This is a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective series (ie. a sane person's marathon of the MCU). All entries can be accessed by clicking here.
Director: Joe Johnston
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%
Domestic Gross: $176,654,505; International Gross: $193,915,269; Total: $370,569,774
No matter how entertaining or scene stealing a Marvel superhero is, none has the capacity to match the heroism of the MCU’s greatest character of all – Captain America. Taking place in the past, before the ‘age of superheroes’ dawned on planet Earth, The First Avenger is actually a pretty important milestone of a film. Besides the obvious introduction of the Avenger’s future ‘leader’, the film also expands the MCU by giving it historical context. Superheroes aren’t just a product of modern society, they’ve always been needed in trying times, and don’t always come in the typical packaged brawn and might.
All this is a preamble to how we’ve come to remember Steve Rogers as a definitive caricature of true heroism, but perhaps forgotten his humble beginnings as a struggling underdog. Thinking back, it’s rather surprising that the MCU actually lacks what almost seems derivative and expected of many superhero origin stories that make it onto the big screen. That is, the underdog story. Even where there is that opportunity, namely with Spider-Man, the underdog element is actually underplayed. I suppose the characters within the MCU are partly to blame, but I can’t help but think that this was a conscious decision on some level. That in crafting a universe that would soon be crammed with super powered beings, the important qualities of humility and restraint would be reserved for its supposed leader.
And perhaps that is why Captain America bears the title of the first Avenger. There’s one line in particular that I think really encapsulates the merits of why Steve Rogers is such a central part of the Avengers, and it’s delivered with perfection by Stanley Tucci’s Abraham Erskine:
“Because a strong man who has known power all his life may lose respect for that power. But a weak man knows the value of strength and knows compassion.”
This statement was made at the seams of creating a single superhero figure. Fast forward to 2018, where there are literally too many superheroes to fit into a single film, and Steve Roger’s inner qualities as a human being become ever more important. And for someone to actually hold onto such an idealistic view in the rapidly evolving 21st century, you need someone who is literally from the past. And that is why, despite its flaws, The First Avenger is a pretty important film.
My all time favourite MCU movie (unless the marathon forces me to reevaluate this statement) is still Winter Solider, but I found myself thinking how underrated this first entry actually is. Although a lot of the action scenes were pretty weak, The First Avenger carries a lot of heart and purpose, in an almost blind fashion. This is all thanks to Chris Evans, who glows with such a strong sense of propriety and valiance that is ever so appropriate and perfect. Casting him as Steve Rogers is one of the best choices the MCU has made, probably on par with the decision to cast Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Even though Captain America as a character is never overly flashy, his presence always evokes a humbling reflection of what being a hero should actually mean. This is something that somehow lingers in all his subsequent appearances in the MCU, making the future of the MCU after next year a bit of a tepid thought.
Before I close off, let’s not forget that this film also introduced us to Bucky Barnes and Peggy Carter. While Barnes’ eventual transformation into the Winter Soldier is what makes him such an intriguing character, the friendship we see here feels true and genuine. The same could be said of Rogers’ relationship with Peggy Carter, which never comes to its full fruition, but nevertheless becomes one of the most romantic arcs in the MCU. This film even brought us Red Skull, who was pretty badass and thankfully doesn’t fully disappear from the universe (sorry, spoiler alert!).
In any case, we still have the cap for one more film it seems, and should really enjoy his presence while we can. One of the most tame and reserved characters in the MCU, is also one of the strongest and most admirable. The First Avenger gave us a million reasons to root for Captain America, and those reasons never seem to go away.