The fifth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains one of the studio’s most ambitious, impressive, and important movies to this day. Without it, the MCU as we know it does not exist, and the entire landscape of comic-book cinema is different. At first glance, Captain America: The First Avenger may not appear to be that significant of a film. However, people often forget that it’s the movie that gives the Avengers their leader in Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, provides us with one of the best friendships (Steve and Bucky) and the very best romance (Steve and Peggy) in the MCU, and showed that Marvel was not afraid to be bold and takes risks, as director Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Jumanji) travels back in time to the 1940s to tell a story about an underdog from Brooklyn who just wants to serve his country.
In 2011, when The First Avenger was released, having a period-piece blockbuster with a do-gooder hero as its lead was practically unthinkable. Following the first two films in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, executives believed that audiences wanted stories that were dark and gritty and grounded in reality. Before The First Avenger hit theaters, people feared that it would be cheesy and boring, and that it would leave a sour taste in viewers’ mouths as they waited for Marvel’s heroes to come together in the following year’s much-anticipated team-up film, The Avengers. But the first Captain America film does the complete opposite of what some expected. It doesn’t fall into the pitfalls of WWII movie clichés or fail to supply the superheroic action of something like Iron Man. What it delivers is a rousing, romantic, and heartwarming story about the power of courage and determination, and one of the main reasons it is so successful in doing so is the character of Steve Rogers, perfectly portrayed by Chris Evans.
Before he was cast as Captain America, Chris Evans had already played a superhero, starring as Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch, in 2005’s Fantastic Four and its 2007 sequel, Rise of the Silver Surfer. Given the negative response both Fantastic Four movies received from critics and fans, people were initially hesitant about whether Evans was the right actor to play Steve Rogers in The First Avenger. Once the film arrived in theaters, though, and people actually saw Evans’ performance, opinion quickly changed, with some (including myself) claiming that he gives the best lead performance in all of the MCU. There are critics out there who will try to say that Steve Rogers is nothing but a boring, rule-following boy scout, but they are underselling both the character and Evans’ work in The First Avenger. Evans is required to do so much with his eyes and little looks throughout the film, because the audience needs to believe that Steve is the same person before and after he receives the super-solider serum, the same “good man” that Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) tells him that he is.
Due to Evans’ performance, and the writing of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who are the credited screenwriters for all three Captain America films and the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War), there’s never a false note to Steve’s character. We believe that he’s just as stupidly brave when he’s fighting off bullies in a back alley as we do when he rescues Bucky and the rest of the soldiers from the Hydra base, disobeying a direct order from Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). We believe that he’s just as charmingly awkward with women when he describes all the time he’s been beaten up across New York to Peggy Carter (the marvelous Hayley Atwell) as we do when he later confronts Peggy about her Howard Stark’s “fondue” date, resulting in her unloading a pistol into his new Vibranium shield. And we believe that he’s just as selflessly heroic when he dives on a dummy grenade in basic training as we do when he crashes Red Skull’s (Hugo Weaving) plane in the Arctic to save the day, taking his final few moments to talk to Peggy about how he’s going to need to get a rain check on their dance in what is still the MCU’s most heartfelt and heartbreaking scene to date.
Sure, there are problems with The First Avenger that you can pick out. It remains an odd choice by Marvel to have set this film during World War II but not have Hydra be a faction of the Nazis; instead, the evil organization simply replaces the real-life villains. Red Skull doesn’t get as much screen time as he maybe should have, but that can be attributed to the fact that Hugo Weaving absolutely hated going through the make-up process to play the character. And yes, it would have been awesome to see Captain America fighting against Hydra in more lengthy action sequences rather than the highlight reel we get about two-thirds of the way through the film, but as Dr. Erskine says near the beginning of the movie, this is not the story of a strong man—it’s the story a good, compassionate man, and firing a gun and throwing his shield isn’t what makes Steve Rogers who he is.
All of these minor problems that can be found in Captain America: The First Avenger pale in comparison to the film’s incredible achievements, which not only set the stage for the two present-day sequels that follow but also helped lay the path for other period-set comic-book films, such as Wonder Woman. If you haven’t watched The First Avenger in a while, I highly recommend revisiting it. It doesn’t receive the universal acclaim that some of Marvel’s more recent offerings have garnered, but it deserves to. It’s one of the MCU’s very first films and, nearly seven years after its release in theaters, still one of its very best.
[Photo via Marvel]