Captain America: The First Avenger

That would be bad, however, because Marvel has saved
the best for last. It's miles better than that Norse god with the magic
hammer, and just a hair below the greatness of Robert Downey Jr.'s first
go-round in his iron armor, both of whom will team with Cap in next
summer's guaranteed nerdgasm, "The Avengers."

With all but a few minutes set in the 1940s, "Captain America"
celebrates the Great War and its Yankee soldiers without pushing your
face in halfhearted, jingoistic rhetoric. Its patriotism burns real,
meaningful and infectious, whereas, say, "Battle: Los Angeles" was
forced and felt manufactured, as if to cloud its sheer lack of story.

This story is, naturally, an origin tale of the star-spangled superhero
of Marvel Comics' golden age — a 98-pound weakling of Charles Atlas ads
transformed by science into the United States' strongest weapon against
Hitler and his armies, not to mention the even more threatening foe of
the crimson-headed Red Skull (Hugo Weaving, "The Wolfman"). String-bean
orphan Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World") is the
perennial-rejected Army enlistee until a top-secret super-soldier serum
is tested on him, and works like a charm.

Most interesting in this adaptation is how long director Joe Johnston
("The Wolfman") keeps Cap's superheroics at bay. Cheekily, although not
cheesily, the period picture first shows him not fighting on front
lines, but playing propaganda prop on USO tours, like Bob Hope in a
Halloween costume. In a montage set to a full-blown musical number that
would make Busby Berkeley proud (complete with an original Alan Menken
tune destined for Oscar recognition), kids snatch up copies of "Captain
America Comics #1" as it existed in our world, and movie audiences enjoy
him romp in a 15-chapter, black-and-white Republic  actually released
in 1944.

The action hits hard in hour two, and the punch is considerable. Like a
light, pop-culture take on "Inglourious Basterds," it's rich in period
detail, but approaching weighty, revisionist themes without taking
itself too seriously (the last line, however, is absolutely haunting).
Evans proves the best choice for the role, more invested than he was in
the "Fantastic Four" films. Matching his character in bravery and balls
is Hayley Atwell (TV's "The Pillars of the Earth"), more than merely the
love interest — and the only argument for experiencing the well-made
film in its converted 3D. —Rod Lott