Marvel's Cine-CHAT-ic Universe: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Matt Looker,
Ali Gray,
Becky Suter,
Ed Williamson,
Luke Whiston

25th November 2018

Our semi-regular-certainly-far-less-regular-than-it-should-be feature Marvel's Cine-CHAT-ic Universe returns to take on The First Avenger Who Isn't Iron Man. Please enjoy the latest instalment of us talking about a Marvel film like it's never been done before in a format that really lends itself better to a podcast, but then we'd have to meet up and everyone's busy so then we're penning a date in the diary for several weeks' time which automatically makes it, like, a big thing and...

Previous Marvel musings
Thor (2011)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man (2008)
Ali: My first surprising rewatch! I was lukewarm on Cap the first time I saw it, but I really enjoyed it this time round. It's probably just me projecting back all the great Cap stories and character moments we've enjoyed in the years since it was first released, but I found I rolled my eyes a lot less and was a lot more willing to entertain the pulpy Boys Own nonsense. It really is quite unique in the wider MCU in that it's a movie made with a specific flavour, in a unique time and place, and that makes it most unlike the rest of the Marvel movies, which do tend to blur after a while. It has a musical number!

Ed: Same. I remember looking forward to this one more than I usually do because of the WW2 thing but being a bit disappointed, but enjoyed it much more this time round. The brave thing is that it spends almost its entire time in the forties rather than give in to the temptation to speed us back to the present day so we can see rad modern technology and massive space lasers. Once they nailed that down it maybe made them think a bit more about how to deliver what audiences want within those parameters, so you end up with the pleasing idea that there was all this advanced Howard Stark Rocketeer-style tech knocking about that no one else had cottoned onto.

Matt: Here's an opinion that will shock no one: I have always loved the first Cap film. In fact, to me it's actually one of the best films of the MCU. A lot of the Red Skull moments end up being rather forgettable, I think, but it gets everything else so brilliantly spot on.

Becky: I agree with the general consensus, it's one of the ones that's aged well and works better with every rewatch. The appeal for me was its setting and vintage feel, and the fact that it stays within that setting. It´s not the mash of pixels that usually makes up a superhero movie, it's a charming period piece that gives the movie some depth.

Ali: Yeah, I love the time period, it feels like a real step change. The MCU in general feels like it needs more of them, it's weird to think this one came so early. It is definitely its own animal. In retrospect it feels like a huge risk - a superhero movie, but without flying robots and rage monsters and all that shit.

Luke: I can't believe how long the opening scene in the monastery takes. Granted it's about 10 minutes of Hugo Weaving snarling and garotting his dialogue with glee, which is always welcome, but on a rewatch after we've now adjusted to the breakneck speed of the later films it feels like you're not watching a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. So my main observation is that the movie felt like a movie.

Most of the time, anyway.

Matt: For me the accomplishment is in remembering that, at the point this was released, Captain America was seen as a boring, killjoy in the comics that no one really liked, and Chris Evans was best known for playing cocky idiot roles. This film really pulled it out the bag to give an entirely new definitive version of Cap.

It's actually pretty astounding in reinventing Steve Rogers as the earnest, good-natured, somewhat naive moral centre of the Marvel Universe, and so much of what comes later is defined by this film's initial set-up of the character. The simple line "I don't like bullies. I don't care where they're from" says so much in so few words and it's a defining characteristic that carries throughout the rest of the films that come after it, right up to Thanos.

And I think that unique pulp factor is hugely important in making all of this work, and is why Rocketeer director Joe Johnston was such a great choice. I really love the sense of retro-fantasy adventure throughout all of the action sequences.

Becky: I know it's been said over and over, but Chris Evans was made for the role. Aside from his physique and all-American looks, he's got inherent charisma and brings a sentimentality to the role that makes the Cap more rounded and more interesting, rather than just a dumb showcase of masculinity. He's an honourable gent and his heroism is what I feel is lacking from most of the other superhero movies. It's not just about displays of super strength, it's about standing up for something and conquering your fears - in comparison to others it makes it almost humble in that respect, which is refreshing.

Ali: I wasn't sold initially on Chris Evans, but now he's just like all the rest - you can't imagine anyone else playing his role, ditto Hemsworth, Ruffalo, Downey Jr etc. Making a movie about an American patriot could have ended up horrible in a hundred different ways, but I'm so glad they nailed it. Imagine a Captain America movie made for the Trump era. Just thinking about it makes my skin crawl. Bonus: Chris Evans is an actual real-life superhero and there's been little more gratifying a spectacle this year than seeing him take Trump to task on Twitter.

Matt: The CGI on 'weakling Steve' still looks amazing, barring a few bobblehead moments. I agree with you, Becs, in that this is a much more interesting way to sell a superhero story, and that's because in some ways Captain America is positioned here as the true hero in the traditional sense of the MCU. Everyone else has their flaws and 'grounded in realisms' but with the muscles to make up for it, but Steve Rogers is the opposite. He has always been the guy that would jump on the grenade, and then he gets superpowers to actually do something with that sense of morality.

It's real wish fulfillment stuff for comic-book nerds: if you dream real hard and your heart is true then one day your stupid, bullied, weak body can be transformed into a powerful, chunk o' hunk by a mad, German scientist and his magic potion.

Ali: To me, Captain America is a much better distillation of heroism than Superman ever was, because he earned all the things that Superman had by birth. It's easy for Superman to bang on about truth, justice and the American way, because he can dispense all of the above with his fucking laser eyes and flight powers and all that shit, but Steve Rogers has to work hard to be a hero. Basically I like a superhero that always looks knackered. I respond to that, as someone who is personally always knackered.

Ed: I like the concept of a guy who's gone through this transformation then just being used for puff promotional junkets finally transcending that and doing actual hero stuff. It's a bit Three Amigos actually. He's out of his depth but he's fearless and just throws himself into it. Most heroes who get bitten by a radioactive giraffe or whatever then have to learn the responsibility of heroism because it's been foisted on them, but Steve had it all along; he just needed the guns to go with it.

Luke: I'm a little more cynical of Captain America as an embodiment of masculinity. He's got the courage, but he's only allowed to act on it when they've pumped him up into a superhuman beefcake. If I was an average GI Joe on the ground I'd have been like, "When do I get injected with hot man serum?" and seen the war out in a huff.

That said, all the period war stuff is suitably pulpy and punchy - I love they did an homage to A Matter Of Life And Death at the end. And Nazi punching is all good in my book. Love punching.

I detect notes of honey, gooseberry and the destruction of the free world.

Ali: Another reason I enjoyed this movie is because Hugo Weaving plays a big red angry skull doing a Werner Herzog voice. That could probably go unsaid, but just in case it wasn't obvious: Hugo Weaving playing a screaming beetroot by way of Herzog = good. Back when punching Nazis was harmless fun, and not something you actually had to worry about in 2018.

Luke: I want to use the word "tactile". When Cap punches a man - and he loves to punch - you can really feel the weight of it. Moreso than when, say, Thor whacks CG_ASSET_185.JPEG with his magic hammer.

Matt: Anyway, yes, Chris Evans is a God, but can we talk about how awesome Hayley Atwell is too? Peggy Carter is such a great character in this film (and totally deserving of her own spin-off show). That quick feel of his chest when he steps out of the chamber makes me laugh every time. And then the horrible heart-breaking end scene... at this point I don't see any way how Avengers 4 can end WITHOUT Cap being able to go/stay back in time and finally 'make his date' with Peggy. It would be such a perfect way to write out the character.

Ed: Question: although he'd always been weedy, broadly anyone can get themselves hench if they just lift loads of heavy things repeatedly every day, so given that he has such indomitable spirit and drive, why didn't he just work out a lot and get stacked? Lazy if you ask me. Marvel are telling kids to take shortcuts instead of do hard work and I for one won't stand for it.

Ali: Do you... do you think Captain America is the same as a guy who goes to the gym a lot?

Ed: Well no, but before Steve Rogers meets a screwy German doctor and learns becoming superhuman is an option, he lives a life being weedy but scrappy. Why doesn't he just get his arse down to Fitness First?

Ali: He’d still be really short, though. Like one of those built little angry men who are wider than they are high. They’d beat you in a fight but only if you took your hand off their head while they span their fists around, fruitlessly.

Ed: He'd be like one of those West Ham fans who's 5 foot 5 with a high voice but everyone calls him "Big Keith" and you think he's a joke but then he stripes you because he thinks you started playing when it was his quid on the pool table.

Let's just end it there, having clearly exhausted the topic. Better luck next time, Stanley Tucci, Sebastian Stan, Toby Jones, Tommy Lee Jones and Alan Menken! Maybe we'll give you a pity mention when we discuss The Avengers, next.

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