THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
I am continuing to review all Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films prior to Avengers: Infinity War. The final film to release before The Avengers, Captain America: The First Avenger introduces audiences to the final hero that will make up the first iteration of the iconic superhero team. However, unlike the previous entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) set in the 21st Century, Captain America: The First Avenger, takes audiences back to the Second World War
The film tells the story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a civilian rejected by the military for being too weak, who is transformed into a super-soldier by the government and joins the fight against an enemy working outside Nazi Germany.
The film, helmed by Jumanji director Joe Johnston, is one of the most action-packed films of the MCU. However, unlike the previous MCU films, there are stakes in The First Avenger. In the earlier MCU films, the action plays out but it never feels as though the characters are actually in danger. The First Avenger is full of stakes and the danger feels real, most notably after Bucky’s “death”. Due to the nature of Cap’s powers, his action sequences are more gritty compared to the action of characters such as Iron Man or Thor. This, of course, leads to action scenes that are actually entertaining, rather than overloaded CGI set pieces.
Although the film is heavily reliant on the sheer perfect casting of Evans as Cap, the film also benefits from having an outstanding supporting cast. Stanley Tucci has a delightful, yet small role as the scientist who gives Rogers his powers. As for Sebastian Stan as Rogers’ best friend and future Winter Solider, Bucky Barnes, he delivers a fun performance that was simply giving audiences a taste of what was to come. The rest of the cast, featuring the likes of Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough and Tommy Lee Jones all have their own moments to shine. However, it’s not all positive for everyone in terms of performances as Hugo Weaving’s performance as villain Red Skull is often criticised for being too cartoonish. For me, his performance is well suited to a film which, unlike the rest of the MCU films, fully embraces his cartoonish history.
I, of course, left Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, out earlier because she deserves a section all to herself. Peggy Carter is the greatest female character in the MCU. The chemistry between Atwell and Evans is arguably the best romantic pairing out of all comic book films. While romances often feel rushed, especially in the MCU (looking at you Thor and Jane), the romance between Peggy and Steve feels natural and believable. There is a real tenderness to their relationship that makes it truly memorable.
Another aspect that makes The First Avenger truly feel like its own film and not just another film in the MCU, is the 1940s period setting. The setting influences the film in every aspect of storytelling such as dialogue, music, and spectacular costume design. The portrayal of an alternate 40s with flying cars already in development, for example, is very interesting and alongside Hayley Atwell’s fan favourite character, was deemed worthy enough to be explored in the unfortunately short-lived series Agent Carter.
On to the negatives. Firstly, while the visual effects are mostly great, there are far too many instances of poorly rendered CGI. The most notable case is the scene involving Bucky’s “death”. As he falls from the train, the snowy mountain background looks awful. This is also the case during many of the action scenes where the explosions look far too much like a video game.
Lastly, the film utilises a storytelling technique seen throughout cinema: the montage. I fully support montages, when they are done right. Unfortunately, in The First Avenger, the montage is actually the most interesting plotline of the film. It shows how Cap developed a reputation as a hero, something which the audience really should have seen. The film could have benefited from being 15 minutes longer to give Cap more development. Rogers has been further developed in the exceptional sequels The Winter Solider and Civil War, however, not enough is done in the first film to show the type of character he is as Captain America.
Captain America: The First Avenger is a unique film within the MCU. It is the most fun film of the early stages of the MCU, however, it suffers from storytelling issues that drag the film down. Chris Evan’s brilliant performance remains one of the strongest within the MCU and ensures that the film, even in the slower moments, remains thoroughly entertaining.