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Reviews Film / Captain America The First Avenger

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04/28/2020 19:10:19 •••

Best Appreciated in Retrospect

Originally, of the four Avengers origin films, First Avenger is a solid third place: Iron Man was the defining one, first proof that Marvel themselves could actually make a good superhero film, and arguably on par with The Dark Knight, which came out the same year. It remastered Iron Man for the 21st century, in the wake of controversies such as Blackwater, fitting the War on Terror in general, and was led by some world-class casting in Robert Downey Jr..

Thor, meanwhile, had the charisma of Tom Hiddleston as the charming and eminently sympathetic Loki who stole the show. While the film itself wasn't spectacular, the Cain and Abel dynamic elevated it. So, it had Marvel's first top quality villain, and arguably the only really good one they had until the Winter Soldier. Even then... Marvel had a villain problem, though they seem to have worked it out.

(Incredible Hulk was pretty forgettable, and tellingly, most of Bruce/Hulk's Character Development comes in the Avengers films. Yeah, solid 4th place for me.)

First Avenger, by contrast, well. On first watch, it was a fun period piece, but not much else. The acting was excellent all round (Tucci's turn as Erskine was particularly good, considering the limited screen-time), even if the likes of Sebastian Stan were given surprisingly little to work with. There's a reason that Agent Carter, with Hayley Atwell and Dominic Cooper returning, got off the ground and remains a cult hit.

However, it had a predetermined ending, so there wasn't much tension. The characters were almost all going to suffer Chuck Cunningham Syndrome (the Winter Soldier was a bit of trivia to filmgoers, if they knew it at all, and no one who even considered it was sure that Marvel would use it), and it was basically a pilot for Avengers, Assemble!. All it really seemed to do was introduce Captain America, nobody's favourite Avenger.

And yet. Coming back to it after watching Winter Soldier and Civil War, plus the Avengers films, it takes on a whole new dimension and can be appreciated in a whole new light. It is key to Steve's character journey - and yes, Steve, not Captain America, with the man behind the shield emphasised at all times by Chris Evans' tour de force as Steve. Of all the origins films, it is the one that is most consistently present, shall we say, in later material. Not just in terms of Peggy and Zola's appearances in Winter Soldier, or Bucky as the Winter Soldier himself (I don't think Red Skull's cameos in Infinity War and Endgame really count), but in how it informs Steve's character.

Tony's "I am Iron Man" thing is important in Iron Man 3, while the subject of Thor's Worthiness is raised again when the fact that he's still Worthy in Endgame restores his confidence, but they're both simple confidence boosters, one-off reminders of who they are. Bruce's sudden control of the Hulk is vaguely hinted at in Incredible Hulk, but largely comes out of nowhere.

The events of First Avenger, however, continue to both inform Steve's character. Constant themes include his desire to be "a good man" like Erskine asked of him, rather than a perfect soldier - identified by Ultron, with his line, "Captain America, God's righteous man, pretending you can live without a war", and his nature as a "man out of time", unsure of his purpose, if the world still wants or needs him (it does). Then there's his desperation to save Bucky, and his inability to let go, which proves critical in Winter Soldier and Civil War. In fact, of all the Avengers, I'd say that he arguably gets the most complete character arc, challenged only by Tony.

Indeed, I think that that's what makes First Avenger such a good film in retrospect: the plot may be relatively boiler-plate, the villain likewise, and the action is rather pulpy, but as a character piece it is masterful. It sets up some of the strongest and most conflicted characters in the MCU - indeed, in the genre as a whole - making you really empathise with them. At the time it came out? 3 stars. In retrospect? 4 stars.

04/28/2020 00:00:00

It definitely helped Steve arc-wise that the screenwriters for The First Avenger were the same ones who wrote all his subsequent films and both Infinity War and Endgame, allowing the character foundational moments sown throughout the first film to continue being considered and paying off in the long run.


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