In my review for the fantastic Captain America: The Winter Soldier I said some pretty shitty things about The First Avenger. But after recent viewings of Thor 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy, I thought I’d give it another shot. And miraculously, the second viewing left me pleasantly surprised.
Present day. The icy wastes of the North. Some FBI/CIA/Agent types have found an old aircraft in a glacier. Inside they find a red white and blue singular starred round object. We’re all clever so we know it’s Captain America’s shield and it’s clearly time to wake up the president.
The film segues back to the past now. It’s wartime. The second Great War. Dubya Dubya Two. 1942, Norway, and Nazi ultra-bastard Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving – The Matrix, V For Vendetta) is pillaging his way through villages searching for the Tesseract – basically, the Holy Grail, Maltese Falcon, Golden Child all rolled into a single all-powerful handy blue cube.
It’s sneakily hidden in a chapel. The nefarious Schmidt doesn’t fall for any of the double bluffs put in his way, despite the efforts of the protector holy dude. It’s vaguely similar to that scene in The Da Vinci Code where Silas kills that nun, or maybe the beginning of The Fifth Element. Schmidt bargains with the poor guy into giving up the location of the Tesseract for the safety of his village (to save his wife, kid and dog, naturally). Like the total gimp that he is, Schmidt opens fire on the village once he gets what he wants anyway. What a shit.
Meanwhile, back in the Good Old US of A, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans – Sunshine, Fantastic Four) is flunking out of yet another military recruitment drive. Now let’s get this straight, Steve doesn’t want to join up to kill Nazi’s – he’s doing it serve his country. Unfortunately, he’s built like Woody Allen and as sickly as Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. Okay, he’s not AIDs sick, but he’s not up to scratch when it comes to basic US military fitness compliance either.
Steve just wants to fight for what’s right. He doesn’t let anyone push him around (well, he tries not to). But being a scrawny runt doesn’t get him in the army and obviously doesn’t get him the women either. Not like his best pal, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan – Hot Tub Time machine), who is shipping out soon. They’ve got time for one blast before they’re parted forever, and instead of spending it whoring their way through the Bronx, they head to the Stark Expo, 1940’s style.
Iron Man’s dad, Howard (Dominic Cooper – The Devils Double), is vaguely familiar – he’s a ladies man, and a genius, like his son. He doesn’t have the writing team behind Robert Downey Jnr, so you’re in no trouble of liking him more than Tony, however.
So Steve and Bucky O’Hare are rolling around the the expo, looking at things like floating cars, and inspirational military shows. Of course, Steve tries his luck again at signing up for the big push. Only this time, the attending physician is Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci – Space Chimps). This German megamind has been spying on Steve and his numerous attempts at joining the army. He recognises that there is something in Rogers that is extraordinary. He signs him off on the provision that he joins the Strategic Scientific Reserve – basically a big science experiment.
Steve struggles during training, at least in the physical aspects. Tommy Lee Jones (Under Siege) as General Tommy Lee Jones can’t stand the little whimp. But Rogers shows his mettle in mental tasks (such as the difficult job of removing a flag from a pole) and bravely throwing himself on a dud grenade. Erskine knows he’s found the right man and makes his choice for the subtly named SUPER SOLDIER PROJECT.
Meanwhile, in a secret mountain hideaway, Schmidt has his own scientist bastard Arnin Zola (Toby Jones – Hunger Games) busy harnessing the power of the Tesseract. But the Nazi’s are getting vexed waiting for Schmidt’s research to bear fruit. He’s equally bored with their shit too. He’s thinking screw creating a master race for Hitler – He is the master race.
Turning his Tesseract-pimped ray guns on his Nazi counterparts, Schmidt goes full rogue. And I ask you, what is worse than a Nazi? Well, an even more mental Nazi with a red skull. Yes, that’s right – Schmidt also underwent Erskine’s super soldier project years before. It made him super powered, but also turned his head into a shrunken red skull thing. You know, because of…side effects.
He’s now got an army of his own “Hydra” followers – ultra Nazi’s who aren’t happy with just a single armed salute. No, these dirtbags actually use both hands when hailing their many-armed gribbly icon.
Back in the US, Steve is getting prepped for his super hero shot. He’s struck up a friendship with Agent Peggy Carter. She sort of likes him, but he’s a shrimp who probably can’t see over the steering wheel of a car, so he has no chance. She’s also fending off the likes of Howard Stark, and it’s only a matter of time before she falls for his charms (and billions).
The day has come and Mini-Steve climbs into a big metal pod that looks like Bennett’s killer robot from Inner Space. In pumps the wonder gel, and out pops ultra buff, tall and handsome Steve. Agent Carter is immediately impressed and a possible World War romp is clearly back on the cards. But there’s no time for that now as a secret Hrydra double agent blows up the lab and assassinates Erskine (who dies shortly after leaving a poignant Uncle Ben-style message).
Steve is in hot pursuit with his new found powers. But he has to be all lame and protect innocents, so the dude nearly gets away via a convenient submarine, the bastard. Diving in to the water, Steve rips into the sub and pulls the agent from the fuselage. Before he can get anything beyond a “Hail Hydra”, the double agent is dead from a cyanide capsule hidden in his tooth – real CIA shit.
It’s clear Steve is a newborn badass and is knee deep in shit he doesn’t understand, but he’s also a walking science experiment. He can’t be sent to the front line (no, I don’t know why either), but he can certainly be used for USO shows!
His Captain America persona is born, and he spends his days punching out fake Hitlers and selling the war to the fine folks back home. The boys on the front lines have a little less time for his wholesome goodness though. They just want to see tits and smoke fags.
It turns out that the regiment he’s supposed to be uplifting just got an ass-whooping, and had a whole load of boys (including Bucky) captured by some Hydra goons. General Lee Jones won’t authorise a rescue mission. It’s too risky. Steve isn’t buying it and mounts his own attempt (aided by Carter and Stark).
Breaking into the Hydra fortress, he frees Bucky and co., and confronts the resident Schmidt/Skull. They tussle and both realize they’re super-charged. Before they can duel to the death, Schmidt makes his escape as the installation self destructs.
Steve, or Captain America (as he’s now become) returns a hero. The General recognises his potential, and recruits him and his pick of the best soldiers (including his bro Bucky, naturally) to take down the other hidden Hydra bases across Europe. He’s also finally given the famous indestructible shield by Stark.
Cue a montage of action and destruction. Red Skull is flipping out as his plans are getting done over by the plucky American bastards. Off the back of a tip, they assault a mountain train to capture the fleeing Zola. But he is well protected, and Bucky falls to his (apparent) death saving the Captain from some Hydra goons.
It’s personal now.
Zola blabs about Schmidt’s last remaining base. It’s where Schmidt has his secret weapon – a Tesseract-powered air ship of ultimate destruction. Steve and his boys have to race to stop him, but it’s almost too late – the ship is taking off. Making it on board alone, Steve confronts Red Skull and the serum’d up pair duel to the death.
Well, when I mean to the death, I mean they knock over the Tesseract’s containment thingy and Red Skull in his infinite intelligence thinks it’s a great idea just to pick it up. Yes, this is World War 2, and knowledge about radiation and uranium and shit probably wasn’t very common. But it’s a glowing blue cube! It melted some of his Nazi brethren. You don’t just pick it up with your bare hands.
So Red Skull gets disintegrated.
Captain America, victorious, can’t count his chickens just yet. Just because he can now see over the steering wheel, it doesn’t mean he can suddenly pilot a super advanced death bomber. Especially when the battery has been knocked out (which has dissolved it’s way through the ship, Alien blood style). What’s gonna happen if this thing drops on a populated area? Zeus knows what kind of destruction that could cause.
Bravely, heroically, the Captain turns that sucker around. Pointed straight at the desolate wastes of the arctic, he spends his last few moments chatting away over the wireless to Carter. The two had spent the last 90 minutes glancing at each other longingly, and now that he’s about to die (seemingly), it’s pretty clear they’re bummed about not getting down in funky town together.
There’s sad, wistful and impossible promises made and then nothing but radio silence. In the immediate aftermath, the ever-resourceful Stark recovers the Tesseract, though it would seem Steve and the Air Ship of Destiny are lost forever.
Cut to present day and we’re back to the beginning. Steve, miraculously is alive and awakens in a hospital room. He looks around and all seems normal. He’s back in New York, and a ball game is playing over the wireless. But something’s wrong. This game sounds familiar!
Indeed, Steve was there when that particular game was being played. He probably couldn’t see much due to being such a midget (prior to super-doping, of course), but he sure as hell remembers how it sounds! The feckless nurse can’t answer his questions, so he busts out of the joint and into New York.
It isn’t the New York he remembers though…in fact it’s present day Time Square and suffice to say the 1940’s boy is a little perplexed. Thankfully, Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson – Snakes on a Plane), director of SHIELD is on hand to calm down the confused super hero.
Credits roll, yada yada yada and we get the standard Marvel post credit scene. Steve is in a gym, pummeling out his unresolved tension (and desires for Carter – remember he’s just woken up from a long sleep, probably with a major boner). Enter Samuel L again to offer him a mission he can’t refuse, and Avengers here we come.
I still can’t say that Captain America: The First Avenger is my fave Marvel film. Maybe it was the big cinema screen that really put me off the first time. What confuses me is that the CGI used to make Steve Rogers look small and skinny is so masterfully done, yet the all of the other digital effects are X-Men Origins level bad. Why spunk so much on making Chris Evans look so great when making the rest of the film look so dodgy?
Another serious problem with The First Avenger is that they don’t establish the scope of the Captain’s abilities. Yes, he’s a super soldier, but how super? Clearly Steve 1.0 is small and sickly, whereas Steve 2.0 is huge and knicker-moisteningly strong, but can he survive being shot? Can he jump out of a plane and live? Can he kick GSP’s ass in one-on-one, mano-e-mano combat? The First Avenger doesn’t answer any of these questions. Thankfully, The Winter Soldier does.
It makes you wonder that if the super soldier serum made Steve super big and strong, what would it have done to someone who was already…big and strong? Food for thought there. To be fair, he was lucky the weird growth pod he went into was just the right size.
Equally, he’s supposed to be some badass warrior, but he uses a tiny little pistol. It’s not even a cool tiny little pistol, like Bond’s or Robocop’s, or Emil Fouchon’s. It’s not even a Luger that he’s pillaged from the corpse of a dirty Nazi. It’s just a standard issue pistol. And what kind of boss uses a standard issue pistol? It’s just a little underwhelming for a super hero.
The film is overly long too. All that crap about him being in the USO just really bogs down the movie, and only serves to put him in the right place at the right time. Why not just get him into the action already? We’ve been waiting long enough.
What I didn’t realize when watching The Winter Soldier was that there actually is a lot of duality in both films. This may have increased my enjoyment this time around. Steve Rogers is a man out of his depth in the beginning of both films. He’s in a world that’s a little too big for him. Steve’s mentor also is seemingly killed off when he needs him most (the doctor first, then Fury in the sequel), and there’s a point where no one believes in the Captain’s ability to pull it off – it’s literally him against the world (though with Falcon and Black Widow by his side in The Winter Soldier).
It’s also cool how he’s trying to stop some evil bastards from using a huge airship of death to kill everyone in the First Avenger. What is he trying to stop in The Winter Soldier? Some evil bastards trying to use even more death airships to kill everyone! Clever that.
Yes, there are problems with the first outing of Captain America. But you have to like some things. I liked the subtle humour, the fact Manchester was used as Wartime New York City, the use of the musical score from Excalibur during the proto-typical bad-guy-getting-painted-in-his-lair moment.
Yet what I liked the most was Captain America himself. He changes, physically, half way through the film, but he mentally stays the same throughout. He retains a dignity and a class seldom seen these days; he’s a hero and more so a hero than say Batman, Thor or any of the other heroes pervading our screens these days. He’s doing this because it’s the right thing to do, not because his parents are dead or his planet has exploded. He’s willing to take a beating or a grenade regardless of his prowess or his past.
In a world of so many angsty anti-heroes, this hearkening back to the Golden Age of comics (and heroes) is refreshing and welcome. He’s not as squeaky clean or as brightly coloured as his older comic counterpart would have you believe. Steve certainly has his moments of sarcasm and conflict with the the authorities. He answers only to what he believes is right, and to Hell with anyone who says otherwise.
This is all because of the performance from Chris Evans, certainly an underrated actor that was off my radar until now. I hated him in Sunshine, though mainly because he played (perfectly, it would seem) an unlikable military dude. Here he is likable, believable, and someone you can’t help but root for. He’s the perfect leader of the Avengers, and perfectly cast.
While Captain America: The First Avenger is supposed to be the beginning of the Marvel movies chronology, we all know it began with Iron Man in reality. This film still feels like it was thrown in after the fact, and doesn’t pop like Tony Stark’s on-screen debut. But’s it’s still an important and welcome addition to canon, if only to set up the fantastic sequel and the thoroughly enjoyable ensemble Avengers adventure. Get it watched.