Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Joe Simon, and Jack Kirby
Directed by Joe Johnston
There will never be anything like the Marvel Cinematic Universe again. Over the course of more than a decade, a series of films and television shows were created that told not only their own, individual stories but also an overall story arc that concluded in Avengers: Endgame. From there, we are seeing more stories being created to continue the saga, but I think the first grouping of films and shows will always be the best.
Chronologically speaking, Captain America: The First Avenger is the first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It opens in the “modern” day where soldiers uncover a ship frozen in the ice. As they explore the interior, they uncover a familiar shield.
The film then jumps back about seventy years to World War II. During the Nazi reign of terror in Europe, Colonel Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) uncovers a mysterious artifact known as “the Tesseract” hidden in a castle. This is important not just to this story, but to many others down the line in the Marvel universe.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a man eager to enlist and help fight the Nazis. He’s been rejected by every draft board in New York City and then some. He’s more courageous and smart than his stature allows for and repeatedly gets beat up. His best friend, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) comes to his rescue more than once.
And seriously? Jersey?– James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes
Once again, he tries to enlist and comes to the attention of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). Dr. Erskine asks him a few questions and likes Steve’s answers. He approves Steve to be tried in a new experimental program he’s working on.
Steve is sent for “training” where he meets Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). Colonel Phillips, especially, has his doubts about Steve. However, he exhibits some creative thinking that gets their attention. He is chosen as the subject of their “super-soldier” experiment and brought to a hidden laboratory in Brooklyn where Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and Dr. Erskine use advanced technology and a special serum Dr. Erskine created in a Frankenstein moment that makes Steve, well, bigger.
Steve has such a moral compass that he will not misuse what he has gained. In a way, it’s a good thing that events take place that causes him to be the only super-soldier that’s ever created by this process. However, he’s soon marginalized and used as a cartoon character of sorts to sell war bonds.
Disgusted with that role, when he’s overseas it doesn’t take much for him to feel differently. After a heart-to-heart with Peggy, Steve goes off on his own initiative to rescue captured soldiers, including his friend Bucky. Along the way, he confronts Colonel Schmidt, who has morphed into Red Skull.
Steve recruits some of the men he saved to go back and take out a Hydra base. Before they leave, Peggy lets Steve know she is interested in him. However, the mission falters as Bucky is lost and Steve blames himself. When Colonel Schmidt retreats to the last Hydra base in the Alps, Steve is determined to take him out once and for all. He will even sacrifice himself so that others may live. Despite Peggy and Howard searching for him, he is lost to the ages.
The last scene takes the viewer back to the “present-day” after the ship was uncovered in the ice. Captain America wasn’t as lost as everyone believed back then.
This is the beginning of “Hydra”. Here it is a Nazi science organization that puts loyalty among its members and use of science and technology to achieve its goals higher than anything else, including loyalty to Hitler. I’d say it’s a white supremacist organization based on these and future events. As much as we’re seeing a current political and societal climate that’s troubling, a Nazi science organization that survives in theory to the present day isn’t so far-fetched.
The effect of making Chris Evans look like a skinny, small, asthmatic, draft-board reject works better at some times than others. In the car sitting next to Peggy on the way to the laboratory, he looks like a ventriloquist dummy sitting next to her on the seat, they are so out of proportion. However, overall the effects in the film are damn good. They aren’t overused at all, either. Too many movies lately seem to be nothing more than an excuse to string together great effects. Captain America: The First Avenger actually has a great story to go along with good effects.
The attention to detail of the time period is good too. Hayley Atwell is gorgeous with her bright-red lipstick and pinup-style hair. The costuming is perfect. I loved seeing the familiar dresses that I saw in old family photos – my mother turned 18 in 1945 and my father served in the Navy. Much of this era is in my family photo albums.
Above all, though, is the acting. Chris Evans really brings Captain America to life. Steve Rogers is an innocent in the sense in which he approaches the world. He sees things as right and wrong and comes from a different time; a time when a sense of community and duty to watch out for your fellow man was lauded. Sometimes these types of characters can be boring, but Evans really creates someone multi-dimensional who struggles to stay true to his values. Hayley Atwell is more than his match with beauty, brains, and guts to go along with it. The two share chemistry on-screen and have the kind of cautious romance one had in the 1940s. I found myself rooting for them, but of course, that’s not the destiny of this superhero.
The other characters serve the story well. They aren’t one-dimensional but we learn more about them beyond just their purpose in Steve’s path to Captain America. Tucci is marvelous as Dr. Erskine, knowing what is happening in Germany first-hand and doing what he can to fight evil. He’s as afraid of giving the power he’s uncovered to the wrong person as he is of the Nazis and what they represent. Sebastian Stan anchors Steve Rogers well, both when he’s the scrawny friend being picked on and when they are trying to stop Hydra. Tommy Lee Jones is great as an Army officer who thinks the whole thing is crazy and thinks Steve Rogers is the wrong choice, but who comes around in the long run. Dominic Cooper is great as Howard Stark. At this point, he is no more than a rich playboy, not so different than his son, and there’s a sexual tension between him and Peggy that’s believable.
The story uses these characters well and that is what stands out more than the fighting and effects. It’s easy to care about these people at this time in history. They seem to fit into the time period well and they are written like real people. The attention to detail really makes this film a winner. It’s got both style and substance that realizes the potential these films always had in the right hands.
Stan Lee sighting: an Army officer in the crowd as Captain America is supposed to be receiving an award.