As those who listen to the podcast might know, I have a slight issue with the MCU. It’s not that I dislike the films – quite the opposite, in fact – but the idea of one colossal, over-arcing narrative that requires an investment of hundreds of hours just to fully understand that rubs me the wrong way. Marvel (well, Disney, to be precise) are doing their best to put a monopoly on the box office, and I fundamentally disagree on principle.
That said, I’m starting a new job soon that will almost certainly require me to have an intricate knowledge of the MCU (more on that soon), and as a lifelong comic book fan, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to once again diving headlong into the deep, decades-long lore of Marvel. Yes, that makes me a hypocrite, but it’s for money, so I think that makes it okay.
After booting up Disney+, I decided to watch the films in timeline order, starting with 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, hence this review being the first in my ‘MCU Review’ series.
Being honest, I’ve always felt that Cap was a little dull. Don’t get me wrong, Chris Evans is incredibly charismatic, the Star Spangled man isn’t my least favourite Avenger, but each of Captain America’s movies failed to grab me. Maybe it’s the inherent sense of patriotism for a country that isn’t my own (or even one I think has any place having a superhero named after them), maybe it’s the war/spy-thriller/political blend, but in retrospect, I always considered Captain America to be the weakest link in Phase One of the MCU.
Watching it back forced me to reconsider. The First Avenger slots itself nicely into the budding MCU by including brief references to the events of the films that came before, while still standing on its own as the first instalment (chronologically speaking).
The film’s overall theme of heroism and virtue sets Cap up to be the quintessential hero, and its WW2 setting offers a fitting stage for this. The Red Skull is an equally cartoonish villain to match him, and the dynamic of good vs. evil meshes well with the wartime atmosphere.
The thing that Captain America fails to do is add any real depth to its characters. Sure, there’s a vague, undefined romantic storyline, but ultimately, the film glosses over the horrors of war by glorifying the heroism of the Allied forces and simultaneously reducing all of their adversaries to mindless Hydra henchmen.
With its status as a comic book adaptation, it seems only fair to mention that this doesn’t specifically lie with the film’s writers, although their unwillingness to update or rethink certain aspects of the character’s backstory carried with it a tinge of laziness.
Really, that’s my ultimate opinion of the film – it fits in with the MCU, widens the scope of the narrative and sets up a new hero, but it does precious little else. Captain America: The First Avenger is at once showy and dull, filled with Easter eggs but not quite enough substance to stand out against some of the MCU’s other offerings, marked only by hints of what makes the franchise so entertaining.
As I said, I did reconsider my earlier sentiment that The First Avenger was the weakest entry into Phase One, and while it does possess more merit than I remembered, it still failed to impress.
Summary: A film as dull as it was necessary, Captain America: The First Avenger introduces its characters and sets up Cap’s induction into the Avengers, but failed to do anything impressive. It tried to be visually gritty without depicting any of the realities of war, causing the whole film to ring pretty hollow.
Highlights: There are flashes of the humour that makes the MCU stand out, and a few glimpses at the hero that Captain America should be, and it’s in these moments that The First Avenger really shines.