Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.
I did not care for this movie when it came out in theaters. I can still remember sitting there, tired and perturbed, feeling slighted by the fact that all of the cool action stuff from the trailers seemed crammed into one montage. And the musical number? What the hell?
It’s fitting then that much as Steve Rogers is set up from the get go to be a sort of equal and opposite of Tony Stark, Captain America: The First Avenger has aged spectacularly in direct opposition to Iron Man, which certainly shows its age at this point.
Prior to Captain America the heroes of the Marvel universe were the arrogant and powerful made humble. Even Bruce Banner finds himself in the position he’s in because of his scientific overconfidence in the pursuit of recreating the super soldier formula we’re finally introduced to here. But where Stark, Banner and Thor are all powerful men in one respect or another, who are humbled and forced to reexamine their power, Steve Rogers is humble, gets power, and remains humble. And I’ll be damned if Chris Evans’ performance isn’t pitch perfect immediately. Over the course of Winter Soldier and Civil War I really fell in love with Evans’ performance, but looking back at his first outing he’s always brought a fidelity of character to Steve Rogers such that there can be no doubting that the scrawny dweeb getting beat up in an alley and the super boy scout doing curls with a helicopter are one and the same.
It’s fascinating to look back at The First Avenger, plot Cap’s course throughout the MCU and consider that while he and Stark have both changed how they interact with the world around them, they are largely, fundamentally the same people they were in the beginning. Going into Infinity War Tony Stark’s ego is still writ large across the MCU, only now it takes the form of a guilty conscience with a savior complex, and Steve Rogers is still a pillar of morality and righteousness, but the stage on which he acts has grown exponentially and the definitions of morality and righteousness have only grown murkier with scale. In retrospect, even from Phase 1 of the MCU, Civil War feels absolutely unavoidable.
It’s also fascinating to look back at The First Avenger. Period. This movie looks absolutely amazing. It’s almost like it was directed by a legendary concept artist responsible for the likes of Boba Fett and the AT-AT. This alternate WWII is stunning. Hydra’s soldiers and technology are pulpy and sinister without looking goofy or distressingly anachronistic, and the art-deco tinged Stark Expo feels ripped from 1940s visions of the future.
The action also holds up way better than I remembered and it’s clear that even before the Russos got involved with the characters the powers-that-be at Marvel had some ideas about the vocabulary of Cap’s movements and how his super-strength is communicated visually and aurally.
And Bucky. And Peggy Carter. And Hugo Weaving’s the Red Skull. And Tommy Lee Jones. And Stanley Tucci. Time and time again Captain America films have exceptional supporting casts and The First Avenger was no exception.
When I saw Civil War for the first time I felt like Chris Evans had grown into an embodiment of cinematic superheroism gleamed perhaps only once before in Christopher Reeves’ Superman. Rewatching First Avenger I realize he’s always embodied that sort of heroism. There’s a sincerity and a sense of purpose to Evans’ Captain America that perhaps as a younger man I could scoff at and write off as corny. But having aged out of some small portion of my youthful cynicism and having watched all the external and internal battles Cap has had to fight to maintain that purpose and sincerity, I couldn’t help but watch First Avenger with a fondness and excitement and awe that utterly surprised me.
Thor left audiences with a question of sorts: what can the likes of Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk do against a vast cosmos of potential antagonism? The First Avengers is a sly, knowing answer.