From weakling to pumped-up patriot

Earnest. Square-jawed. Unapologetically square. Chris Evans is ideally cast as the patriotic title character in Captain America: The First Avenger, easily the best 1941 movie made in 2011.

Previously, Johnny Storm the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four films, Evans has a jaunty humor strictly under wraps in this diverting hokum from Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, October Sky) about the scrawny kid transformed into a muscular superhero, the Allies' secret weapon against Nazi renegade Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).

His head digitally superimposed on a pencil-necked body, Evans plays Steve Rogers, a 90-pound asthmatic desperate to enlist in the U.S. Army and routinely rejected as physically unfit.

At a New York induction center, a German refugee scientist (Stanley Tucci with a Col. Klink accent) taps Steve for a military experiment. "De veek mann knows de value off strength und compassion," says the scientist. In other words, the kid who is accustomed to being bullied will not use his enhanced powers to bully others.

Steve is injected with super-serum and irradiated to accelerate its steroidal effects. He emerges a full foot taller with square shoulders, bulging biceps, and the ability to outrun most motor vehicles.

Now buff, he catches the eye of British officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), on whom he nurses a major crush, and earns the grudging respect of Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones, gruffly endearing in the one good performance in the film). The newly pumped Steve becomes Captain America. Assigned to sell war bonds, he goes AWOL to liberate U.S. prisoners of war.

From its antagonists to its art direction, everything about Johnston's movie has a been-there, seen-that familiarity. Yet Evans' clean-cut idealism and objectives make old-fashioned patriotism look fresh.

Shot in 2-D, Captain America was subjected to a 3-D conversion. The effect is one of a nicely lit and atmospheric film seen through an algae-encrusted aquarium glass.

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at

Captain America: The First Avenger

Directed by Joe Johnston. With Neal McDonough, Natalie Dormer, Dominic Cooper, Richard Armitage, Sebastian Stan, Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones. Distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action).