Captain America has one of the three quintessential superhero origins.. Superheroes are either born that way (Superman, The X-Men) or some major event shapes their lives (Batman, Daredevil) or they’re plucked from obscurity and get superpowers (Captain Marvel, Spider-Man). Captain America was one of the earliest instances of an ordinary man becoming extraordinary through external means. He’s that first wimpy little guy to get plucked from obscurity and given superpowers and a group of fast friends with which to fight all the evils of the world. Super powers and new friends? What nerdy little kid wouldn’t dream of that?

Only  Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger never really revels in the wish-fulfillment. He gives a nod here or there as we watch Steve Rogers (Captain America sans mask) leap from moving car to moving car. There’s a little bit of a thrill in Steve’s eyes. But it’s not the powers themselves that thrill Steve. It’s what they mean for him socially.

Wimpy little Steve Rogers is a pariah until a German scientist (Stanley Tucci taking a small role and giving it impact) grants Steve’s one wish and gets him into the Army…and then gives him super powers. Suddenly he’s the cool guy others want to get to know. He’s Captain America, the face of the American Army.

But he never forgets who he once was. He surrounds himself with men who’ve suffered their fare share of bigotry (with the exception of best friend, Buckey Barnes). Men who know what it’s like to get knocked down by society, but who have no problem picking themselves back up.  And the one woman in the whole world that Steve carries a torch for? A super badass military agent, who like Steve and all his new friends, gets what its like to be judged according to looks and backgrounds.

Hayley Atwell is Peggy Carter, a saucy Brit who works for the Americans under Tommy Lee Jones gruff Colonel Phillips. And the film never lets us forget that she’s a woman a bit out of place. Steve, jerks on the base and even Carter’s boss, Phillips, mention how unusual it is to see a woman in the thick of the fighting. Sometimes Carter smiles at the mention and sometimes she feels it necessary to assert herself…with a fist…or a gun. “She’s just one of the boys,” her actions insist. Until it comes time to make doe eyes at Rogers. Then she’s all 1940s woman.

The relationship between Rogers and Carter, that commonality they share, is one of the best parts of Captain America. Late in the film they share a hokey little conversation as one of them goes off to maybe die. If I’d seen the conversation on paper I would have rolled my eyes at all the clichés, but Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell sell it like you wouldn’t believe and I found myself getting a little misty and trying not to be the person crying in a superhero movie.

Captain America is bogged down by clichés. Watching Hugo Weaving and Toby Jones vamp it up as evil Nazi you can’t help bu notice that you’ve seen this all before. There’s nothing new in Captain America. It’s a comic from the 40s brought to life in the pulpiest way possible. But Joe Johnston (who tread similar ground in Rocketeer) is really, really good at 1940s pulp. He makes it fun.

This is now the 5th film in the new Marvel universe and the last before next year’s The Avengers. It might be my overwhelming love for Chris Evans, but I’ll happily go on record as saying this was the best of the five films. Yes Iron Man is great and Thor and Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk have great moments, but this was the first film that had that comic book feel to it and of the five Captain America does the best job setting up next year’s cinematic event. Whether on purpose or not, this movie has set up Steve Rogers as the guy we’ll identify with going into Avengers. He’s the guy I’ll be rooting for in what is sure to be the biggest crossover ever on film.

You know, when I’m not missing Hayley Atwell.

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