These are the questions Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) faced this weekend. From the Shield to the patriotism he is an Iconic American Figure but that's about it. He's just a figure. No one really knows what his deal or backstory is. So it's this film's task to flesh all that out believably, create an engaging superhero period piece and simultaneously set up The Avengers (2012) as well as Captain America 2: Punches on Parade (2013). The film accomplishes all of this while crafting a very entertaining and fun Summer Ride. There be spoilers ahead:
Hunky Blonde American Beefcake:
Chris Evans is showing some great range here, namely because he's a perfect Steve Rogers, which is crazy because he was also a perfect Johnny Storm (Human Torch) in two terrible Fantastic Four movies. I was ranting about heroes earlier, and I think a hero's origin does really establish what that hero is supposed to represent. Steve Rogers is one of the only one of the whole lot who is a genuine hero, regardless of powers. Spider-Man and Hulk kind of fall into their roles without their consent, Superman was born that way and both Batman and Iron Man crafted images and equipment after feelings of guilt and brooding with a vast fortune. Thor is interesting because his power is always there but he has to earn it by being less of a dick.
Chris Evans has actually been crafting a respectable career for himself after largely jackass roles in films like the aforementioned Fantastic Four Franchise and Not Another Teen Movie (2001). In stuff like Sunshine (2007) and Push (2009) tho he was a dick he was still a hero by the end and he was able to make fun of himself in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) (It's still notable that Scott Pilgrim defeats both Superman and Captain America in that movie). Basically what I'm saying is that this kid has gone from punk to legit hero in a pretty short time, without his charisma Captain America would fall on its face, not unlike Downey Jr.'s contribution to the Iron Man Franchise and Chris Hemsworth's work in Thor (2011). He's great.
The entire casting for this movie is impeccable. Tommy basically walks through his role but that's all he needs to do at this point. Stanley Tucci is on as the man of both science and ethical philosophy, Dr. Erskine, the creator of the Super-Serum. The Howling Commandos borrowed from Nick Fury comics don't have a lot of screen time and basically serve the same purpose as these random dudes from Thor. They aren't really allowed to bog down the narrative so that's okay.
Hugo is awesome as Red Skull, I'm not sure there's a villain he can't play after killing it as Megatron and Agent Smith in the Transformers and Matrix Trilogies and then doing the Renegade Nazi Schtick here. He's larger than life without being over-the-top (are you watching, Julian McMahon?) and also just unforgivably evil, usually to his own troops. The film was wise to keep the fight a secret US fight against a secret Nazi Organisation. Otherwise we'd have an Inglourious Basterds (2009) ending without any of that film's irony.
Lastly there's Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, who is perfect as Vintage Stark Asshole. It's a very obvious call towards the Iron Man films and begets an awareness of them on some level. That said, we should segue into:
Another Two-Hour Avengers Preview:
There is a steadily growing interconnection between these universes. What started as a minute cameo at the end of The Incredible Hulk (2008) has become a full-on merge of Marvel Properties. The Avengers is very ambitious and now that Cap is finally out there we can start chatting about it.
Captain America is full of backwards advertising. An object from Thor's Universe largely fuels the Red Skull's plot and a character we first met in Iron Man (2008) has a substantial role, both with plenty of callbacks to prior films. It makes watching these prior films a necessity for full enjoyment and understanding of the Shared Universe. Marvel was wise then to ensure that none of these were Ghost Rider (2007) or Daredevil (2003)-level films. They're all pretty good, I'd say the weakest has been Iron Man 2 (2010) or The Incredible Hulk.
What's clear though is that The Avengers will be a team of Assholes like no other. The massive egos of Thor and Stark are sure to bump into each other, along with the gruffness of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and I'm really not sure how Bruce (Mark Ruffalo) will fit in. Captain America actually really assured me that The Avengers will pull together because Rodgers is their glue. They all have egos and their own heroism but Captain America is the only one who can really lead them. He's the only unconditional hero, the only one who didn't need to learn that he was put in the world to make it a better and safer place. He has a very different character arc than Stark or Thor. He's already proven his worth to himself, he just needs to fight and show others he can be all he can be. It's very inspirational stuff, folks. He's equal parts boy scout and badass, the traits that make a great leader. He's a Captain, after all.
I should probably talk about the setting quickly. It had a very well done retro feel, everything about this film is just authentic and genuine. Nothing is bigger or crazier than it should be. I think that the large exhibition of a terrible yet very true-to-the comics Captain America Costume was well done, it should silence anyone who ever complained that the movie made unnecessary changes from the source material.
I'm also wondering at this point what the hell Stark was doing with Cap's Shield in the Iron Man films now. It's half-finished here, what's the deal, man? Sure there has got to be some connection through his Father but I'm wondering if this will develop or be forever dropped as nothing more than a cool Easter Egg. Oh well.
So this movie was sweet, it's obviously got tons of Avengers stuff in it but it's also surely a solid film on its own merits. Go see it.