Published on April 16th, 2012 | by PJ Montgomery11
Captain America: The First Avenger – A Movie Flashback
The fifth and final film from Marvel Studios before the so-close-you-can-taste-it Avengers, Captain America was always going to be a tricky one to get right. Do you set it in World War II, the present day or both? How do you have the same actor play the scrawny Steve Rogers and his buff alter-ego? Do you include Bucky at all? And how do you tie it into the Avengers in the first place?
Thankfully, Marvel got pretty much everything right on this one. Choosing to set Captain America in the forties, except for a brief prologue and the very final scenes, gave them room to breathe, and tell an origin story worthy of the Star-Spangled Avenger. Hiring Joe Johnston as the director, no stranger to war-time heroes thanks to his work on The Rocketeer, was an inspired move, and Johnston brings a 1940s serial feel to the proceedings, which very much works in the films favour.
There’s been fun in all of Marvel’s own in-house movies so far, but Captain America is the most fun yet. Sure, it has it’s darker moments, such as the deaths of Doctor Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) and Bucky (Sebastien Stan), but for the most part, you just get caught up in the ride. From the scenes of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) training with the other soldiers at Camp Lehigh, right up to his final battle with the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) aboard the villains giant flying wing, the film is quite simply a blast, with stand-up good guys fighting villainous bad guys in some wild action sequences in which, yes, Captain America throws his mighty shield.
Of course, none of this fun and action would work if it wasn’t stuck onto a good plot, and thankfully, Captain America provides. Beginning by showing a pre-super soldier formula Steve Rogers, desperate to join the war effort, but just too unhealthy to make a difference, we follow him as he signs up for the Super Soldier Programme, only to watch the creator of the formula, and the man who gave him a chance, killed, taking the secrets of the formula with him. Cap is then made into a propaganda tool, selling war bonds while a group of chorus girls sing The Star Spangled Man (a wonderful, and Oscar nominated, song by Alan Menken and David Zippel), to becoming the Allies greatest weapon against The Red Skull, and his terrorist force, Hydra. Are some of the supporting characters underdeveloped? Yes (we don’t even learn most of the Howling Commandos names). Is the climax and the fate of the Red Skull a little confused? Yes. Does any of this matter? No. This film is about Steve Rogers’ journey from the scrawny Brooklyn kid, to the world’s greatest hero.
What Captain America does is show us a hero in the truest sense of the word. Even before he gets his new body, Steve Rogers is always trying to do the right thing, as perfectly shown in the scene where he leaps on a grenade to prevent it hurting anyone else, unaware that it’s a dud. Cap is, above all other things, a good man, and remains so throughout the film. The script gets that this is one of the appeals of the character, and makes no attempt to darken him or give him an edge, something which would very much be a mistake. It’s helped by a stellar performance by Chris Evans, who brings such charisma and likeability to the character that you completely believe that all these people would follow him without question. There’s no denying that this man will be able to give commands to a Norse God and a gamma irradiated Hulk, despite no real superpowers of his own. It’s good that Evans plays Rogers throughout the film, and the effects used to transform him into the weedy Steve Rogers at the beginning are sublime, and completely believable.
The rest of the cast are fantastic as well, with Stanley Tucci as Doctor Erskine and Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Phillips in particular stealing the show at various points, though special mention must also go to Hugo Weaving, who plays the Red Skull with a delicious sneer, relishing the character’s ruthless streak and having fun being such a bastard. Of all the bad guys we’ve seen in the Marvel Studios films so far, it’s the Red Skull who is the true face of evil, with almost no redeemable features to speak of. Which may well be why he’s so much fun.
But what of the ties to the rest of Marvel’s cinematic universe? Well, being set in World War II, there’s a little less of it in this film than the others (though the Super Soldier programme was referenced in The Incredible Hulk and Cap’s shield appeared in the Iron Man movies), but the presence of Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, Iron Man’s father, cements Captain America’s presence in the build up to the Avengers, without feeling at all intrusive. Sure, the film ends with Cap waking up in the present day and being recruited by Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) for the Avengers, but we all knew that was coming anyway. Comic geeks should also watch out for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from the original Human Torch. Marvel’s first ever superhero probably deserves better than such a small moment, but it’s a nice touch for comic fans.
Downsides? Not all of the effects work is brilliant, which, having done skinny-Cap so well, can take you out of the film briefly, they skim over a lot of what Cap was doing throughout the war (though, expect this to be expanded upon in flashbacks in future films), and good as Star Spangled Man is, would it really have killed them to use the superior Captain America theme from the sixties cartoon, but these are minor niggles in what is Marvel Studios best film to date.
1. Captain America: The First Avengers. 2. Thor. 3. Iron Man. 4. The Incredible Hulk. 5. Daredevil. 6. Iron Man 2. 7. Ghost Rider. 8. Elektra
Recommended Reading – The Winter Soldier
There was a phrase comic readers used to bandy about quite a lot. “No one in the Marvel Universe is truly dead, except Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy and Bucky.” Then, writer Ed Brubaker did the unthinkable, and brought Bucky back. Perhaps the most galling thing about this brazen move is how damn well he did it. Brubaker told us that Bucky didn’t die in the explosion which left Cap frozen in the ocean, but instead lost an arm and suffered severe brain damage. The Russians recovered him and placed him into suspended animation, before giving him a bionic arm and brain washing him into being the Winter Soldier, their key assassin in the Cold War. Bucky would be brought out of suspended animation to be sent on missions, then frozen again until he was needed again. Quite naturally, this eventually brought him into conflict with a stunned Captain America in the present day. The Winter Soldier was the first story of Brubaker’s run on the main Captain America book, a run which continues today, and the ramifications of this first arc, drawn by the talented Steve Epting, are still being felt today. Pick up this first volume, and see why Captain America is such a well-loved character, and why bringing Bucky, a character who should’ve stayed dead, back to life was such a good idea.
Next week, X-Men!