It's a good thing I don't mind eating crow, because I ate a cornfield of them AND had my foot surgically removed from my mouth after I first saw this film. It's hard for me to believe that I first watched this film under duress. I first saw Cap in the comics during the first Civil War. Even though I'd never been an action comic fan before, he won me over completely.
However, when I heard they'd cast Chris Evans, I was outraged. At that time in comics, the push was to turn all the good guys into smart-aleck-y jerks, and while I'd liked Evans in the Fantastic Four (his performance was really the only thing worth watching in either movie, tbh), he wasn't built like Cap and I was convinced Marvel was going to remake Cap into a swaggering Johnny Storm clone. (Mind you, it worked great for Johnny Storm, but Johnny Storm is NOT Cap.)
Now, years later, I can't think of anyone else who could ever fill Evans' shoes as Steve Rogers or as Captain America. He's THAT kind of iconic. Marvel's done incredibly well with its casting overall, particularly with RDJ as Tony Stark, but to me, Evans went one better, simply because Steve is SUCH a difficult character to get just right. Evans captures that blend of earnestness, dedication and heart perfectly and never goes over the edge of being a goody-two-shoes or holier than thou. He's Captain America, but what always shines through is that little guy from Brooklyn who never ran from a fight.
I was further gobsmacked when I got a chance to watch the extended version of the movie and saw some of the behind the scenes. It never occurred to me just HOW much I had bought into the transformation without questioning it until I saw the actual footage of full-size Evans doing all the skinny Steve action -- floundering on push-ups, staggering in the alley, the body language and his so-palpable frustration and guilt at not being able to go. Yes, the CGI is beyond noteworthy, but it was the acting beneath that sold it. All the CGI in the world wouldn't have sold skinny Steve if the acting hadn't matched it.
As if that weren't enough, Hayley Atwell as Agent Peggy Carter is absolutely luminous. In anyone else's hands, I think Peggy Carter would have been a typical love interest. Not with Atwell. Carter is one of the best depictions of a strong female I can think of in any action movie. She's not strong simply because she can punch people and she's a great shot. She's got courage to match Steve's, belief that won't break, and she never surrenders an inch of her femininity in doing so. I loved the One-Shot they did with her and was so glad they spun it off into her own series (and I'm still sorry they didn't go for season 3!) I was equally glad to see Dominic Cooper return there as Howard Stark - I love me some Howard.
There simply wasn't a character I didn't like in this, from Sebastian Stan's Bucky Barnes, to Toby Jones' perfect depiction of Doctor Zola, to Tommy Lee Jones' crusty Colonel Phillips, to Stanley Tucci's paternal Dr. Erskine. Even Senator Brandt's glad-handing and unscrupulousness in creating Captain America in the first place worked. If there was any weakness at all, it was *possibly* Hugo Weaving's Red Skull -- but admittedly, even in the comics, the Skull is usually a pretty over-the-top villain. One thing Weaving *did* capture well was the Skull's megalomania and jealousy that he, the genius, had been forced to take the guise of a monster while a nobody American from Brooklyn became the ubermensch ideal of Aryan perfection instead.
I know some people have complained because parts of it toward the end seem cheesy, but to me, it's a beautiful homage by Johnston to the war films of the 40s. I love the faint sepia tone, too, especially in contrast with the sharply colored and focused end.
And, I'll admit it: I cried twice during this movie, and I never, ever cry. Even as many times as I've now seen it, I still sniffle.
If I have any criticisms, it's that I wish they'd kept the deleted ending instead of the one they chose (Steve has some more to say and it's a masterwork of Nick Fury manipulating Steve in just a sentence or two) and I wish they'd made it clear that Steve had no option other than to do what he did. I've seen the novelization of this, and without giving away spoilers, the novelization both makes it clear that Schmidt jimmies the autopilot so the plane can *only* be diverted off course by someone of Steve's strength, and it has Steve explain this to Peggy as well. If you watch closely, you can see Schmidt breaking off a certain switch, but it's easy to miss. It's a bit annoying because I've seen countless people complain that Steve didn't look for options -- but in fact, there were no options other than the one he had, and people are too quick to forget that sacrifice is not only a part of war...it's pretty much what you'd expect out of a super soldier.
I would recommend getting the Blu-Ray or at least the extended version so you can see just how utterly amazing the transformation really is. I'm still sick this didn't get nominated for something. After all, when it's *so* good we don't question it -- that's when it's truly noteworthy.
Buy it, watch it, love it. You won't regret it.