“Captain America: The First Avenger” is Marvel’s third — third! — superhero movie just this summer, following “Thor” and “X-Men: First Class,” so it would be reasonable to expect audiences to be burned out on men in tights.
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 his 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.