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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Captain America: The First Avenger is a 1940s-set comic book-based superhero adventure that's full of explosive action violence. Expect tons of gun battles, fireballs, and fistfights (all of which are even more in-your-face in the 3-D version of the movie), as well as a scary-looking villain. In most other respects though, it's pretty tame as these kinds of movies go. Captain America is wholesome, compassionate, and brave; he doesn't have the dark side that many other superheroes do, and he's not a ladies' man or a party animal. There are a couple of tame kisses and a little bit of drinking, as well as a few uses of words like "hell" and "ass," but what lingers after the last bomb has exploded and the last fight is over are the movie's messages about standing up against bullies and doing the right thing. (That and a very strong sense of "U.S.A! U.S.A!" patriotism.)
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What's the story?
In CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, it's 1942, and World War II is raging. Despite the fact that he's frail and asthmatic, all that Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) wants is to join the Army so he can have a chance to fight Nazi bullies. That chance comes in the form of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a scientist who's developed a special serum that turns scrawny Steve into brawny Captain America. After being sidelined by Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and turned into a one-man recruiting ad/war bond salesman, Rogers gets back into the thick of things when a rescue mission uncovers intelligence about the nefarious plans of HYDRA, a Nazi experimental science division led by evil Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving). With the help of a motley crew of soldiers and lovely-and-capable Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Rogers focuses on stopping Schmidt before the villain can unleash his mysterious, extremely powerful super weapons on the world.
Is it any good?
If you crossed Raiders of the Lost Ark with Hellboy and added a dash of Pearl Harbor and director Joe Johnston's own The Rocketeer, you'd be well on your way to creating this movie. It's well-paced, patriotic World War II adventure with an undercurrent of sci-fi/fantasy mysticism and a hero who's very easy to root for. Rogers/Captain America is such a good guy, in fact, that he's sometimes a little bland -- he's definitely a great role model, but you might find yourself wishing he had a bit of Wolverine or Tony Stark's snark. (The movie's a little short on humor overall, actually; Captain America's ragtag team of soldiers provides most of the laughs, but they don't get all that much screen time.)
Speaking of Tony Stark, those who are well-versed in their Marvel history will enjoy seeing Dominic Cooper as Tony's equally suave/tech-savvy father, Howard, in a supporting role. And there are plenty of other moments that fans of the comics will enjoy, too -- when pre-makeover Steve uses a garbage can lid as an impromptu defense, for instance, foreshadowing his iconic shield, or the way the movie ends (it would be a spoiler to say more). All in all, Captain America: The First Avenger is an entertaining adventure -- rah-rah patriotism and all (it works well within the 1940s setting) -- but it lacks that certain something that could have made it a cultural touchstone.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what sets Captain America: The First Avenger apart from other superhero films. How does Captain America compare to Batman? Iron Man? Is he more or less of a "good guy" than those characters?
At one point Steve Rogers says he doesn't want to kill anybody, but during the movie he dispatches plenty of bad guys. Was that his only option?
How does the fact that much of the movie's violence is larger than life affect its impact? How is it different watching masked human soldiers (like the HYDRA minions) get hurt than individual characters?
What did you think of the scenes where Captain America performed on stage to inspire people to buy war bonds and join the Army? What does that say about the role of celebrities in our society?
- In theaters: July 22, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: October 25, 2011
- Cast: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones
- Director: Joe Johnston
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Superheroes
- Character Strengths: Courage, Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 124 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action
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