Reappreciation Society: Captain America The First Avenger

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Like scrawny Steve Rogers before his super-soldier transformation, Captain America The First Avenger (punctuation, anyone?) punched above its weight and expectations to deliver a rousing, refreshing new spin on the superhero film, with a meta-twist. Yet it’s dismissed amongst the modern Marvel stable, audiences more keen to see a grittier, modern Cap in The Winter Soldier.

It was always going to be difficult to sell a film with a hero so glaringly wrapped in the stars and stripes, corn fed and muscle bound. What director Joe Johnston,  writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have instead done is focussed on a gloriously nostalgic tale of the little guy standing up for what’s right, evoking Johnston’s earlier period adventure, The Rocketeer. Steve (Chris Evans), a “90 pound asthmatic”, is chosen  by Stanley Tucci’s kindly German emigre boffin for Project Rebirth because of what’s in his heart. “Do you want to kill Nazis?” Dr Erskine enquires searchingly. “I don’t want to kill anyone, ” Rogers replies. “I just don’t like bullies.” Chris Evans told Total Film:

“The goal is that, even in the last frame of the film, you want the audience to still see him as skinny Steve. He’s not supposed to change – that’s why he was chosen, because he wouldn’t let this power go to his head. Even though he becomes this hero, this leader, he is the exact same guy he was when he was 100 pounds lighter.”

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Incidentally, there’s a very good piece recently posted on The Daily Dot entitled “Fans Recast Captain America As  A Modern Equal Rights Leader” – worth checking out. In that blog, the writer also refers to another, entitled Steve Rogers isn’t just any hero, which argues why he would have liberal, not gung-ho values, thanks to his background as charted out in the comics:

“Steve Rogers grew up poor in the Great Depression, the son of a single mother who insisted he stayed in school despite the trend of the time… then orphaned in his late teens when his mother died of TB. [H]e came of age in New York City at a time when the New Deal was in full swing… and a militant anti-racist movement was growing.

“Then he became a fine arts student. To be an artist in New York City in the 1930s was to be surrounded by the “Cultural Front.” And if a poor kid like Steve Rogers was going to college as a fine arts student, odds are very good that he was going to the City College of New York at a time when an 80% Jewish student body is organizing student trade unions, anti-fascist rallies, and the “New York Intellectuals” were busily debating Trotskyism vs. Stalinism vs. Norman Thomas Socialism vs. the New Deal in the dining halls and study carrels.”

So, Steve goes from (seeming) zero to hero. But not before, frustrated by the desire of bluff Colonel Philips (Tommy Lee Jones) to run more tests, he elects to do good by signing up to a War Bond tour. He becomes a hero symbol to the folks back home, but a propoganda patsy to the men in the field. It is at this point that the film cleverly addresses the incongruity of costumed heroes, by having Captain America (as he becomes named in the tour) wear pulpy duds, paraded on stage with high kicking chorus girls and a pantomine Adolph (behind you!) to sock on the jaw.

He even gets his own comic book. It would have been fascinating to see this addressed in Joss Whedon’s The Avengers: did Captain America inspire others in the filmic Marvel universe to don spandex and fight crime / evil? The closest we get to this is Agent Coulson’s hero worship, redesigning his modern costume, and proudly showing off his Captain America vintage trading cards.

On tour in Europe, Cap jumps ship and with the help of Special Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and civilian boffin Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) he jumps behind enemy lines to rescue his old buddy Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and a suitably muti-ethnic, multi-allied force. As Quentin Tarantino would say, this isn’t your dad’s war movie. Not that he probably wouldn’t enjoy it, but baddie Johann Schmidt, aka The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and his HYDRA minions are pulp sci-fi Nazis in a stylised, heightened WWII. Using what’s best described as “weird science”, he plots to deliver super weapons as far as America’s Eastern seaboard. Captain America (“I’m just a kid from Brooklyn”) isn’t going to have that.

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The look of the film is first class. A visit to a science fair by Bucky and Steve on a double date in New york evokes old post cards of such events, in warm vintage tones. Another interesting development is how Steve’s costume evolves, especially his odd choice of weapon, the shield. From a trash can lid as skinny Steve is pounded by a bully but won’t stay down, to a door torn off a cab door, then his propaganda tour prop, and finally the vibranium weapon he wields in combat.

There are nods to the character’s history that die hard fans no doubt spotted, such as Bucky briefly taking up the shield, or mantle, of Captain America, during a fight aboard a speeding armoured HYDRA train.

The effects are first rate, especially the digitally created shorter, skinny Steve. Peggy Carter is so good Marvel gave her her own One Shot short film, and now a rumoured solo TV show. She’s a kick-ass (kick-arse?) heroine with guts, who appreciates the inner Steve, but can’t help touching his pecs when he emerges from Dr Erskine’s procedure. Hayley Atwell gleefully describes her in terms of Ginger Rogers: “She can do everything Captain America can do, but backwards and in high heels.”

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Hugo Weaving has a high time hissing his sibilant S’s, and looks great when he unmasks as The Red Skull. He makes a nice little reference to the events that trigger Raiders Of The Lost Ark, a film for which Joe Johnston had done SFX. It was also considered a touchstone for the feel of the film.

Sadly, Captain America turned into a popsicle after a scene evoking the opening radio communication from  A Matter Of Life And Death, to be reborn as The Winter Soldier. What, wait? Punctuation, Marvel! I’ll leave you with this lovely, melancholic, searching acoustic rendition of The Star-Spangled Man. 


Originally posted 2014-03-20 16:58:32. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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