“You could have the power of the gods!” the evil Red Skull challenges Captain America in the Cap’s new film. “Yet you wear a flag on your chest?”

The villain’s implication is clear: Why give of yourself to fight for a country, when you could just use your power to go out and get yours?

Sadly, I’m not sure many of the people watching in today’s theaters would know how to answer that question.

It’s no surprise “Captain America: The First Avenger” is getting mixed reviews in the American media, when we live in a nation where the children of the Vietnam era who scorned their own parents’ sacrifices in World War II are now our elected leaders, and where the first lady can, at the age of 44, tell audiences, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country.” What did you think of America in the first 43 years, Mrs. Obama?

Patriotism, love of country and an understanding of American exceptionalism – once the staples of fatherly talks and little boys’ playtimes – have been systematically undermined by class-warfare-ispired liberals in the media and education elite who insist America is diseased because she has poor instead of blessed because she has made so many rich.

In this summer of superheroes (see my reviews of “Thor,” “X-Men” and “Green Lantern”), Marvel comics gives us an odd sort of character, cast against the backdrop of the 1940s, and thus, feeling strangely out of time.

For Captain America doesn’t have the glitz and glamor of Ironman, the youthful angst of Spiderman or the brooding dark side of Batman. In fact, like Superman, the Cap’ is, well, somewhat bland.

At least that’s what those who didn’t like “Captain America” are likely to say.

But the Captain gives us something these other characters don’t – a man who is a hero before he gets his superpowers.

The story follows young Steve Rogers, a “98-pound weakling” who’s the kind of guy to take a beating in the alley, only to get back up again. He refuses to run, refuses to quit and refuses to back down, all the while with a honest humility. He’s not proud, not cocky – he just knows what’s right and does it, no matter the personal cost.

Αnd that’s before he gets to wear the star on his chest.

Rogers is determined to enlist in the U.S. Army to fight in World War II, but he’s rejected over and over again.

“So, do you want to kill some Nazis?” a recruiter asks him.

“No. I don’t want to kill anyone,” he responds in startling honesty. “I just can’t stand a bully.”

And when he’s asked why he doesn’t just sort scrap metal (rather than enlist) if he wants to help the war effort so badly, he answers … well, let me save that gem for the end of the review. It’s worth it.

The result is that when a scientific genius experiments on Rogers and infuses him with “super-soldier serum,” the emergent Captain America is a superhero of humility, integrity and undaunted courage.

“A strong man who has known power all his life may lose respect for that power,” Rogers is told, “but a weak man knows the value of that strength.”

The rest of the movie – which is filled with almost nothing but positive, values-affirming worldview messages – is fairly well-written, surprisingly funny and fun to watch.

It suffers from having a poorly developed villain, a waste of actor Hugo Weaving’s talent (which isn’t helped by Weaving’s forced, unbelievable German accent). It suffers again in the action and special effects scenes, which try just a little too hard to scream “blockbuster” and thus clash with the rest of the film’s nostalgic setting.

But Tommy Lee Jones lights up the screen with that same, iconic, salty character he plays so well (this time as Colonel Chester Phillips), and comic/hunk Chris Evans turns in a surprisingly subdued performance as the Captain, infusing the role with a believable, noble-underdog sort of humility.

It’s just that character that makes the film’s flaws forgiveable, especially when he pulls off a line like this:

When asked why he insists on enlisting, Rogers answers, “There are men lying down their lives. I have no right to do anything less than them.”

And there you have it: Cue the flag, shoot off some fireworks – a real American hero rides again.

Content advisory:

  • “Captain America: The First Avenger” contains about a dozen minor obscenities and a few profanities. The language isn’t necessary, but it isn’t overly intrusive, either.
  • As a superhero film, “Captain America” contains a fairly heavy amount of violence, including war scenes laden with gunfights, fistfights, car chases, falls, explosions and the like. Rarely bloody or gory and never particularly sensationalistic, most of the onscreen deaths are implied gunshots with men falling to the ground. The most gory elements are some men “disintegrated” by a futuristic, laser-like weapon, one mist of blood as a man falls through a spinning propeller and a long-dead corpse that has its possession ripped from its clutches. In addition, the Red Skull is so named for his bright red, skin-taught, skeletal face. Even this element, however, is more comic book than horror movie.
  • The film’s sexuality consists of some bare-chested male recruits, one slightly lewd comment, an implied (but not seen) “mooning,” a couple of kisses and some dancing girls who show a bit of cleavage and a lot of leg. One of the kisses is a woman aggressively coming on to the Captain, but the pair is interrupted. There’s also an ongoing discussion about whether the Captain’s love interest is “fondue-ing” with another character (the Captain apparently has no idea what “fondue” means, and it leads him down an unnecessary path of jealousy). There are no sex scenes or nudity.
  • The film has some minor religious and occult references, including a “God bless her soul” comment, some swastikas and a skull-with-tentacles symbol used by the bad guys. The Red Skull’s primary storyline revolves around discovering and harnessing the power of “the jewel of Odin’s treasure room,” an apparently alien power source that fuels his advanced weaponry. Outside of the passing reference to Odin and the Red Skull’s insistence that this jewel is the “power of the gods,” however, the storyline is ambiguous and purposefully unexplained.

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