Captain America: The First Avenger is far from the first Captain America movie. In fact, Captain America movies went as far back as 1944, back when Marvel was still called Timely Comics. In 1944, a 15-part serial called Captain America released, with a runtime total of 243 minutes. That movie was different than even the early comics, with the captain being District Attorney Grant Gardner, trying to thwart the plans of The Scarab, an evil museum curator. There was also a pair of made for TV movies in the late 1970’s, starring Reb Brown. Brown has the acting range of an air horn, meaning he’s either screaming his head off or very chill. There is no in-between. The first movie also featured exactly one fight scene. Somehow, the second one included the great Christopher Lee as the main villain.
In 1990, Captain America saw a theatrically released movie through the 21st Century Film Corporation, a movie that was almost universally panned. This is a movie where the Captain steals a car from an ally twice. Also it’s a kid’s movie that pretty much starts with a massacre. Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend that one.
Development for Captain America: The First Avenger began in 1997, with Marvel in negotiations with several producers and writer. In 2000, they teamed up with Artisan Entertainment to help fund the film, but a lawsuit between Marvel and Joe Simon (the original creator of Captain America) over the ownership of Captain America disrupted the film’s development. The lawsuit eventually ended in 2003 with a settlement. Originally, Captain America would be a standalone film. Kevin Feige said that about half of the movie would take place during World War II, and the rest would take place in the modern day. The film would look at our world through a man “out of time”, to see if we’re truly better off or not. He cited Back To The Future as an influence.
Iron Man director Jon Favreau approached Marvel to direct the movie as a comedy, but eventually chose to make Iron Man instead. The movie then went on hold during the 2007-2008 writers’ guild strike. Thankfully in early 2008, Marvel struck an agreement with the guild that allowed writers to get to work on various projects they were developing. They hired Joe Johnson to direct the movie, citing his directorial work on October Sky and The Rocketeer, along with his special effects work for the original Star Wars trilogy, as good reasons to hire him. By the way, The Rocketeer is a decent superhero movie based in the Second World War as well. It’s not great, but it’s a pleasant way to kill a couple of hours, not to mention Timothy Dalton is fun as the movie’s villain.
Both Chris Evans and Hugo Weaving were casted in their roles of Steve Rogers and Red Skull fairly early on. Sebastian Stan, who was briefly considered for the title role, soon was announced as Bucky Barnes. One day after Marvel announced Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, they also reported that Joss Whedon rewrote parts of the script to help the movie ease into The Avengers. To round out the cast and crew, Tommy Lee Jones plays a military colonel.
Captain America released in July of 2011, several months after Thor. The budget numbers weren’t entirely clear, but it ended up earning $370 million, making it a decent success and making it at the time the third highest grossing WW2 movie, behind only Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor. Of course it’s since been passed by Dunkirk.
The movie also received a lot of critical praise, earning itself an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7/10. Roger Ebert said “I enjoyed the movie. I appreciated the 1940s period setting and costumes, which were a break with the usual generic cityscapes.” Some other critics described Captain America as a bit too routine or simplistic, The Village Voice’s review even going so far as to call it hacky price gouging. I have no idea what they meant by that.
As for my own thoughts, I’ve always enjoyed this movie, and that enjoyment hasn’t dwindled since my first viewing. The First Avenger isn’t without its flaws mind you. It’s oddly paced with perhaps a bit too much time spent on Steve’s military training, turning him into a super soldier, and further build-up. By the time you get to the real action, you’re almost two thirds into the movie, leaving most of the action in a montage. It’s a fun montage, but still.
But where this movie shines is its general tone. It’s a thoroughly entertaining movie, yet there are still plenty of emotional moments. You feel Steve’s struggles to get into the military despite his small stature and asthma. From the start, he’s a compelling character who clearly stands up for what he believes in. You believe early on that he’s the best choice for the super soldier program, and when he comes out of that pod looking buff, it’s kind of glorious. There are times when the combination of music, montages and visuals are straight up inspirational. The apparent death of Bucky Barnes leads to not only the movie’s most dramatic moments, but some much needed downtime after a bit of a breakneck pace. Last but certainly not least, of the pre-avengers movies in the MCU, this is the only one with a climax that actually feels like a climax. It’s a big action set piece with a great duel between Captain America and Red Skull, in addition to a massive invasion of the last standing Hydra base.
As for the visuals, some of them are impressive. Any time there’s a practical effect, it looks great. I’m not sure whether it was a costume, CGI or a combination, but Red Skull’s look is very well done. Some other visuals look a bit weird, especially the CGI environments. Yet it’s to the point where I’m pretty sure that it’s more of a stylistic choice than it is bad CGI. IT feels as if the entire movie is going for the feel of an adventure movie from the 40’s or the 50’s. Whether that’s intentional or not, if you look at it that way, the visuals actually enhance the movie’s overall tone. It’s this weird in-between level where the visuals look dated, yet they don’t feel dated. Normally I’m not a fan of overusing CGI for set pieces, but in this movie it somehow works.
I said in my last post that Thor at least used to be my favourite phase one Marvel movie, but after rewatching this, I take that back. Captain America: The First Avenger, while not perfect, is probably the phase one movie that stands the test of time the best. Iron Man arguably has the best story and character development, but the action really hasn’t aged well. Incredible Hulk hasn’t aged well in a number of regards, and it’s too slow for its own good. Iron Man 2 is an entertaining mess of a movie. Thor is good as a dramatic piece, but the Earth stuff pales in comparison to the Asgardian half of the movie, and the action has aged even more poorly than Iron Man 1. The fact that the action itself in Captain America relies more on practical effects and stunt work than it does CGI, unlike any of those other movies, helps this movie age better.
Captain America: The First Avenger is still a mostly great movie, only held back by its odd pacing and the fact that some people might not enjoy the visual styles. As for me, I watched the movie late last night after a long week of work, and I still can’t get that Captain America chorus out of my head. That’s not a complaint. This is well worth re-watching if you’re a fan of the MCU, and an easy recommendation if you haven’t seen this yet … for some reason.
Next up is The Avengers, and even with how far the MCU has come since, it’s still hard to believe that making The Avengers was even possible, and harder yet that it turned out as well as it did. After that, it’s Iron Man 3, and opinions tend to vary wildly on that one. Next on the list is Thor: The Dark World, which is pretty much universally agreed on as the weakest of the MCU movies. Since then however, there are very few Marvel movies that aren’t at least good.
Also now that they’re planning on adding the X-Men to the MCU, does that mean we could possibly get a movie with Captain America and Wolverine briefly teaming up during WW2 in some sort of midquel? Because that would be awesome.