THE GOOD,THE BAD AND THE UGLY: The biggest question going into “Captain America” was whether Chris Evans — perfectly cast as the cocky, wise-cracking Johnny Storm in the “Fantastic Four” films — could transform himself into the serious and superhuman Steve Rogers. Early photos answered the physical part of the question — Evans put on plenty of muscle. But could he generate the wholesomeness and solemnity the role required?
In every way, he did and ultimately he is the reason this film works as well as it does. Evans, who reportedly battled with writers over lines he thought Rogers would never say, is Captain America in much the same way Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark.
Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones also deserve recognition for their performances. Atwell, as Agent Peggy Carter, has great chemistry with Evans and their romance is refreshingly innocent and restrained, making the conclusion of the film all the more powerful. Tucci, in his short time on screen, creates such a deep character with Erskine that fans who know his fate will increasingly feel sad that his time is growing short. And Jones is splendid in his gruff, surprisingly funny portrayal of Colonel Chester Phillips.
Dominic Cooper is also a pleasant surprise as Howard Stark. He puts just enough Downey into his Howard to make him really believable as Tony Stark’s father.
But what are great performances without a great story?
Fortunately, “Captain America” was supplied with one of those as well.
Origin stories are often overdone, but the key to knowing Captain America now is knowing who he was then. “Captain America: The First Avenger” is set in the 1940s, the era that defines Cap’s actions. Joe Johnston, whose “The Rocketeer” may be the most underrated comic book film out there, transports us back to the era with sepia tones and period-accurate clothing, sets and music. Like “The Rocketeer” and the Indiana Jones films, the time period is as much a character as the actors and settles us into a foreign but familiar place. And the backdrop of World War II supplies plenty of battles for some great action scenes where Cap flings his shield with ferocity.
Add a beautiful score and you’ve got a perfect tribute to a character that embodies the best of this nation.