Another hero joins the ranks! This is the last solo movie before they all team up in the next one. Let’s see how Cap measures up against Tony, Bruce, and Thor!
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Overview: During WWII, Steve Rogers, a sickly guy with a desire to join the military, is selected for a secret project that turns him into a super soldier, but when the serum is lost, Steve has to prove himself a hero rather than simply a poster boy for the US Army by stopping a madman intent on exploiting an ancient power.
One thing that I like about the script for this one is that it introduces a lot of characters, but it never feels crowded. It sets the stage for Agent Carter as well as The Avengers, and yet still leaves plenty of room for Steve’s personal journey.
My only real issue is that Captain America is most interesting when he’s an anachronism. The script combats this with an episodic structure that features a number of conflicts leading up to the final showdown. It works well at building the character, but ultimately it feels more like a prologue to the REAL story rather than a film that can work on its own.
I love the look of this film. It blends the glossy flash of Captain America’s larger-than-life heroics with the gritty realism of his wartime setting. I like how the camera gets in close when there’s immediate danger, but then backs up to allow for the huge dramatic moments. I especially like Cap and Red Skull’s first meeting on the catwalk. There’s a hell of fire behind and below them and when Dr. Zola separates the catwalk, we gets this wonderful pull back shot that’s straight out of a comic book. It’s wonderful.
On top of that, it has a sepia-toned warmth to it that really sets this world apart from those of Thor or The Hulk. When Cap appears in Times Square, the sudden shift in the film’s visual style conveys his confusion well.
The Villain: 6/10
Schmidt isn’t super compelling. Sure he’s dangerous, but he’s not really a villain you think about after the movie’s over. You don’t sympathize with him at all. He doesn’t have many layers save for the mask he wears to hide his burned face. I wish the script had given him more of a sense of humor, a dark wit that could have elevated him from flat bad guy to iconic villain.
Count: 36 (ish)
This is a war movie, so obviously explosions factor heavily in setting the stage for our hero’s antics. There’s a lot of them and they don’t ever feel perfunctory. They’re there to convey danger and conflict and they do that really well.
Favorite explosion: Cap throws a bunch of grenades into a tank, then leaps off it while it explodes in slow motion. It’s one of those “this could be a painting” moments.
The Hero’s Journey: 9/10
For all of the film’s narrative issues, the character of Steve Rogers is really well-realized. He’s immediately likable and when he gets chosen for the project, you feel genuinely invested in his success because you want to root for him.
I really like how, immediately after getting the serum, he’s ready to chase down and apprehend a bad guy, but once he’s resigned himself to being a media personality meant to sell war bonds, it takes the capture of his best friend Bucky to shock him out of his complacency and push him to his first great feat: the rescue of the soldiers from Hydra. In a sense, he starts out a hero, even when he’s skinny and sickly, and then the military turns him into something superficial, and then he has to RE-discover his heroism after that.
He’ll get much better arcs in later films, but this one does a good job of setting up the character and immediately making him likable, even though the script doesn’t give him a consistently interesting overall conflict.
Score and Rank
1.Iron Man (43/50)
2. Captain America: The First Avenger (40/50) (Whooo, a new second place upset! Sorry, Thor…)
3. Thor (39/50)
4. The Incredible Hulk (34/50)
5. Iron Man 2 (33/50)