As we soldier on with our journey to Infinity War series, we take a look back at Captain America: The First Avenger, which I'll start talking about by saying this may very well be the most underrated move in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. But first, just to recap, we've covered every single Phase 1 solo movie so far, including Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2 and Thor. That just leaves Cap. The First Avenger was the final piece of the puzzle Marvel Studios needed to put in place in order to make The Avengers happen.
This is a movie that I feel many could do well to revisit. We've all come to not just love, but adore Chris Evans as Captain America and much of that has to do with the excellent trilogy of movies his character has been privy to outside of The Avengers movies. However, it feels like The First Avenger gets criminally overlooked by the masses and that's a shame. It's a movie that only gets better with time. Going back through all of these movies, the benefit of hindsight calls certain things into question and makes certain elements of these movies stand out, and not always in a good way. However, hindsight and knowing where the MCU is nearly a decade in only helps make Captain America: The First Avenger look that much better. The Steve Rogers we know and love was there right from the very start.
The fact that director Joe Johnston, who is also terribly underrated, in my humble opinion, and the brass at Marvel decided to make this a WWII period piece couldn't have benefited the movie more. We get to see a world that isn't filled with superheroes. It allows Captain America to populate a world where he truly is something unique, special and occupies a time that his ideals perhaps made the most sense. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created the now beloved Marvel character back in 1941 during the war and the brilliance of getting to see that patriotic version of Cap through the same lense people saw him through when he was first created is pretty fantastic. It's a bit of borderline meta storytelling that works perfectly.
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It's also hard to think of a first act of a movie in the MCU that defines a character so perfectly. Iron Man forces Tony Stark to become the man he ultimately becomes, but Steve Rogers, even when he's a shrimpy little kid from Brooklyn, is still largely the same man we know and love today. He's just bigger now. As Dr. Abraham Erskine (played by the perfectly cast Stanley Tucci) implores of Rogers the day before he undergoes the super soldier treatment, "Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man." And largely, Steve Rogers hasn't let us down in that respect.
This movie also introduces so many beloved and crucial elements of the MCU. We get the introduction of Hydra, via Hugo Weaving's take on Red Skull. People often complain about Marvel villains (rightfully so), but I find Red Skull to be incredibly effective in this movie, even though he's a one-and-done monster of the week type. We also get the introduction of Hayley Atwell's beloved Peggy Carter, Sebastian Stan as Bucky, which helps set up what the rest of the Captain America trilogy which is, without question, the best individual trilogy in the MCU. We also get Dominic Cooper's take on Howard Stark. We've seen several actors play the part, depending on his age, but there's something about Cooper that really feels right. It also wouldn't be fair to withhold mentioning the wonderful Toby Jones as Dr. Arnim Zola who, again, becomes a big part of what sets up the great sequels to this movie. And how can we not mention one of the best lines in all of the MCU; "I can do this all day."
That line so perfectly encapsulates Steve Rogers and Joe Johnston does such a great job of layering things like that in The First Avenger. There's the whole training montage when they're deciding to pick for the super soldier program when Rogers outsmarts everyone and takes down the flag. Or, perhaps more emblematic of the character we all picture today, is the grenade scene when all of the big, strong men jump out of the way. Yet, it's Rogers who bravely jumps on it in order to save everyone else. To which, Tommy Lee Jones' Colonel Phillips memorably replies, "He's still skinny."
It's hard not to smile while watching this movie. It's hard not to get excited while watching this movie. It has such a distinct visual style within the confines of the MCU. Hell, even the score is pretty darn good and, it almost goes without saying at this point, but scores have not been the strong point for these movies over the years. Then there's the ending. Not the bit where Cap wakes up in the future after being frozen, which allows him to take part in The Avengers, but just after he sacrifices himself for the greater good. We see Peggy holding that photo of him prior to becoming Captain America and then we flash to the shot of the kid holding the garbage can lid painted like the the fallen hero's shield. I tear up every single time I see it and it's easily one of my favorite single shots in all of superhero filmmaking. It's one of those goosebump-inducing moments that I treasure.
The interesting thing, and I imagine I'm not alone in this, is that I didn't have a lot of personal affection for Captain America prior to this movie. I've loved Marvel my whole life. I don't remember a time when I didn't enjoy this world, but Cap just never spoke to me personally. He was a boy scout and I liked Spider-Man because he was a rambunctious young guy with interesting powers. But there's something about Captain America: The First Avenger that really sells you on this hero. I now imagine that Captain America does for me what Superman does for a great many others.
I personally struggle to find anything negative to say about this movie. It's one that gets better every single time I watch it. Thinking about where Steve Rogers is going to be at the start of Avengers: Infinity War, the insane journey that character has been on, it's hard not to watch this movie now and get a little nostalgic. Sure, seven years is a pretty quick turnaround for nostalgia, but the MCU is the kind of thing that can do that. This is the movie that gifted the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the hero it deserves.