Captain America: The First Avenger, Joe Johnston, 124 mins (12A)
Arrietty, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 94 mins (U)
Horrid Henry: The Movie, Nick Moore, 90 mins, (U)

The fantastic world of comic books comes to life in a square-jawed action movie in which goodies and baddies reassuringly know their place

When I tell you that Captain America: The First Avenger is a superhero film, you won't be shocked to read that it's the story of a weakling who acquires special powers, dons a gaudy costume, and has a climactic punch-up with a fancy-dressed megalomaniac who just happens to have popped up at the same time.

But as formulaic as it is, it's one of the more joyful examples of the genre, largely because it's a period piece. Just as another of this summer's superhero movies, X-Men: First Class, established its own identity by sporting 1960s fashions, Captain America: The First Avenger (it's firsty work, coming up with superhero subtitles) is set during the Second World War, and it's true to the two-fisted, square-jawed spirit of a 1940s Saturday matinee serial.

Chris Evans has the title role – not the DJ, but the beefcake who played the Human Torch in The Fantastic Four, which suggests that the casting agents at Marvel Entertainment need to invest in a bigger Rolodex. For the film's opening act, some seamless post-Benjamin Button effects attach Evans's head on to another actor's scrawny body, and we learn that he's a brave young patriot who's deemed too feeble to go to war.

But then he's injected with a super serum by Stanley Tucci's scientist. With the encouragement of Tommy Lee Jones's wry colonel and Hayley Atwell's curvaceous British agent, he marches off to battle the Boche, specifically Hugo Weaving, one of those villains who keeps shooting his own men, and Toby Jones, his boffin sidekick. The baddies, as ever, steal the show. Effectively remaking his earlier 1940s-set romp The Rocketeer, Joe Johnston directs Captain America not as a brooding exploration of human frailty, as today's superhero movies tend to be, but as a ripping yarn, one which has its share of funny lines, but without any irony to undermine the Boy's Own heroics. Alan Silvestri's score is buoyed up with rousing martial fanfares, and Rick Heinrich's production design doesn't stint on classic cars or laboratories that are wall-to-wall dials and levers.

Even when you're watching a superhero movie, though, you've got to believe at some point that the man in tights might be in danger, and Captain America lacks that essential frisson. The peppy, nostalgic fun is appropriate as long as Evans is making the transition from man to superman, but once he's on the battlefield, you'd think the film might get a tad more nerve-racking. It doesn't. Captain A's Nazi-socking exploits are dispensed with in brief, breezy montages, and the fisticuffs are varnished with so much CGI that we never feel as if we're seeing real stunts performed by real people, let alone real fights between real superhumans. Halfway through, the Captain is paraded around the country by the US government to boost national morale, and his adventures are staged in a studio for the newsreel cameras. But later on, when he does get into action, it all seems just as fake.

There are two films out this week that are based on British children's stories. If you're a parent who has to take your offspring to one of them, and you value your sanity, you'll insist on Arrietty, a Studio Ghibli adaptation of Mary Norton's The Borrowers. Co-written by Hayao Miyazaki, it's the magical tale of a family of tiny people who live under the floorboards of a house. It might be a bit slow and delicate for a generation raised on Pixar-style information overload, but there's always something to catch the eye in the gorgeous painted backgrounds, and the games it plays with scale are a particular delight. The animators paid close attention to the surface tension of liquids, it seems, so when the Borrowers pour their tea, a cupful plops out of the pot in one globular drop.

By the way, Arrietty is being shown in a subtitled version and a dubbed one. Take your pick, but Saiorse Ronan, Mark Strong and others are ideally cast in the English-language edition.

Parents who draw the short straw might be stuck with Horrid Henry: The Movie, a live-action travesty of Francesca Simon and Tony Ross's mega-selling storybooks. Like the recent St Trinian's films, it has the peculiarly British, sub-panto amateurishness of a project that's hoping to get away with its nonsensical script, shoddy effects and clunky acting, purely because it's loud and zany and it's got a cameo from a member of Girls Aloud.

It seems to be set in a frenzied parallel universe of sweet-shop colours and Fifties styling, all of which is heightened by the cheap 3D, but it forgets little things like giving its many characters anything to do. Jo Brand is on the poster, for instance, even though she's on screen for half a minute and her dialogue consists solely of the word "stew".

But the fundamental problem is Horrid Henry (Theo Stevenson) himself. I suppose this bogey-flicking brat is following in the rule-breaking tradition of Just William, but what's really obnoxious is that he defends his antisocial behaviour by announcing ad nauseam that he's going to be a rock star. Dennis the Menace may have been a slacker, but he didn't expect to make a career out of it.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber hopes to see a more edifying vision of childhood in J J Abrams's Super 8

Film Choice

Rita Hayworth in sheath dress and long gloves, is the most fatale of all film noir femmes opposite Glenn Ford in the erotically sizzling 1946 classic Gilda. Director (and writer) Mike Mills muses on life, love and the joys of having an elderly gay father in Beginners with Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor.

Also Showing: 31/07/2011

A Better Life (97 mins, 12A)

A Mexican labourer hopes to stop his teenage son from being recruited by a gang in Los Angeles. Chris Weitz's heartfelt drama aims for the poignancy of The Bicycle Thieves, but only Demian Bichir's tender performance stops it from feeling like a lecture on immigration issues.

Zookeeper (101 mins, PG)

In this idiotic comedy, Kevin James is given mating tips by the talking animals in his zoo, so when a wolf tells him to "mark his territory", he pees in a pot plant at a wedding dinner. No wonder the script took five screenwriters, eh?

The Light Thief (80 mins, 15)

A kindly electrician comes up against some city slickers who plan to buy up his mountain village in Kyrgyzstan. It has some terrific scenes, but the weirdly elliptical storytelling comes across as if half of those scenes are missing.

Our Day Will Come (83 mins, 18)

Deranged road movie starring Vincent Cassel as a man who believes that his red hair makes him a member of an oppressed minority.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions