Sometimes it is best to just get on first base, so you can prep your grand slam. Captain America: The First Avenger is the base hit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I, sadly, have mixed feelings about this one, but not how you might think. Cap 1 is, by all means, a competent film, but really loses momentum in the second half of the film. Apart from the storytelling, the film succeeds in building an accurate portrayal of world war 2-era America, and is well dressed, and looks very authentic, but lacks edge to take the film to true emotional heights. I, by no means, think ill of this film. It pays respect to the characters, has a plot that is simple and easy to follow, looks good, but is far from perfect.
Cap 1 is a very safe film, but for good reason. Iron Man was the Marvel hail Mary, but after 3 very successful films, and heavy anticipation for The Avengers, why not play it safe? Well, in the long run, it feels weak should you want to rewatch the series, but when we are at 18 films, with no signs of stopping, one of the films has to be the worst one, right? Don’t get the wrong idea, this film isn’t the worst Marvel has to offer, but it is the biggest missed opportunity in the MCU. I understand that the Swastika/Nazi party is a touchy subject in Germany, and shooting on location is important, but did you know that this is actually an issue? Rather than seeing Steve stomp some Nazis, instead we are treated to Hydra soldiers, who may be the most generic adversaries in recent history: faceless, nameless, movie thugs with laser guns. Blah. Granted, Nazis are jackbooted thugs, but at least the audience will root harder for the allies to take down the Nazis. There are a lot of great subtleties in the film, but the silliest one is that the film is so desperate to distance itself from Nazis, that Hydra does so early in the film. Really on the nose, and clever, but Steve’s contribution in World War 2 is both important to the character and the history of comics. I mean this literally, that it is a missed opportunity, because instead of a more risky approach of inserting Steve into the history books, we have the Marvel history books, and the MCU is a vibrant and creative universe.
This is the meat of the column: the 2 halves. The first half of this film is amazing. It is emotional, light hearted, inspirational, dramatic, pulpy, etc… It’s, basically, all my favorite adjectives. Everything before Steve and the Howling Commandos begin their missions is a wonderful ode to WW2 serials, and incredibly reminiscent of The Rocketeer, also directed by Joe Johnson. The Rocketeer is one of my all time favorite films, and it is able to maintain it’s momentum all the way through. The problem with Cap is that once he slips into the Super Soldier action, the action sequences become less whimsical and, in all honesty, less tense. What starts off as riveting and exciting, derails into a series of schlock montages, until Steve comes finally comes face to face with the Red Skull. I love good action, but I need more than sequences of people shooting guns and getting punched, which is what the film becomes. The beginning of the film is about a good man, in a bad time, that just wants to do his part, despite his physical limitations. The second half loses sight of that, which is where I generally lose most of my interest. It isn’t terrible, because the action scenes are well executed, but they just lack the emotional investment of the first half, sans the train battle and the showdown with Schmidt.
If you aren’t convinced that I like this film, allow me one more paragraph. The most important aspect to me in a narrative story is strong characters. Steve is consistently a well structured character that is relatable and his motivation is clear, and he actually starts off as an underdog. Most Marvel characters start at the top and are brought down, then have to learn to be humble and a hero, where Steve starts off at the bottom and proves himself early on. Steve is the audience that dreams of being a superhero. He has a pure heart, isn’t afraid of evil, and just wants to help the men that are willing to give everything for freedom. My other favorite part of this film is the villain, The Red Skull. The Red Skull is the first and one of the only pure evil villains in the MCU. What could come off one dimensional, is actually really fun. I know modern villains should have more depth, but I prefer the campy comic book villain every now and then. When a film has a serious tone, I want a more serious villain, but in something that is made in the vein of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Flash Gordon, a little camp is preferred. These 2 characters alone are more than worth the watch.
Bryan Erdy, of CBS-TV called Captain America: The First Avenger “The best superhero film ever made.” I wouldn’t go that far, but I am so glad somebody thinks that. What the film lacks in taking risks, it makes up for with a solid, pulpy story. Even though the second half is as generic as any blockbuster has ever been, the first half fills you with emotions, and instills you with hope. Robert Downey Jr. may be the all time Marvel champ, as far as Marvel leads go, but Chris Evans as Cap is not far behind. All this and a silly, yet complete gonzo performance from Hugo Weaving, makes this a good watch. It is unfortunate that the film peters outs around the second half, but picks up at the end of the third act. It is one of the weaker entries, but it still is a fun ride and gave birth to one of the strongest characters in the MCU.