Captain America: The First Avenger is an oft forgotten gem. Lost in the early days of the MCU, The First Avenger was an earnest and charming entry in the franchise. A departure from Iron Man, The First Avenger is honest and sincere; devoid of any cynicism and without pretension. It straddles a line between isolation and connection beautifully, hitting all the world-building notes required of an MCU entry without getting bogged down in the quagmire of a connected universe.
Chris Evans’ performance as Steve Rogers is so endearing, that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Sebastian Stan is roguishly delightful, straightforward in his dedication to Steve but no less captivating for it. Hugo Weaving almost steals the show with his absolutely outstanding performance as Red Skull. He brings camp and killer together in an exquisite union, making any scene he’s in a pleasure to watch. The supporting cast is no less integral, if anything – they round it out in force. Toby Jones’ Arnim Zola is so beautifully unsettling, I find my skin crawling in his presence. Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter is devilishly no-nonsense, playing the straight-man when needed without being a complete stiff. Stanley Tucci is beyond words —- but I will try my best. His portrayal of Doctor Erskine is heartwarming, heart-wrenching, and just a little bit cheeky. Tommy Lee Jones’ Colonel Phillips is a personal favourite of mine — you can tell Jones is truly in his element here, barking out gruff orders and cracking wise. Finally, Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark was a visionary choice. With Tony Stark being the MCU’s brightest star, Cooper needed to both reflect and refract father and son. And of course he does so with elegance and grace.
The First Avenger was a very particular movie, made at a very particular time. Just as the MCU found its feet, this movie struck a tone which is so unlike the ones that followed it. But that, I would argue, is what makes it one of the series’ best entries. It’s cheesy, charming, and comicy. Three features which waned in the MCU over time. As the aesthetics and tone of Marvel solidified and synthesized over time, space for goofy gems like The First Avenger became smaller and smaller. This film feels like the only entry to embrace its roots. The more commercially viable the franchise became, the more seriously it took its own films. When the Red Skull finds one of Hydra’s factories burnt to the ground, with its sole survivor claiming to have “fought to the last man” — you can be sure he says “Evidently not” before shooting him where he stood.
In many ways, The First Avenger is more of a comic book adaptation than any other MCU film. What sets it apart most is that it feels like a comic book above all. Topped off with “Star Spangled Man,” a jaunty, jazzy and absolutely electric original musical number, which never fails to make me dream of a universe where the MCU was a franchise of musicals more than a series of action-adventures.
With the release of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, we see Captain America’s story come to a close and begin anew. So if you want to study up before sitting down for a binge viewing, Captain America: The First Avenger is such a comfort to watch.