As The Avengers: Endgame approaches, Team Midnight has committed to watch all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released to date in chronological (story) order: 22 films in 8 weeks.
First up is Captain America: The First Avenger, which takes place (mostly) in the 1940’s, with the exception of a little 2011-era framing at the beginning and end.
Hero: Steve Rogers/Captain America
WWII-era American supersoldier, from Brooklyn.
“I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they’re from.”
- Bucky Barnes, Dum Dum Dugan, and the rainbow squad
- Agent Carter
- Howard Stark
- Nick Fury
Villain: Red Skull
The leader of Hydra – the R&D Division of the Third Reich
“Cut off one head, two more shall take its place.”
Villain Complexity Rating: 2/5
Red Skull believes that what most people think of as magic is actually science we don’t yet understand, and seeks out a mythological object, the jewel of the norse God Odin’s treasure room. With this power, he makes superior weapons, gains the upper hand, betrays Hitler, and sets his own sights on world domination/obliteration.
World domination is a traditional supervillain calling card, and though Red Skull is the world’s only other supersoldier and it’s clear he’s on a quest for power, we don’t get into his psyche to understand his motivation much more than that.
“What’s at Stake” Rating: 4/5
The stakes are quite high: basically, Super-Hitler wins. It is also technically unknown at this point that the tesseract (Odin’s treasure) contains an Infinity Stone, which is kind of a big deal.
What did our hero(es) learn?
- Too much power can make people become monsters
- Always do what you know is right, regardless of what your superior officers tell you to do (i.e. Captain America never really was a “good soldier”)
- How to:
- Use a super-body (i.e. how to run really fast, how to jump motorcycles, how to knock guys down with a vibranium shield)
- Lead others on a variety of missions, from big military operations to sneaky infiltrations
Heroism Rating: 5/5
Based on his actions in this film:
- Singlehandedly captures a Hydra agent in Brooklyn, just moments after becoming a supersoldier
- Willing to do the PR tour in order to serve his country (low ego)
- Violates a direct order so that he can save 400 soldiers/POWs from a Hydra prison camp
- Takes down a bunch of Hydra bases with his super squad
- Sacrifices his life to save all the cities of the world (or at least, he thinks he does)
Visual Aesthetic/CGI Rating: 5/5
The film uses CGI a lot – for example, to make Little Steve convincingly tiny and to supplement Cap’s awesomeness taking down Hydra, but the CGI is seamless and adds to the story and the film’s aesthetic more than it detracts. Also, the film’s WWII-era setting is captured lovingly, in rich deep colors and spectacular production numbers – showcasing both the gruesome violence and shiny nationalism of its time.
Heroic Cinema Saturation Index
Betsy Rating: 3.5/5
This movie looks great and is classic superhero – you don’t get much more good guy heroic that Captain America and you don’t get much more evil than Hydra. The action sequences are fast and fun and the movie spends enough time with little guy Steve to make you believe that his heart of gold is for real. I love, too, that the very root of all this Avengers trouble is an infinity stone, in the tesseract, being harnessed by human beings and used for evil for the first time. Unfortunately, the climax in which Steve decides to crash his airplane into an iceberg to save freedom – just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I love the mythology of these stories, so am usually one to let little logic gaps slide in support of more important thematic/character development – but even with that general orientation, it bugs me that when faced with SUCH a big personal sacrifice, the brilliant strategic mind of Steve Rogers couldn’t have found some other way out of that situation. This narrative choice sticks out as unnecessarily lazy, since it so transparently prioritizes making Cap’s origin story fit into the MCU/Avengers narrative over who he is as a character.
Justin’s Rating: 4/5
This is an origin story with a capital “O”, constructed in large part from the playbook that made legends out of many of Jack Kirby’s biggest titles. Cap’s MCU birth manages a convincing WWII-era patina that feels emotionally genuine despite being soaked in American Nationalist swagger. This is director Joe Johnston’s (The Rocketeer and October Sky for Christ’s sake) wheelhouse without a doubt and he’s in great form, but there’s no way this film is half as stirring with anyone besides Chris Evans as Steve Rogers. He’s so convincing! Evans’ heroic ethos is powerful enough to allow Steve to be funny without coming across as arrogant or breaking character. In fact, Captain America: The First Avenger’s secret weapon might just be it’s pitch perfect sense of levity.
If it’s been awhile for you, we highly recommend revisiting Captain America: The First Avenger, available to rent wherever you get your online media: Vudu, YouTube, Amazon, etc.