Again, like with my Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped review, I do apologise that it’s taken this long to get back on track with my scheduling. Things have been kind of rough in my personal life the last four months (don’t worry, I won’t go into detail and bore you) and the bottom-line is it’s been affecting my work on An Unearthly Critic, and overall, my health. But at the moment I’m hoping things can be turned around, especially where scheduling is concerned. If things go my way then I can concentrate on this site full-time, to which I have a lot of interesting content planned for the rest of the year (with ideas being added to pile all the time).
So, without any further delays, let’s get back to talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe…
Next on the list is Captain America: The First Avenger, a film that I thought I would hate because of my disinterest in War Movies, as well as Captain America’s character feeling really annoying due to his noble attitude (a sort of in-your-face character when it comes to morality). But I’m sure as hell glad I was proved fucking wrong. In fact, I walked away really enjoying this film, with Captain America quickly becoming my favourite character within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I think what immediately sets this narrative aside from the previous ones is the setting. By taking a trip back into the past we had a brand-new world to explore. It’s kind of sad that we didn’t get to spend any longer than one film in this environment but for what we got to see, it was certainly worth it. Straight away we are given a really noble introduction to Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, as he’s the scrawny little guy from Brooklyn who wants to do his part within World War II. But he’s very clear about his reasoning. It’s not about proving himself, or being the big man, but simply to do his duty, which he believes he has the right to do along with everyone else.
In some ways you could say maybe he’s trying to prove himself, but this isn’t his frontal motivation. He’s constantly showing himself to be the noble man who doesn’t back down from a fight and wants to perform the heroic deed, even if everybody else is too scared to do it. But, unfortunately, his size and health prevents him time and time again to get into the military, meaning he is forced to remain behind whilst his good friend Bucky Barnes heads off to fight.
Now, before moving on, I have to address the brilliant chemistry that Steve and Bucky have. Like Thor and Loki, it’s a defining element to the story-arc of not only Captain America‘s storyline, but also the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Their friendship is pure, filled with loyalty and respect. Despite Steve’s smaller stature, Bucky doesn’t treat him any differently and understands him, constantly looking out for him. Bucky obviously cares about Steve’s safety and doesn’t want him to fight, but at the same time understands his reasoning for wanting to join him in battle. It’s one of the things that the Captain America films get totally right, i.e. subtle character development, and chemistry, crafted perfectly so that it feels organic, to which we actually give a shit.
Also, another thing I love about Captain America: The First Avenger is the really clever connections it has to previous films (most importantly, Iron Man 2). We see Steve and Bucky attend the Stark Expo and get to see Tony Stark’s father, Howard Stark, in his younger years and it’s really uncanny at how they are virtually alike, despite Tony having indicated quite heavily that his father came across as quite cold and uncaring towards him (and yet in his prime he was a regular little play-boy genius just like his son becomes).
It’s inventive how Howard is constantly placed within the events of the narrative, building towards the strong connection that Steve and Tony would have in later films due to this awkward relationship between Captain America and Howard. It really sets a lot in stone and makes future instalments more impacting and personal. Of course we see that Howard helped in the creation of Captain America, along with providing him his iconic Vibranium shield and his costume. We also see how he worked closely with the military as a scientific advisor, ultimately building up to his involvement with S.H.I.E.L.D. (thus becoming one of the founding members).
Another intriguing aspect was the Tesseract (which was first alluded to during the post-credit scene for Thor). Captain America: The First Avenger showcases how it came about, being a mythical device fallen to Earth from Asgard (which links nicely into the universe of Thor, connecting the dots for the upcoming crossover event) to which Johann Schmidt, aka The Red Skull, wants his hands on. The Red Skull quickly becomes one of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe villains due to his presence alone. But his ideals certainly add to that as well. He constantly believes himself to be a God (helped by his experimentation which turned him into a Super Soldier) and now wishes to use God’s gift to control the world.
He even goes as far as to think of himself beyond human, looking at a future where there are no nations or cultures, just one controlling power. The Red Skull looks to use the war to elevate his ambitions, to showcase a world of greater purpose and prospect, beyond the ideals of lesser and more narrow-minded men. He even feels disappointed towards Captain America for lowering himself into becoming a symbol for America instead of rising above man and taking his rightful place by his side in becoming the new world order. Plus, it is kind of scary how HDRYA, the organisation he controls, acts more like a cult than an army, believing in their strange philosophies in the name of order.
Going back to Steve, he is found by German scientist Abraham Erskine who wishes to enlist him into his “Super Soldier” programme. From here, we see Steve proving at every hurdle why he is the right man for the job, which juxtapositions between the brilliantly subtle imagery and subtle dialogue that indicates the man that Abraham wants for the programme, i.e. a weak man that values strength and is fuelled by compassion. Also, it has to be noted that Marvel Studios have certainly done well at establishing new kinds of CGI concepts which allows difficult challenges to appear effortless. In this instance we see Chris Evans‘ tall, bulky body slimmed down and made to look incredibly small and thin (to which he has no muscles and his ribs are visible) and it looks incredibly detailed and realistic (so well done guys).
Through all his training (to which he proves his initiative and selfless nature) Steve is finally given the chance to become a solider, proving his might as he survives the process of transforming into Captain America. What’s great about this moment is Steve manages to prove those who doubted him (such as Colonel Chester Philips) completely wrong and that the “little guy” can be mighty. Sadly, his new identity is quickly shunted by a career in the theatre, abusing his new title as Captain America in order to promote the war for profit (as well as, I suppose, give the people of America a beacon of hope).
This means Steve’s ideas of fighting on the frontlines for his country are kicked in the bollocks so he can be the clown of Broadway, having to repeat that same ridiculous fucking musical number over and over again. It’s really terrible and just sums up the 40s (in terms of entertainment) to a teat. But, luckily, Steve gets his chance to shine when one of his shows takes him to Italy where he performs for the soldiers, learning in the process that Bucky has been taken prisoner along with hundreds of other men. When Colonel Philips is unwilling to risk any more soldiers Steve takes it upon himself to perform a solo rescue operation.
And, honestly, this segment is fucking awesome and is one of the greatest set-ups for a hero’s journey. This is why Captain America: The First Avenger is my favourite introduction to a superhero because it tells the perfect story, from Steve’s journey from becoming weak to strong, and then showing his country that his noble ideas can help win the war, pushing him towards being the most honourable superhero within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Plus, his character is so likable, probably because he is charming, and kind, and (at the end of the day) a normal guy trying to prove himself, proving that someone lesser can achieve their goals if they keep trying and showcase that their heart is always in the right place. On top of this, he’s the first hero introduced who generally wants to be the hero because of good intentions. He isn’t selfish, or naïve, nor is he ungrateful for his abilities (all attributes of the previous heroes introduced), and thus, grants him an even bigger playing field for being understood and loved by the audience.
And, also, I really love Captain America’s theme within this film (shame it never makes a proper return in later films as I really think it defines his character perfectly by feeling both heroic and triumphant).
Captain America storms one of HYDRA’s bases and manages to free all 400 of their prisoners, along with Bucky, who was being experimented on. I really like this reencounter because Bucky is seeing Steve for the first time since his transformation and is shocked by the radical change, seeing his small friend who always wanted to do the right thing now becoming a superhero. Plus, it’s quite fun to see the reverse in their friendship’s dynamic, with Steve now being the tall, strong guy who gets the ladies attention, whilst Bucky becomes the sidekick who looks up to Steve because he now means something to him (similar to how Steve used to look up to Bucky when they were growing up). What’s most important is their friendship isn’t affected, and instead strengthened.
After rescuing Bucky, Captain America has his first proper encounter with The Red Skull and it’s a neat moment, showcasing the start to this intense rivalry (although, sadly, this film doesn’t fully delve into it as deep as the comic books do, leaving a lot of room for more development between the two characters – but for what we got, it was still entertaining). What is always apparent between these two characters is their different ideals, which ultimately clash, making them both battle it out in order to declares who’s world view is correct. I suppose this also shows Steve’s lack of understanding of the bigger picture, merely looking at the world in mere “black and white”, there are the good and there are the bad, with later instalments showing just how dim his views once were and how he needed to grow-up to become more vigilant about the world and people around him.
I always think the turning point of the film is when Steve returns to camp with all the prisoners (along with that epic fucking music), showcasing his ascension to hero and proving to Colonel Philips that he belongs on the battlefield in order to aid his country. Although it kind of sucks that a lot of the cool action of Captain America’s triumphant battles are brushed over with a montage, it’s really awesome to see him become this symbol of hope as he destroys HYDRA’s operations one base at a time. Also, I really like the incorporation of his teammates (The Howling Commandos) which adds to Steve’s progression in the hierarchy of the military, proving how much he is looked up to and trusted (but, unfortunately, their development and screen-time is quite limited which is a huge shame).
Another brilliant character to talk about is Agent Peggy Carter. She’s a fucking kickass female character who doesn’t take shit from anyone (shown perfectly during her introduction when an arrogant American soldier insults her for being both British and a woman, and so naturally punches the dickhead right in his fucking face – so satisfying to watch, even Colonel Philips doesn’t give a shit). What’s most interesting about her is her constant showcasing of independence within an age where women aren’t thought of as equal, and yet, she can easily hold her own and proves more capable than most of the male characters onscreen.
The element that becomes most depressing is this slow burning love interest between Peggy and Steve, which starts off rather awkwardly because Steve is really nervous around women, but as he becomes more confident in himself he gradually throws out the hints that he has genuine feelings for her. But things get a little messy in the middle when he confuses her and Howard as “a thing” and is caught in a confusing snog by a seductive military fan-girl. It’s all rather awkward but sweet all at the same time. In the end, despite Steve’s bumbling nature and Peggy’s sternness, they ultimately have that moment to declare they like each other and prepare themselves for date night. But then Steve ends up crashing into the sea and is presumed dead…
The third act certainly does become really depressing for Steve’s character despite his clear heroic efforts. I think this adds to my likeness of Captain America because he’s suffered the most out of all the characters. In an act to protect his country he loses virtually everything. He’d already lost Bucky during a special operation to capture HYDRA scientist Arnim Zola (thus giving them the location to The Red Skull) and then in his most heroic hour (to which he stops The Red Skull from taking over the world – although we still don’t have a fucking clue what quite happened to him – did the Tesseract vaporise him or teleport him across space, TELL US MARVEL STUDIOS!!) Steve has to sacrifice himself.
This creates the ongoing tragic narrative that Steve must face within his later appearances, i.e. the burden of being trapped “out of time”, as he wakes up in present day (confronted by Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.) after being frozen in the ice for nearly 70 years. His next couple of films really push him to learn how to cope with this radical change where everything he knew and loved is now either gone or not what it was (made even more tragic by the constant references to Peggy and Bucky, adding to the intense personal struggle Steve has to endure).
That, and well, it’s just a brilliant entrance for him in order to kick-start Avengers Assemble (Marvel’s The Avengers in the US). The pieces have been placed, now it was time to bring them all together and see if Marvel Studio’s work had finally paid off.