Here in the United States, it’s the 4th of July. Today, we celebrate the day we told our colonizers to stick it where the sun don’t shine and did our utmost to back those words up with action. That’s just the simplified version anyway. There’s a whole lot of other background stuff to go with the holiday and there are a few reasons why the country should rethink the way we look at the holiday and our history. That, however, is for another time for today, we’re going to focus on the genesis of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Captain America in his first appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger.
The plot for the film is quite basic: an asthmatic underdog with a slew of health problems is recruited for a special program in the United States Army during the height of World War II. Given a serum that enhances his physical abilities, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) goes from being a weakling who won’t back down from a fight to being a large man who can bring the fight to others. After his best friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), is lost behind enemy lines, he goes on the offensive and truly becomes the hero that his mentor, Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) had always hoped he’d be. With the assistance of intelligence agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and millionaire inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), he assembles a team to bring down the rogue Nazi science division HYDRA and its megalomaniacal leader, Johan Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) aka the Red Skull.
For a movie with a simple premise, there’s a lot going on under the surface. I’m not saying that it’s a supremely nuanced movie or anything. The stuff going on beneath the surface is all character stuff with fantastic performances by the cast. Chris Evans in particular does an amazing job bringing Steve Rogers to life and filling out the red, white, and blue in a way that everyone can relate to. Hayley Atwell was so great as Peggy that she’s going to be having her own show that’s going to start up later this year. Sebastian Stan’s performance as Bucky also has quite a few layers. Every time you watch him, you see something new. Then again, that’s just the way his performances generally are.
One of the other fun things for me in this movie is how they really stuck with that sort of 40’s war movie aesthetic. Sure, they employed the use of updated special effects and great explosions. Overall, though, the feel suits what Captain America needed to be introduced to a new film generation. There’s also just something comforting about watching a movie with a guy that’s just a good guy at heart. He’s a great hero and a good role model without being a stuffy dick. That’s an achievement.
Some people call this one of the weakest of the MCU films, but I think it’s unfairly criticized. It’s one of my favorites because it gave us the awesomeness of Chris Evans’ Captain America. I’d be comfortable calling him my favorite of the Avengers. That’s saying a lot.
First thing’s first, let’s talk about Steve Rogers. He’s very much an underdog, but he never lets that bother him. A possible interpretation of his character could be how America sees itself. We started as a small, runty group of colonies with different goals. Then, we became a mighty world power to be feared and respected. I’m just paraphrasing our country’s stereotypical self-opinion, but you know what I mean. Steve Rogers is a relatively simple character in that he doesn’t believe in backing down from bullies. He’ll fight for what’s right even if the odds are stacked against him. Of course, what’s right isn’t always what’s comfortable. That, of course, comes up more in this film’s sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He’s just a little guy who’d always been a hero at heart, even if he just felt like he was doing what anyone in similar situations would do.
There’s a great moment toward the beginning of the film where Dr. Erskine is explaining to Steve that the first country that Hitler invaded was his own. That’s not necessarily something you hear in movies that take place during WWII. We are quick to paint all Germans with the Nazi brush when we know that’s not the case. To hear that sentiment from a major character that the audience has come to respect is refreshing. It’s something that should be put out there more often. Just sayin’.
Let’s get to Peggy Carter now. Seriously. Her introduction to the movie is her addressing a line of would-be super soldiers. One of them makes an off-color comment and she very easily puts him in his place with a sharp words and a swift punch. That says everything you need to know about her character. She’s not to be messed with and is very devoted to her work. Peggy is not someone with whom you play games. She’s someone you’d want in your corner and at your side in a fight. The fact that she’s so respected by her peers in the film is great. We need more women like Peggy in movies. At least the MCU is getting much better about representation when it comes to gender.
At the heart of this movie, however, is bromance. The warrior bonds between men. Okay. Just the deep and abiding friendship between Bucky and Steve and how their roles end up getting reversed during the movie. At the beginning, it’s Bucky who comes to Steve’s aid as he’s in an alley getting punched by a guy twice his side. After the serum, it’s Steve who parachutes into enemy territory just to rescue his lost friend. In most movies, the friend wouldn’t take the hero’s new status gracefully. They usually like having jealousy enter into the plot here. Bucky, however, remains steadfast and true. That’s what makes what happens to him so heartbreaking.
I could keep going and going, but it’s time for the annual Hendrickson viewing of 1776 for the 4th. Have a safe and fun holiday for those in the States!