Captain America fights the good fight, a Trip with Steve and Rob

by Mark Burger

This week’s superhero movie is Captain America: The First Avenger, a big-budget adaptation of the popular Marvel Comics character, in which a hero is born — or, rather, created — and a world (ours) is saved….

Does any of this seem familiar? Yes, it’s deja vu all over again, but Captain America is an engaging, enjoyable romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously and piles incident upon incident with colorful abandon, all the better to keep the viewer from thinking too much. (Independent thought is hardly a requirement for a movie like this.)

Having already proven his Marvel mettle in the two Fantastic Four movies, Chris Evans steps into the uniform of the title character, who thanks to a top-secret genetic experiment goes from scrawny to brawny in a matter of minutes (and flashy visual effects).

This being World War II, the good Captain (also known as Steve Rogers) wants only to do his part for his country, and that entails taking down the minions of the diabolical Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), otherwise known as “Red Skull” — for reasons that should be obvious.

Red Skull and his “Hydra” brigade are so nefarious, in fact, that their ambition of achieving world domination exceeds even that of Hitler himself. (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay wisely avoids any serious commentary on the Great War.)

The film’s jovial but straight-faced attitude comes close to self-parody, which lends Captain America a certain novelty among the recent barrage of superhero epics. Although there’s a built-in audience for these films, some viewers may be surprised by the loose humor and almost retro storyline, which despite a number of anachronistic elements (including laser weapons and even integrated combat troops) is utterly steeped in the World War II era.

Evans brings a clear-eyed, single-minded earnestness to the role that never becomes doltish, and the supporting cast performs with hammy gusto: Weaving, Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones each trot out their best German accents; Hayley Atwell provides no-nonsense glamour as Steve’s love interest; Michael Brandon drops by as a publicity-hungry politician; and Tommy Lee Jones, whose poker-faced visage never fails to elicit a laugh, barks orders as a veteran (very much so) US Army colonel overseeing the project that brings Captain America life. Jones’ droll underplaying indicates clearly that he’s in on the joke, which extends to all concerned. (Marvel Comics mavens can rest assured that Stan Lee makes his obligatory one-joke cameo appearance.)

Captain America may be mindless, but it’s never stupid. It’s got action, spectacle and humor, all combined and conveyed in an unpretentious and playful manner. Great art it’s not. Good fun it is.

Opening Friday, The Trip offers lightly-fictionalized versions of actors Steve Coogen and Rob Brydon as they embark on a road trip through the English countryside, ostensibly for an travel article Coogan is to write. But this could hardly be described as a documentary, although “mockumentary” fits the bill.

Coogan and Dryden previously played variations of “themselves” in 2005’s Tristam Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story, which like The Trip was directed by Michael Winterbottom, in a far lighter mood than he displayed in such previous efforts as the 1996 adaptation of Jude, Welcome to Sarajevo (1997) or 2007’s A Mighty Heart.

Along the way, this road-show variation of Louis Malle’s 1981 arthouse hit My Dinner With Andre sees the two chums as they eat, drink, talk and drive — and occasionally drive each other crazy.

Coogan and Brydon are good company throughout, tossing off rude and funny lines with improvised irreverence and occasionally sharp insight. Their respective, and collective, impressions of Richard Burton, Michael Caine and Sean Connery are quite amusing at the outset, but too often the gag is repeated. The Trip has been distilled from a six-part BBC mini-series, and repetition tends to set in. Still, there are far worse, and far less entertaining, ways to breeze through the movies this summer than taking The Trip.