Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Approaching Infinity Part Five: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

If Thor was a risk in partially unshackling the MCU from mainstream, modern-day America, then Captain America was the double-down. On the face of it, the film's asking quite a lot of the audience. We've got an uncritically patriotic, absurdly stoic hero who believes in taking orders and punching every single one of the Nazis, a frankly ridiculous costume to explain away and we're basically abandoning the world we've been methodically building for the last 3 years in favour of World War II. It's a pretty impressive move, but it pays off well enough that it never feels like we're just marking time until Cap gets flash-frozen for easy delivery to The Avengers.

The Villain
Speaking of doubling down, Red Skull is the absolute perfection of the Evil Shadow routine we've been toying with on and off (mostly on) since Iron Man. He's Captain Hitler with a weird face, weirder accent and a power set that matches the hero's exactly. I actually really like Hugo Weaving's hilariously evil performance here. He's been set what is probably the least enviable task in all of cinema - be less likeable than the Nazis - and he tears into the role with phenomenal energy. By contrast, Tommy Lee Jones never really seems like he knows where he is or why. He looks like a disappointed, soggy teabag in a uniform, sadly mumbling his bewildered way through his part.

The Story
SPOILER ALERT: the Nazis lose World War II.

Actually, as it turns out, the Nazis are barely even involved in World War II. It's all about Hydra, apparently. The Hitler-boys barely get a look-in after the first half hour. It's wall-to-wall death rays and super-bombs. We get a decent amount of Agent Carter - who's essentially the MVP of the film AND the war. Obviously, they're painted into a corner as to continuing characters who can plausibly make the transition to the main roster. Even so, it always feels like they were setting Carter up for something more, which they then couldn't pay off in either the films or the seriously under-seen TV series.

The Universe
Considering the setting, Captain America does manage to put a fair amount of continuity balls in play. We get enough Bucky to build the Winter Soldier out of later, plus our second version of Howard Stark. Dominic Cooper does a good job, but he just seems really... tiny, compared to the older Stark we see in Iron Man 2. Of course, they switch actors yet again the next time Big Daddy Stark shows up, so... whatever. Arnim Zola looks like a promising addition, but it's not worth getting attached because they piss him right down their legs in his next appearance. It's slightly weird that the super-serum's creator is called Erskine here, when he's Reinstein in Incredible Hulk. There's a reason for that in the comics, of course, but they don't go into it in the films. Oh, look - there's that Tesseract again. I bet that's probably important...

The Stinger
The Avengers are coming. Here's a cut-down scene from that.

The Take-Away
Considering how much of the action Cap sits out, selling war bonds instead of punching Nazis, this is still a big-time action flick. Surprisingly gory in places, with Hydra soldiers getting minced in flying bomb propellers. Cap transitions quickly from "I don't want to kill anybody" to "I'M KILLING ALL THE THINGS!" with no explanation or comment but, other than that, no major problems. We get our first warning that touching an Infinity Stone is bad for you here - which sets up a key Guardians of the Galaxy plot point, but also a weirdly inconsistent moment in the next MCU film. We'll jump that shark when we come to it, though...

Previously: Thor
Next: Avengers Assemble

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