Thursday, May 12, 2016

Captain America: The First Avenger

Seeing Civil War in the theater sparked another re-watch of Steve's first adventure The First Avenger, and I figured it was about time I gave it a review. My opinion of it has shifted slowly over the past 5 years, as with each viewing my perspective was slightly different because of the films that came after it, but it has always been essentially the same -- a really quite good movie.

The Star-Spangled Man with a Plan!

Steve Rogers () is the biggest Boy Scout character maybe ever -- certainly in the MCU -- and as such it's difficult to give his character conflict. Because he knows what's right and does it, it's hard to find a tight spot to put him in that would create a compelling story. His origin story deals with that problem in a way no later movie could. Instead of it being about how he fights for truth and liberty and how he helps people, this movie focuses on his struggle to get to a place where he is actually capable of doing those "Captain America" things.

We know that his heart always is and always will be in the right place, and The First Avenger proves that. As a skinny sickly kid he determinedly stands up to bullies to the point where he seems almost insane to do it, and relentlessly tries to make it into the army. I guess he knows what his heart is capable of. And fortunately so does Dr. Erskine () who sees his spirit and his goodness and gives him a chance. To the raised eyebrows of Colonel Phillips () and Agent Peggy Carter () he is chosen to be the first test subject for a serum that turns people into super-soldiers.

"There are men laying down their lives. I got no right to do any less than them."

Stanley Tucci is always a lightening aspect in any movie, and here he's delightful. As soon as Steve gets a body with strength to match his heart and soul though, Erskine is killed and the serum stolen by ! (This movie has so many great "hey, it's that person!" bit-parts. It's fantastic.) I love the proceeding chase scene. Suddenly Steve is who he was always supposed to be, and he immediately uses his new-found physical strength to do good. The scene action-wise is sometimes quite silly and no one had figured out Cap's fighting style yet, so it's missing the visual "oomph" it could have had, but I still love it.

The whole movie's production is often distractingly cheap in fact. Obviously there wasn't enough confidence in it to warrant the kind of budget a Marvel movie gets today. Green screens are obvious, fighting and stunts are cheesy and fake, and I remember the 3D as the worst I've seen. But, like Cap, this movie has its heart in the right place. It dwindles on the action and visuals side, but focuses admirably on character.

Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.

I didn't fall in love with Chris Evans' Cap until The Winter Soldier, but he's always done the part nearly flawlessly, and he hit on it so well with this first try. He's so convincingly kind and endearing and you can't help but feel so sad for him at times (when he's stuck selling bonds and drawing himself as a dancing monkey springs to mind) but he still exudes strength and bravery and is the kind of person you'd be afraid of if you were a bad guy. as the bad guy hams it up more than he should have, by the way. The movie has a strong comic book tone to it, but it's halfway in a way that fits with the later films, and halfway not.

Bucky, () I didn't fall in love with until Civil War. When I first saw this movie I barely noticed him. He was a sounding board for Steve's early conflict, then he blended into the Howling Commandos, and his "death" completely convinced me. How things have changed. Now, the sounding board is the beginning of a very complex character. The two have a great friendship, and it's interesting to watch how it changes from Bucky trying to protect Steve from himself and from war, to becoming the one who needs to be protected, yet he doesn't hesitate to follow Steve, and never resents him. Stan has the "strong silent type" down pat but is also light and charming at the proper times. The bit where he tries to hit on Peggy and she doesn't even look at him is hilarious.

"I thought you were dead." "I thought you were smaller."

And even after Peggy got her own TV show, her character doesn't get any better than it is here. Strong and confident, and warm and lovely this Peggy knows her worth and doesn't care one bit if no one else does. I always liked 's Howard Stark too -- one hundred percent rogue swagger and charm. Tommy Lee Jones is often the funniest bits of the movie while he helps the plot move along. And even though they're small parts, all the Howling Commandos are good, and I especially like that and are a part of the group.

The one thing that has always bothered me the most about his film is how contrived and ambiguous the plane crash at the end was. I've tried to figure it out, but it seems like they just couldn't think of a hole-proof way of forcing Cap to make that choice and crash the plane, so they tried to cover it up by not explaining exactly why it was necessary to crash. It had to happen so it had to happen, but that always dampened the impact of that emotional moment for me.

Interestingly, the sweeter part of their romance is when they are apart.

The First Avenger is far from being a flawless movie, and most of its flaws are right on the surface for all to see, but with each viewing the characters become more and more endearing and deep, and show no sign of becoming obsolete as Marvel films continue to grow on the solid foundation they helped set. This early, light-and-breezy Marvel flick is a sincere and fitting origin for the most noble and patriotic of superheroes.


  1. Great review! As much as I love Winter Soldier and Civil War, I'm not sure it beats First Avenger for me. It fulfills my history buff love for the 1940s, and the film reminds me of something from that era which I think it incredibly difficult. Despite the CGI-skinny Steve and special effects, it feels like a movie from that era in a lot of regards. A lot of origin stories try to be intentionally dark to show how a superhero is born, but First Avenger is heartfelt, playful, and still makes Roger's transformation great. It has some flaws, but YEAH, I could go on and on. :)

    1. Thanks Katy! Yeah that's a good point, and I didn't even mention anything about that, but it's being set in the 40's makes it so unique and I like that a lot! I agree, it really does almost feel like it could have been made then! And that makes me even more forgiving of the sub-par special effects too. :) The Winter Soldier is still my favorite of the three, but this one doesn't seem to be degrading with time at all, which makes me very happy! :D

  2. I loved reading this. :) I didn't really notice Bucky in First Avenger either, but later watching Once Upon a Time and seeing Stan as Jefferson I was like, "wait I've seen him before...". So long ago. haha

    1. I think it was perfect though how Bucky didn't particularly stand out in First Avenger, even though his friendship with Steve is so obvious, because then when he reappears in Winter Soldier it's even more surprising, but heartrending on Steve's account because you know what good friends they were/are. Also it makes sense to sort of reintroduce Bucky's character subtly, since he's different in some ways from the comics (like being younger than Steve to being the same age and friends since they were kids).

    2. Aw, thanks SW! :) I think I must have quit OUAT right before he joined it. I must say I'm kinda tempted to go watch his episodes now. :P

      I agree, it worked really well that way! I don't mind at all that I didn't notice him at first -- it was really fun to have my view of him shift as I re-watched the movie and as the other movies came out. It was a neat journey to go on, and hopefully one that will continue soon! :D

    3. He has scenes in about three episodes, but 'his episode' his Hat Trick. You probably know, but he's the Mad Hatter. It's really fun. :)

      Yes! Exactly. :)

    4. Okay, cool! Maybe I'll just watch that one then, juse to see. :D Thanks!

  3. This one's a terrific movie. Love it, love it, love it. Dominic Cooper is awesome (and much nicer than he is in Agent Carter and I just love the origin story for Cap. He's such a simple yet complex character and I love seeing the history behind the man that shapes who he is. While Civil War is my fav of the Captain America franchise, The First Avenger will always hold a special place in my heart. Plus, I love Steve and Peggy. So cute!

    As for the necessity of the plane crash, my sister figured it out being the history major that she is, but I can't remember what it is she said. She's the biggest Captain America fan I have ever met, owns quite a few geek shirts for him, and makes a passable Peggy Carter in a stunning red dress and the actual fedora Peggy wears in the show. Wish I could remember what she said about that crash. Darn it.

    1. Yes! I definitely think that it's generally an underrated superhero movie. Probably because action is what one usually judges superhero movies by, and that is the main thing this films lacks. But it's so good for so many other reasons, like the ones you mentioned! Especially Cap's origin story.

      Yeah, I imagine that it can be explained to make more sense with outside knowledge, but still it's glossed over too much in the movie itself. I see it as a flaw, but I really don't mind it anymore. Your sister sounds like a very cool person! :D