Revisiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe Part 05 – Captain America (The First Avenger)

Revisiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe Part 05 – Captain America (The First Avenger)

Captain America and Daredevil often ran neck and neck throughout my childhood for the race to be my favorite comic book superhero.  At one point in my collecting youth I had every issue of silver age Captain America from #100 on up (it was in its mid 300’s at the time) and the Gruenwald/Dwyer era of Cap greatness pretty much defined the rest of my love for comics at the time.

That being said, I remember my initial reaction to Captain America: The First Avenger to be lukewarm at best.  My Captain America was the 80s and 90s Cap, a relatively modern hero with modern enemies, and I didn’t have much of a desire to see a glorified period piece, even though I knew it represented a critical point in the juncture of Cap’s history.  I enjoyed First Avenger to a certain degree, but considered it just the next step towards Avengers and onward.

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So, it was with moderate hesitation that I went and rewatched it this past weekend, expecting once again to like it, but not love it.

Boy were my initial reactions off the mark.

Maybe it’s because I’ve now see Captain America in the modern era a few times over and now see the value in his World War II backstory, but whatever the reasoning, I was absolutely captivated and entertained by The First Avenger the last time through, even though I’d seen it previously.

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Of course the obvious draw of the film is that it builds the history of Captain America, arguably the most important Avenger, not to mention the Strategic Scientific Reserve, an organization that has become the centerpiece in the Agent Carter television series.  Pile on to that the fact that this is where Hydra was essentially born (an organization that has become immensely pervasive in films and in the Agents of SHIELD television series) and you have a 1940’s set piece that literally creates the foundation for the entire MCU.

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I will never get over the effects work that created the pre-Captain America Steve Rogers, a scrawny and sickly looking “kid from Brooklyn” who is realistic enough to never draw your attention from the film’s continuity.  Chris Evans brings an insane amount of charisma and toughness to the character that’s present even when he’s all bones and skin, getting his butt whipped in an alley, proclaiming that he could “do it all day”.  It’s an excellent turn of phrase that has defined the character so much so that it’s present in trailers for the upcoming Civil War film.

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Hayley Atwell makes a splash in the MCU here as Agent Peggy Carter, an immensely popular character who not only starred in the Agent Carter Marvel One Shot, but almost based purely on the popularity of the titular character, has developed Agent Carter into a two season success story on ABC as well.  She does great work here as a tough, no-nonsense secret agent who is a huge part of the Captain America experiment, and is a big reason why the final few moments of the film are emotional and memorable.

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Along with Atwell, both Tommy Lee Jones and Hugo Weaving do fantastic work in their roles, too, with Weaving expertly crafting a Red Skull that truly lives up to his comic book namesake.  Of course, along with this, we have Sebastian Stan playing Bucky, a guy who is a bit more than a footnote in First Avenger, but who has evolved into a fantastic on screen iteration of the Winter Soldier, a conflicted and melancholy character who at once instills fear, but exudes sympathy.

Even the tiniest characters in the film have strong pop culture ties from Natalie Dormer (as the secretary who lip-locks Steve Rogers) to Neal McDonough who plays Dum Dum Dugan, and is more infamous now as Arrow villain Damien Dark.  I’m pretty sure his character name having lots of “D’s” is somewhere in his contract.

Hugo Weaving plays Johann Schmidt in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment.
Hugo Weaving plays Johann Schmidt in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment.

Even as a movie set in World War II, the characters and action remain timeless.  The Hydra super weapons, the 40’s era US soldiers, and the propaganda version of Captain America becoming the first real life super hero.  Not only all of this, but it’s the birth of the Tesseract, a lynchpin of the films going forward, and the first of the six Infinity Stones revealed.  The way the Skull uses the Tesseract works great, and is also a very cool tie to the Cosmic Cube back in the comics.  While Captain America uses his super abilities sparingly, the effects are spectacular and much more enjoyable than I remembered them being.  I much prefer his more modern uniform and am not a big fan of the World War II look, but the importance of this film to the overall MCU cannot be overstated.

It was a great, fun film, and my initial reactions were completely and totally misaligned.

Ongoing Rank:

#5 – Iron Man 2
#4 – Thor
#3 – Incredible Hulk
#2 – Captain America: The First Avenger
#1 – Iron Man

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