The first 18 Marvel movies are essentially a story about Tony Stark, Steve Rogers and Bucky, with a little bit of Thanos thrown in. Even Black Panther has a post credit scene that plays directly to this storyline. And in Captain America we see the beginning of this trio’s story. How does it hold up and what does it foreshadow? Read on.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)
DID I FALL ASLEEP? Only a little bit, while The Red Skull was monologing. Hugo Weaving was miserable in all his makeup and he’s obviously phoning in his whole performance and I just responded to what I was seeing.
DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? It’s Alan Silvestri and it’s excellent.
WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: When I saw Captain America in the theater I didn’t much care for it. In fact, I found it so formulaic that I didn’t even review it for the site. Four movies – already longer than most movie series of the past – the MCU was already getting a little formulaic for my tastes, and at the time I found the whole story very predictable.
Well, I was wrong.
Finally sitting down to watch this movie, it was so, so, so much better than I gave it credit for. In fact, aside from its seminal place in the Marvel canon, it’s just a delightful, charming movie that holds up in every way (except maybe Hugo Weaving, see above.)
There are many glimpses of the hand of Kevin Feige beginning to show up in this movie – the tie in with the Tesseract/Cosmic Cube and tight continuity leading to The Avengers being one of them – but this is firmly a Joe Johnston movie as well. The bit parts are all west cast with familiar faces before they were familiar, from Natalie Dormer to Derek Luke to Richard Armitage to Dominic Cooper. And the star power in every part is so satisfying, from Toby Jones to Tommy Lee Jones. Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter is simply the best women in the MCU to this point (and maybe beyond.) She’s not perky or feisty or spunky – she’s just a person who is fighting for what she believes in while acknowledging the fact that as a woman, it will never be easy for her in what is still a man’s world.
Sebastian Stan is, of course, genius casting for Bucky, carefree and confidant. But it wouldn’t be so genius without the tight script and the marvelous performance by Chris Evans which mirrors it.
I guess maybe one of the reasons I underestimated this movie is that I had already seen Chris Evans in a ton of comic book movies, and until Captain America he seemed like just another impossibly swole bro-sipher. On this rewatch, however, the character arc of Steve Rogers was so much more powerful. The scenes of skinny Steven – far more than just a CGI trick – are the basis of his character and the message of all superhero comics that speak to us: you can be a hero inside no matter what you look like on the outside.
Steve and Bucky’s relationship before they go to war is a key part of the movie: Bucky’s the cute guy who can effortlessly meet women, Steve’s the classic wingman, smart and funny but overlooked. How the tables will turn as time goes on!
Despite his 4F status, Steve Rogers never gives up. There are two key scenes here: the one where he throws himself on the grenade, revealing that it’s his intangible heart and spirit that will make him the ideal candidate for the Super Serum.
And later on the War Bonds montage, where we see Cap go from awkward pitchman to confidant, charismatic leader. There is more character development in this brief montage, beautifully and economically told, than in all of The Incredible Hulk or even (alas) the Thor movies until Ragnarok.
Most of the credit for all of this goes to director Johnston, who has an aptitude for the period details, but also for the innate decency and heroism of the average person, something shown in both Steve and Peggy. World War II is, to be fair, a perfect setting for showing this heroism, because to do anything else is unconscionable. Captain America and Agent Carter fight the Nazis because they have no choice; to do anything else would be inhuman. In this, the film is very true to the spirit of Simon and Kirby and the creation of the character.
The romance is also touching and subtle; Peggy’s fonduing with Howard Stark (Cooper, the BEST Howard Stark) is just part of the game she has to play (as later shown in the sadly short lived Agent Carter TV show.) And it all pays off in the heartbreaking (yes) last line of the film “I had a date.” Beautiful, beautiful storytelling.
Throw in the Howling Commandos, Arnim Zola and the Cosmic Cube and you have a very entertaining movie. There is a weak spot and it’s the actual plot. As mentioned above, The Red Skull just doesn’t hold up to the rest of the movie as a villain, (although more doubling where the hero must fight a villainous version of his powers. Iron Man Vs. Obadiah Stane. The Hulk vs, The Abomination. Thor vs Loki.) It’s also fortunate that Steve isn’t given too much time to mourn for Bucky. That’s all going to come later.
As I was watching this movie, featuring Cap’s determination to be the Best American there could be, I wouldn’t help but think of Wonder Woman. How many times have you read a male writer say he just doesn’t get Wonder Woman and doesn’t see anything interesting about her. Captain America’s origin and powers aren’t that much different from Wonder Woman: he’s been taken from a world and time where he matters to a time when he’s already irrevocably lost the things he dreamed of having. Wonder Woman has come from a world where she is accepted and honored on her own terms to a place where she has to constantly prove herself. But both Cap and Wonder Woman fight on because it’s the right thing to do; it’s what they stand for. My advice to male writers who don’t get Wonder Woman: just pretend you’re writing Captain America.
WOULD I REWATCH: If you’ve read this far you already know the answer is hells to the yeah.
PS: I never really got the Stucky thing but in looking at this still…okay. I guess it was right there all the time. Are Steve and Bucky fonduing? I’ll leave that to you to decide.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.