bordering-on-cornball vibe that makes the film’s last sequence that much more affecting. It jives perfectly with Alan Silvestri’s stirring score and is enhanced spectacularly by the stunning visual effects, not the least of which is the job they did at creating a small, frail, pre-serum Captain America. The fact that this film didn’t at least get nominated for an Academy Award for that achievement alone is baffling.

Simply put, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, funny, exhilarating, good-hearted movie, permeated with an all-too-rare sense of wonder. It doesn’t attempt to tackle anything more complicated than it can handle, and that evident self-awareness allows you to enjoy its camp, its comedy and its surprising poignance. Repeat viewings do nothing to diminish that. In fact, as I said earlier, you’ll come to appreciate its restraint and ability to lay thematic groundwork for the stories to come.

8/10

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