MCU In Daughter Order – Captain America
I’m rewatching the Marvel Cinematic Universe with my daughter in whatever order she feels like. Up next, 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. Not to be mistake for the first Avengers.
Our Progress So Far
After watching She-Hulk, we watched Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Black Panther, and Thor. She’s loved them all, but I think she realized the value to watching them in order after jumping ahead to Black Panther.
Her timing works. I think Thor, Captain America, and Avengers flow from one to the next pretty well together. They might be the MCU’s best consecutive releases for that.
Captain America And Me
After What If?, I might have read more Captain America comics growing up than any other title or character. The fact that I’m Canadian isn’t even the weirdest thing about that.
I got into comics after watching The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (streaming on Tubi. How do you like that?). Before that, I watched super hero cartoons and syndicated airing of the Adam West Batman series, but for some reason they never inspired me to jump to the source material. Around that time, Entertainment Tonight ran features on the upcoming Captain America movie.
When I went comic shopping, my mom, an avid Entertainment Tonight viewer but complete comic book novice, suggested I get Captain America comics. “After the movie, they might be worth a lot of money,” she said. My mom inadvertently introduced me to speculation collecting almost as soon as I got into the hobby. Sadly, this followed me for years. I don’t think I’ve ever sold a comic for more than I paid for it, but I’ve definitely bought comics to sell later.
The Captain America That I Remember
Captain America was a make or break movie for the MCU.
Earlier in 2011, Iron Man 2 had cooled the Avengers fever that Iron Man sparked in 2008. On top of that, people at the time used “Captain America” as shorthand for a one-dimensional character. Even though he had more name recognition than Thor or Iron Man when the MCU launched, Captain America felt like the movie that had the hardest road ahead of it. I remember thinking that adding The First Avenger to the Captain America title felt like damage control. The upcoming Avengers movie had more cache than Captain America, but also needed Captain America to be a success.
Also, a confession. I think I fell asleep in the theatre watching Captain America (the Chris Evans one, not the 1990 one). I’m not saying it was boring, or bad, I just went to a later show than I was able to stay up for. So my first memories of Captain America: The First Avenger are positive, until the end.
Revisiting Captain America
The first hour and a half of Captain American are amazing.
Amazing Character Development
It’s not hard to make an audience root for the guy who punches Hitler, but it’s a small miracle how likeable the movie makes Steve Rogers.
I don’t have an exact time, but the movie focuses on pre-super soldier serum Captain America a lot. And honestly, they’re some of the best scenes in the movie. There’s a reason “I can do this all day” endured as an element of this character for a decade and a half-dozen movies. Steve Rogers isn’t a super hero because he has powers, he was given super powers after he proved he was a hero.
The two best examples of this come back to back during the boot camp montage. First, the soldiers are told that whoever gets the flag from the top of the pole gets a ride back to camp. Steve waits for everyone else to try to brute force it, then he walks up to the pole, pulls out the pin holding it up, and picks the flag up off the ground. The satisfying clang of the pole hitting the ground punctuates how confident Steve felt about his victory.
Then, when Stanley Tucci’s Abraham Erskine tries to convince Tommy Lee Jones’ Colonel Phillips to go with Steve, Phillips tries to prove his point that his candidate deserves the serum by throwing a live grenade on the ground. As Phillips’ pick runs for cover, Steve’s the only one who jumps on the grenade. The reaction shot of all the cast sells what a turning point this moment is for the character.
Speaking of the cast…
I said this about Thor (in fact, I didn’t even have to change the header), and it still applies to Captain America: The cast is better than I remember.
Obviously, Chris Evans deserves a lot of praise. He stayed true to the character’s boy scout persona, while still bringing a range of emotion and making Cap loveable. Hayley Atwell also took a pretty minor Marvel character and elevated her to fan favourite status. She’s played this character for over 10 years, with more on-screen appearances than most MCU supporting characters, including her own series and digital short.
On top of the main cast, I always forget how much I like Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci in this. Jones often plays characters like Colonel Phillips, but he still brought his A-game, often turning on an emotional-dime mid-scene. And Stanley Tucci is always a delight. He turns Abraham Erskine from a functional but flat part of Cap’s origin into one of the most entertaining elements of the first act.
I never expected so much scrawny Steve Rogers screen time. It’s funny that the least realistic part is that voice coming from that body. Sure, every other MCU movie up to this point had flying armor with laser hands, a 7′ rage monster, or the god of thunder, so Captain America’s special effects budget had to go somewhere. Still, I think making sure pre-super soldier serum Steve looked good helped make the movie more immersive.
The make-up effects also deserve praise. The prosthetics added to Hugo Weaving’s face as the Red Skull managed to convincingly shrink his head. The colour and texture also captured the comic character’s look while also looking realistic. A guy named The Red Skull whose whole deal is his face is red and skull-like walks the line between scary and silly. The make-up went a long way to making the character believable and menacing.
My New Conclusions
Did I just dream that I fell asleep at the end of Captain America? Because rewatching it, around the time my memory of the movie got fuzzy, the movie got messy. The first hour and a half feel slow, but purposeful. The movie took its time telling a character-driven story, with an emphasis on world building, and scenes that don’t always matter to the plot, but make the movie better.
Then the last half hour, from after Cap rescues the Howling Commandos on, it feels in a rush to hit its marks. Reunite Cap and Peggy, ambiguously kill Bucky, missiles heading for the U.S.A, cap gets frozen. I flashed back to high school, where I’d spend all my time crafting the perfect thesis statement then rush to write the rest of the 1000 word essay.
The busy and disjointed last act doesn’t take away from how well the movie starts. It’s just noticeable, and makes me wonder how and why this happened.
My Daughter’s Thoughts
Speaking of how and why, my daughter asked a lot of questions during Captain America.
The movie, rightly, assumes the audience knows the broad strokes of World War II. My daughter did not. We’re also two generations removed from the last family member who served in the military -my grandfather, whom my daughter never met- so she struggled to understand the motivation of someone eager to go around the world killing people.
On top of that, she lost her patience early waiting for the comic elements. For the first half of the movie, Red Skull wears a Hugo Weaving mask, but shots of his silhouette in darkness or adjusting his cheeks hint that there’s something wrong with his face. She wasn’t having it with these hints. Whenever he came on screen, she demanded they show his face. And when I let slip that the character’s named The Red Skull, she wanted to see him unmasked that much more.
She had the opposite reaction to Steve Rogers. “When’s he going to get his costume?” she asked, tired of the scrawny soldier struggling with adversity at every turn. I don’t know if it took Tony Stark or Bruce Banner as long to turn into Iron Man and The Hulk on screen for the first time in their movies, but my daughter was more willing to wait.
All that said, she wasn’t annoyed at the movie. She was invested, and didn’t want to wait for the payoffs. Once Steve got the serum and the action picked up, she was all in. Which I guess means that there’s an overlap in the middle where this went from my kind of movie to her kind of movie.
She felt really bad about Bucky dying, though. More so than Steve dying. Probably because the movie took back Steve’s death basically right away.
It’s all built to this. 2012’s The Avengers.