Captain America: The First Avenger After 10 Years, The Lynchpin For MCU Phase 1
There are many films about which it can be said that if it didn’t “work,” the MCU never would have gotten off of the ground. One such movie, now 10 years old, is Captain America: The First Avenger. I don’t think that the throughline of the majority of the Infinity Saga went through Captain America’s story from the get-go. There were likely many paths to that story, but Cap’s is the one we took. Yet, avenging the death of Bucky Barnes was what made that whole “Avenger” thing make sense in the first place. The other crucial part of this movie was if Chris Evans, know for playing bro-comedy roles up until this point, was able to be one of the two biggest Boy Scouts in comic book history.
Look back at Captain America: The First Avenger, it does not feel like 10 years have passed. I remember catching this film on weekday matinee, because I did not have high expectations. I had been burned by a “Captain America” movie before. (See below.) I also did not trust Johnny Storm to be able to pick up the shield in a convincing way. Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Not only did Chris Evans nail it as Steve Rogers, but Joe Johnston found a way to make the comic book mania of the Cap story feel grounded in the all-too-familiar grittiness of World War II. Also worth noting is that the score by Alan Silvestri marked a sea change for Marvel, providing the first superhero theme that stuck with you after leaving the theater. While not the most important Phase 1 MCU film, Captain America: The First Avenger is a crucial part of the foundation.
Making Captain America Cool Was Not As Easy As It Looked
Image via Marvel Studios
There were two very smart things that Johnston and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely did with this film. The first was they designed the “coolest” part to be the part the film breezed over. Much of Captain America and the Howling Commandos’ campaign against the Nazis and Hydra was handled via montage. Just a few scenes from a number of battles was all we needed to realize we wanted to see more of Cap doing his thing. The other really smart thing they did was begin the film in the modern day. The most well-known detail about Cap is that he was found in the ice many years after WWII. Starting the movie with his discovery in the modern day, before giving us 40 minutes of “Skinny Steve.”
This decision both broke the tension of “what will happen” in the film to “how did that happen?” This is why we end up so interested in why a skinny, asthmatic 98-pound-weakling seems to want nothing more than to die on a battlefield in another continent. It’s brilliant, I think, because it shows that Steve Rogers’ greatest virtue is also his greatest flaw. In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve wants to prove himself to himself, and it took him 10 years of movies to do it. Cap’s unflinching idealism is what drives the conflict in all of the films, and ultimately is most directly responsible for the Avengers’ defeat in Infinity War. (Peter Quill definitely agrees with me.)
The storytellers didn’t try to give us a perfect hero, instead they gave us, as Stanley Tucci’s Dr. Erskine says, “a good man.” His purity of purpose in First Avenger is why we follow along as he makes increasingly less pure decisions, especially in Civil War.
At 10 Years Old, Captain America: The First Avenger is Iconic
Image via Marvel Studios
One thing that Joe Johnston did amazingly well, was make Captain America: The First Avenger visually distinct from other Phase 1 MCU movies. The cinematography, the color palatte, and even a big, old-fashioned musical number at the top of Act Two, evoked the tone of the era. The inspired casting of Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull, Toby Jones as Arnim Zola, Sebastian Stan as Bucky, and (of course) Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. And we can’t forget Tommy Lee Jones cast as, well…. Tommy Lee Jones in World War II. It is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve, but is still able to be a lot of fun without the tortured emotional conflict we got from Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Thor Odinson.
What really sets this film apart from others in the “old war” genre is what stories they focus on. As I mentioned above, most of their epic battles were handled in a montage. The longest Cap adventure was not some grand battle but rather him defying orders to go and save some lives. We know going in, because of how the movie opened, that Cap survives his fiery jump that ends that sequence. Yet, the emotional impact of him marching home the 107th Infantry is not lessened in the slightest.
This film gives us the high point of Captain America’s life, and the rest of his appearances in the MCU was him trying to live up to his own achievement. For all the talk of Cap being a “perfect” hero, The First Avenger was the closest we got to seeing it. Part war movie, part film homage, we ended up with one of the purest superhero origin movies of all time.
Captain America: The First Avenger is available to own or stream on Disney+.
What do you think? How does Captain America: The First Avenger measure up in your eyes after 10 years? Share your reviews, memories, and favorite moments in the comments below. Also, you can catch up with Captain America in the comics in The United States of Captain America, and Issue #1 is out now.
Featured image via Marvel Studios
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.