2010s, 3/4, Marvel, Review, War

Captain America: The First Avenger

Image result for captain america the first avenger banner

#10 in my Ranking of The MCU Phases 1-3.

This is the most Joe Johnston movie that Joe Johnston has ever made. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it seems to make sense. I mean, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and The Rocketeer have a distinct feel about them and Captain America: The First Avenger takes those aesthetic and narrative generalities and just ups them.

Steve Rogers is just a skinny kid with a big head in Brooklyn who really wants to join the army and punch Hitler in the face after the outbreak of World War II, but he’s just too small and too unhealthy for the army. They refuse to take him despite his repeated attempts with fake names just to join up. On his sixth try, he’s noticed by a scientist, Dr. Erskine, who sees his good heartedness and signs him up for an experiment within the army. Steve turns out to be the most selfless of brave of the recruits, so he gets chosen to be pumped full of drugs to become a super soldier, with the added benefit of his head being the right size for his body now.

After a spy wrecks the scene, kills Erskine, and almost gets away, Rogers gets relegated to PR duties for the army, selling war bonds while punching Hitler in the jaw on stage. It’s not really what he had expected, so when he goes on a USO tour for the troops, he realizes the disparity between the public image of himself that he had begun to belief and the reality of war. Everything’s dirtier and dingier than the bright reds whites and blues of the stage he had occupied for the last weeks and months. And, to make it all even worse, the real soldiers see him as little more than a joke.

Being a super soldier and ready to do his real duty, Rogers strikes out on his own to rescue a group of captured Americans thirty miles behind enemy lines. He breaks in, breaks them out, and then comes face to face with the Red Skull, the leader of Hitler’s R&D division Hydra (they talk about hydra and heads and the cutting and the thrice over replacing, but they don’t really do anything with it in this film). Red Skull is the victim of an earlier version of the same serum that gave Rogers his super strength, but instead of turning Red Skull into a great man, it only made the bad man worse and drove him to a level of madness. Other than that, he’s generic with a generic goal of world domination and destruction.

Having proven himself worthy of trust, Rogers becomes a real captain and starts to lead a series of missions with a 21st century approved gang of diversity to destroy a series of factories run by Hydra. It’s a grand two-minute montage that feels like a recap of another movie. I really feel like the second half of the film should have been streamlined by removing the extra bases, keeping it to one, and giving us a real men on a mission story. Instead, none of the gang creates an impression because they don’t have enough screen time except Bucky, Rogers’ friend from New York, who ends up falling to his death and will surely never ever ever come back in this series again. Ever.

Then we have our big action finale with breaking into a bunker, energy weapons, flamethrowers, cars chasing airplanes, little airplanes running into a big airplane, and a fistfight with some special effects to end it all. It’s all functional and executed with some modest level of distinction.

If the movie were just its plot, I would like it a good bit less than I do. The plot feels truncated and typical, but what makes this movie work is Rogers and his nascent romance with Agent Carter. It is Agent Carter who functions first as Rogers’ handler. She’s pretty and British and the perfect kind of movie woman for Rogers: single. When they first meet, it’s before Rogers gets his infusion of delicious blue drugs and Rogers is tiny. It’s obvious that she sees him as little more than one part of her job. His transition into beefcake awakens the more primal part of Carter’s psyche (I love the moment when she tries to touch his peck and then pulls away). He becomes the perfect combination of aw-shucks charm, good man, and hunk, and the romance feels earned. A big part of that is due to how little ground within the romance actually gets covered. They’re nowhere near a marriage proposal or jumping into bed by the final moments in the movie. They’re only at the point where Rogers wants to ask her for a dance. It’s so sweet and innocent and the attraction between them feels so genuine that as Rogers is making his self-sacrifice to save the world at the end and they’re talking about a date that both know they’ll never have, it’s heartbreaking.

Oh, and then it becomes a commercial for The Avengers because corporate synergy.

Overall, I think Captain America is the most evenly good of the Marvel movies up to this point. Iron Man‘s central character arc is jagged and disjointed. Thor is great is spurts but functional for the rest. Captain America, though, is nicely entertaining from beginning to end. It’s not a great film, but it is a pretty good one.

Netflix Rating: 4/5

Quality Rating: 3/4

4 thoughts on “Captain America: The First Avenger”

  1. I don’t hate this movie but, again, it feels disposable. An optional in the MCU, which is too bad as we get our first real sighting of the UR-McGuffin: the infinity stones. So you kinda “have” to see it but it’s…

    Look, I love the first half. That’s pure Joe Johnson Rocketeer good stuff. I love all of it, the scenes with Bucky and the bully, the selection process, the chase scene right after Cap gets his power…all EXCEPT Agent Carter. She’s a cast iron bitch and Cap deserved better. She fucking shot at him. She has all the elements of The Wasp, whom I also hated.

    The second half…I don’t love. It’s ok. I loved the old Nick Fury and his Howling Commandoes comics, so it sorta pisses me off that they took them away from Nick Fury and gave them, briefly, to Cap. I get the whole character arc of him being asked to be a pretend soldier when what he really wants to do is be a real fighting man. There could have been a good story there, where the idealism meets the raw carnage of Industrial War. They could have made Cap Audie Murphy. But that would be too real for Marvel :-/

    I don’t like Hydra, not in this movie. It’s like ‘Nazi’s aren’t bad enough, so we have people who are WORSE than Nazis for our bad guys’. It’s dumb. I liked Red Skull, I might be in the minority there, he was over the top like he needed to be. I’m a little pissed that Hugo Weaving didn’t revisit the character but honestly, they guy the replaced him with in Infinity War knocked it out of the park. So I liked the villian’s eventual fate, a dozen movies later.

    I guess… I wanted the second half of the movie to be a war movie. And it didn’t go a very good job of being one.

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    1. Yeah, there’s a man on a mission movie squeezed into about 3 minutes in the latter half. I agree that the first half is better than the second, but that second half could have been awesome if Cap just had that one mission to follow through on and it took an hour or so. Limit it to just him and Bucky behind enemy lines, giving them more time together so that when Bucky “dies” it hurts a bit more. He kind of get lost in the second half as just another one of those guys as it is now.

      There was definite room for improvement, but I find it pretty good overall.

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