Dissecting The MCU
Captain America: The First Avenger
Our next film in this look back at the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes a look at “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
I remember spending many days wondering who Marvel would pick to play Thor, and like I said the last time we were together, even trying to find somebody to play Captain America was even more difficult to figure out. For Thor, you need a tall guy who doesn’t mind speaking like he’s known William Shakespeare in person mixed with a professional wrestler, and they got to make that language believable. For Captain America, you need a wholesome man who can act like he doesn’t have a shade of deception, manipulation, greed, evil or jealously in their heart. They had to act like leader, a good man no matter what decision they made. Plus, they had to have blonde hair and blue eyes, the all-American look. These were the two tough gigs, the ones Marvel absolutely had to nail, otherwise this experiment of a cinematic universe would fall like a house of cards.
I had some hope, as they got Thor right. It didn’t matter that Chris Hemsworth was a complete unknown at the time, for the most part. Who on Earth would play the Captain? Joe Johnston was hired to direct, and if you’ve seen “The Rocketeer,” then you know how perfect the match between director and material would be. Captain America’s first movie was to be set in World War II, Marvel was really going to do the origin story correct. So, who would be Johnston’s Captain?
Above all other casting decision, this was the one that had the most attention on the internet. I used to read tons and tons and tons of movie forums in that day, I belonged and discussed in many of them too. There was a good handful of people who thought the role would fall between two people, Matt Damon or Leonardo DiCaprio, both nice choices in their own right, but the other half of fandom seemed to give the excuse that both actors were too old. You see, Steve Rogers was in his twenty’s when he was doused with the Super Soldier serum, and while Damon and DiCaprio were both talented men, they were getting really close to 40, how could they play mid twenty’s in a believable manner? Channing Tatum was suggested by fans, and so was Matthew Fox. Maximonline suggested Josh Duhamel. No matter what you think of those choices, I think all of them were way better suggestions than the 2008 rumor that Matthew McConaughey was going to play the role. Yep, glad that turned out to be just a rumor.
Around 2010, Marvel finally stopped keeping fandom in the dark. We knew Marvel was looking at actors in their mid to late twenty’s, the oldest they were looking at was 31. So okay, Marvel was playing things pretty close to the source material. We knew John Krasinski was an early favorite for the part, then Ryan Phillipe came up and confirmed he auditioned. Garrett Hedlund, Chace Crawford, Mike Vogel and Sebastian Stan (who ironically ended up being cast as Bucky Barnes) were all in the mix too. I had to be honest, at the time I really wanted to see Garrett Hedlund get the part, out of all the men they were circling. Even Alexander Skarsgaard auditioned for the role. But eventually they landed on someone else, someone who never came up in any sort of news story or press release, someone who turned down the role three times before finally accepting it. In 2010, we found out that Chris Evans would play Captain America.
I was pissed at the time. The guy from those cheesy “Fantastic Four” movies. The guy from “Not Another Teen Movie.” The guy from “Cellular” and a host of other mediocre to bad movies, a guy who had not proven any sort of range as an actor, and got stuck playing the same character in all his movies? Marvel was convincing me that he was going to play the Captain? I thought the franchise was fucked. I thought the studio shot themselves in the foot. I thought the movie was going to be failure way before I had even seen a trailer. I mean, casting for the film was rounding out well. Hugo Weaving may have been a save, obvious choice to play Red Skull, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad choice. Weaving is one of those rare actors who can play a villain well, and also make them feel different with each new performance. There is a reason why in 2016 that Weaving was in the mix to play Pennywise in the recent “IT” movie, the guy does bad guys well and I was excited to see his Red Skull. But Chris Evans as Captain America? What were they thinking on that?
Well, when the movie finally came out, I instantly shut up. I don’t know what it was about the character or the script or just an actor maturing into something better than they were before, but the Chris Evans who went to play Captain America was NOT the same Chris Evans prior. Everything, no matter how major or minor the detail that makes Captain America who he is was beautifully and brilliantly brought to life by Evans. There was a genuine sweetness, innocence and elegance to Evans’ Steve Rogers, but he was a good man with determined moral compass. He wasn’t afraid to be a realist, not afraid to confront problems or know his flaws, he was a man to look up to a born leader who was stuck in a frail, sick body. Not only was it a flawless, surprising performance by Evans, but the script absolutely nailed the character too. They didn’t make him cheesy. They didn’t make him overly comedic. They didn’t sex the character up. They didn’t give him several stupid one-liners to spew. The writers really did their homework to get Steve Rogers/Captain America just right. Apparently, Chris Evans did his homework too, because he made the character believable, he made somebody we could all strive to live up to. I can’t believe how perfect he got it. It’s one of those moments that left me shocked as a film fan, but the best possible kind of shocked.
I will also let you in on a little secret. In 2002, I was obsessed with HBO’s “Band of Brothers,” a mini-series detailing a company during World War II who were instrumental in winning that war. The series starred Neal McDonough. For many years, I was hoping and praying that somebody would make a Captain America movie within the release of that mini-series, and I always believed Neal McDonough would be the perfect Captain America. So, it always made me laugh that McDonough was eventually cast in the film as Dum Dum Dugan, one of the soldiers who would help Cap fight HYDRA, as apart of a group of soldiers called The Howling Commandos. It always made me laugh that McDonough got cast in the movie, and its one of those small world things that dawns on you as a film geek who reads comic books. I absolutely loved that The Howling Commandos got a much-needed nod in the movie, and I only wished that they introduced the Infinity Formula so that Dum Dum’s aging would slowdown, I would have loved to see McDonough’s Dum Dum Dugan as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, whom Dugan eventually became in the comics. I guess, never say never though.
The rest of the cast rounded out very well. Hayley Atwell was an actress I knew nothing about before seeing the movie, and I absolutely fell in love with her as Peggy Carter. Stanley Tucci was perfect as Dr. Erkstine, Tommy Lee Jones was equally perfect as Chester Phillips. It would take a few years, but I would end up laughing that Richard Armitage would end up playing Thorin in “The Hobbit” movies, since he appears as a villain in this movie. It’s also funny to see Natalie Dormer show up in a small appearance, since she seems to play seductive women in everything she’s in. Toby Jones was also very good as Armin Zola, a character we will talk about in the future. I also have to say that even early on, Sebastian Stan was really great as Bucky, and Dominic Cooper was really good as a young Tony Stark.
As I stated above, every detail of personality with Captain America was spot-on, but the other details of the movie were strong too. The movie kind of feels like a time machine while your watching it. Like you got a glimpse of a World War II America that just happened to have a super soldier in it for some reason. The costumes, the cars, the sets, how everything is stylized, its amazing the attention to detail that was present in this movie. But at the same time, despite all the grounding of realism from a real time, it still felt like a comic book. There is a crackjack quality to the movie. It feels like a swashbuckling adventure movie. I remember reading that Kevin Feige and Joe Johnston mentioned that one of the inspirations for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” After watching the movie over the weekend, I can totally see that connection. It definitely did feel like an Indiana Jones movie in some aspects. For the time and place of the movie, and what they were hoping to accomplish with the movie, that tone is totally appropriate.
I also need to point out that Alan Silvestri wrote one of the best scores in any superhero movie with his music in this first film. If you’ve got eagle ears like me, then you’ll notice that they never used Silvestri’s score again in any of the other Captain America movies, that to me is a shame. I think and believe all things Captain America when that song comes in on a scene or plays out. I cannot, cannot believe this is the only movie where we heard that score, that should have been the heroes definitive score. It’s one of the most glaring mistakes that these Marvel movies make time and time again, and we will get into more detail on that in my piece tomorrow. But I have to single out that gracious, powerful piece of music here for good reason.
I remember seeing this movie for the first time in a packed theater on a hot evening in July 2011. My girlfriend and I had gone to my hometown to see my mom for her birthday and it felt like a movie that everyone would like. I was glad to see that was just the case. As the credits rolled and we saw that quick glimpse of what we would expect from The Avengers movie, my heart stopped, I was out of breath. I was so giddy that I couldn’t handle it. We talked Avengers all night long when we got back, and I was glad to know that no matter how old you were or how much knowledge you had with superheroes and comic books, these movies could still inspire and bring the best out of people. That will always be what I treasure most.
Tomorrow, as I catch up on this countdown, I will discuss “The Avengers!” That should be a fun one.