Spoilers ahoy--read at your own risk!
You have to love a movie that has the balls to tweak Raiders of The Lost Ark (lovingly, of course) in an early scene. One of Roger Ebert's rules is that a movie should rarely make a direct reference to a better movie, because you're just reminding the audience of your shortcomings as compared to the classic. But CATFA has the confidence to do it, and the self-awareness to know the audience will already be making that comparison in their minds because of the nature of the scene.
That being said, not a terribly good job of hiding the most powerful artifact in existence, Norse guys.
Captain America: First Avenger is the story of Captain America and The Howling Commandos fighting Hydra in the Secret Science Fiction Theater of WWII.
And holy crap, it completely works, out-Marveling Marvel itself, as Hydra agents with ray guns and Cosmic Cube-powered tanks are befuddled by plucky infantry (and the occasional help of James Bond-style motorcycles and mystic vibranium shields!) while the rest of the world has the plodding and boring World War Two.
Yes, there's some cognitive dissonance at first, but at the point where the Red Skull takes off in his gyro-rocket thingie, you grok how they've grafted a Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four aesthetic onto a Simon/Kirby war comic, and you stop worrying and learn to love the hell out of what the movie is doing to you.
Plus: Howard Stark gets a Q scene. Let me re-emphasize: Howard Stark is Q.
Stanley Tucci--bless you sir. You had what, 7 minutes of screen time? But your performance was so wonderful, such a grace note, that you single-handedly set the (hugely successful) tone for the whole movie. You took one of the most minor characters and made him into the moral center of the whole Marvel Universe (with the help of the writers, of course).
It won't happen, but you deserve a Supporting Actor nomination. Thank you.
Easter Eggs, references, and connections--this movie's got 'em.
For those who complain about continuity porn, this movie is a rejoinder, showing how to use continuity to enhance the experience for those in the know without detracting anything for the uninitiated.
For my second viewing (3 so far, 4 by the time you read this), I saw CATFA with friends who a) hadn't seen Thor, b) hadn't seen Iron Man 2, and c) had no idea what the Avengers was, or that a movie was coming. And they loved CATFA, and didn't feel like they had missed anything.
For we nerds, though? The exhibit at the fair, Dr. Zola's first appearance on screen, the references to the other Marvel films...all woven in gently and subtly, not made too big a deal of--just extra nuggets for us to enjoy.
And once again, I'll ask--why the hell can't Warner do anything like this in their DC movies? Even if they don't ever intend to make a cohesive movie universe, what's wrong with a hat tip or two--a casual mention of Gotham in a Superman movie, someone watching a report from Metropolis on TV in Green Lantern, some little wink or nod? The DC movie franchises are hermetically sealed unto themselves, no trespassing allowed, whereas with just a couple of little touches, the Marvel Studios films have captured the fun of early Marvel comics, where anyone might show up anywhere and fans ate up the shared universe.
SPOILER-RIFIC SPECULATIONS: You really shouldn't read this if you haven't seen the movie yet.
**Great, now I have to re-watch Thor and look for any sign of the Red Skull in Asgard--that's where he ended up, sucked into Asgard, right??
**When Cap rescued Bucky, Barnes (alone) was in the "isolation ward," in Zola's lab, underneath some ray-looking machine thingie. What, exactly, was being done to him? And...was it something that may have enabled him to survive his apparent fate in the movie?? Bucky Lives!!
**So why, exactly, was the "prize of Odin's treasure room" left on Earth all those generations ago, for dopey humans to hide (ineffectively)? Especially since humans weren't allowed to touch it or even look at it?
**Fun fact for a later essay--compare/contrast what happens at "70%" in Zola's first experiment with the Cube and what happens at "70%" during Project Rebirth. One of many examples of using parallels and echoes well. Good writing.
I don't talk about Captain America as much as I should. While the Fantastic Four will always be first in my Marvel heart, Steve Rogers and Cap will always hold a special place. I was the proverbial 98-pound weakling as a child, and so of course I found Cap's origin quite appealing. And while I'm not an overt flag-waving type of guy, Steve Rogers represents so much of what I believe in about America and patriotism.
Plus, he socked Hitler in the jaw.
But...but it's such a delicate balance. Despite a seemingly idiot-proof origin and fairly easy concept to portray, obviously Cap has been screwed up in other media--several times. Whether it's fear of offending Germany (and seriously, since when did Hollywood EVER worry about the consequences of using too many Nazis??) or a discomfort over how to portray the concept without getting overly corny (or overly political), Hollywood had proven itself ridiculously inept at all things Captain America.
So, while I was eager to see the new movie, I kept a tight, tight reign on my enthusiasm, because history told me that this could very well be another colossal bust. And I think that I let that fear subconsciously color my views of the early publicity shots and teasers and trailers, because man, I was worried.
But at the end of a crappy week and a particularly crappy day, I sank back in my seat in a surprisingly crowded theater and was transported away by a movie that was so confident, so sure handed, so captivating that despite a 2 hour running time, I wanted more, more more.
Bottom line--best super-hero movie of the summer, and I'm pretty sure it's the best of the Marvel Studios films.