Film Review: 'Captain America: The First Avenger' - Just a Stepping Stone to the Avengers
In the Marvel movies, the character of Captain America is primarily used as a foil for Iron Man. That is, both characters are put into contrast with each other, and their clash represents a moral conflict between America past and future. Captain America represents everything that was hopeful about American patriotism during World War Two, the hope that America could pull together to bring down a terrifying evil. This view of World War Two is perhaps simplistic or naive, but this is American blockbuster film we're talking about here, so of course it is.
Steve Rogers starts out as a small guy who gets beaten up a lot. He desperately wants to enlist when World War Two starts but can't, due to his asthma and shortness. When a mad scientist gives him a chance to enlist anyway as a guinea pig for his super steroids, he's all too eager to jump on board. A moment that proves Rogers' character is during a training exercise, everyone does a practice drill to show what they'd do if there was a live grenade. Rogers jumps onto the grenade to protect others, without thinking. This is a common reason, in real life, for people to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Rogers' extraordinary courage and selflessness make him the perfect soldier, despite his physical weaknesses.
At first, when they test the super steroids on him, it makes him taller and stronger. But they don't want to use him in combat yet, so he gets his "Captain America" persona as a living propaganda character - acting in stage shows that serve as commercials for war bonds and entertainment for the troops. He's basically just a younger, sexier Uncle Sam.
When he finds out his best friend (who is like a brother to him) Bucky is captured and left for dead behind enemy lines, he daringly sets off to rescue him and his platoon, disobeying orders. Luckily before he can face a court martial, he gets to fight bigger bad guys.
Red Skull was also an early experiment by the doctor who made the super serum that made Captain America super, but that guy defected, leaving Germany. Red Skull wants to take over the world using the power of the Tesseract, which is implied to come from the Asgardians depicted in the Thor movies. Anyway, long action sequence short, Rogers is able to stop Hydra, the evil organization, from doing standard evil organization things. But he ends up crashing in the Arctic. He is presumed dead, but is rescued by Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D., waking up after being frozen for over 70 years.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Marvel Studios, Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, Comics by: Joe Simon & Jack Kirby
Chris Evans, Tomy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan
2 hours and 4 minutes
Scream Awards: Best Superhero, BMI Film & TV: Film Music Award, Visual Effects Society Award for Outstanding Compositing in a Feature Motion Picture
It's not that the movie is not good, but the main problem is that Marvel is not subtle about why this movie exists - as a stepping stone to The Avengers. They not only set up that Cap knows who Howard Stark is, but Howard Stark features significantly in the plot. Am I the only one who feels a little icky being in on the joke when Marvel makes all these references to its other movies? It gives you this sense of "I am being marketed to," which takes you out of the experience of a film.
This also happened in Iron Man 2, which came out around the same time as this, Tony Stark is recruited for the Avengers by Nick Fury. Nick mentions he can't stay to talk long, because he has to deal with something in New Mexico. That's a reference to Thor. It feels like sleazy marketing because it makes it feel like ads for other Marvel movies are embedded in Marvel movies. The best Marvel movies get away from all that, focusing more on their own stories.
Captain America: The First Avenger has a very nice first half, because Chris Evans is a great actor, the film is great at depicting 1940s America (although not entirely realistically - they would have burned Howard Stark alive for kissing a woman he was not even married to on public on stage. The strength of the movie is in its ability to show Steve Rogers' strength of character. He makes us feel for him because he starts out as such an underdog - hopeless, even.
But once Rogers gets super serum and starts doing heroic stuff, and gains his new shield, the movie stops being as interesting. He's no longer a vulnerable underdog. Sure, they at first use their "super soldier" onstage in an ad for war bonds, but that lasts all of as long as it takes for Steve to realize that once you have super powers, the army is no longer the boss.
The ending of the movie is nothing special - it's just the usual superhero fighting a bad guy stuff you would expect from any other movie. Other than the fact that Steve Rogers is frozen. When he wakes up, so does the audience, because the scene with him waking up in the future (our present) is more interesting than the previous scenes. He was fighting Red Skull, a villain who looks too cartoonish for the more somber look of the Marvel movies vs. their comics.
The introduction of the "Tesseract" and the many obvious nods to Howard Stark keep reminding the audience that this movie existed as a stepping stone for The Avengers. It's a fairly pretty stepping stone but, that's all it ever was to begin with. They could have told this story in flashback scenes added on to the later movies with Captain America, and we would have been fine. And the whole movie is dripping with 1940s Americanism, old-fashioned patriotism. From a time when it really was more clear that America was good and her enemies were evil. So you'll like the movie if you're into that kind of thing.
But what most people understand about this one is, an ad for a later movie isn't really a movie.
Rating for 'Captain America: The First Avenger': 7/10
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© 2019 Rachael Lefler