Jed Wagman looks back at Captain America: The First Avenger after 10 more years of the MCU
It’s been ten years since we first met Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America, the very first avenger and what a wild decade this has been. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a huge hit with fans and is generally regarded as one of the best MCU films. The huge scale of Captain America: Civil War, getting to see the Avengers divided and fighting each other also puts Civil War among the highest rated Marvel films. But there never seems to be much love going around for Captain America: The First Avenger. This was the first time we got to see one of Marvel’s most beloved superheroes on the big screen, excluding the 1990 film, and I think it’s better if we don’t talk about that one! But why doesn’t The First Avenger get the love it rightfully deserves? If it weren’t for TFA almost everything that happens to Captain America over the course of the MCU would bear no weight or carry any meaning. TFA is what propels Cap on the incredible journey we’ve witnessed over the last ten years and a journey that’s still continuing now with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
2011: So it begins
Back in 2011, the MCU was only just beginning and Captain America: The First Avenger had a lot resting on its shoulders. It had the difficult task of introducing Steve Rogers and producing a good WWII film in and of itself whilst also leaving the character in a suitable place for the big team-up movie Avengers Assemble the following year. Marvel managed to hit each of these points so well, with The First Avenger being one of the best origin films that they made.
The film does a great job in setting up the future of the MCU and the character of Captain America, in part due to the incredible casting of Chris Evans. Ok, the first thirty minutes where we have to see Evans’ head superimposed onto a skinny body isn’t the best thing to look at, but even so, it makes skinny Steve Rogers’ transformation into Captain America all the greater. Hayley Atwell was so shocked when she first saw Chris Evans topless that the scene in the film where she reaches out and touches his chest was totally unscripted and unprompted. And TFA is a film that’s wildly entertaining on its own, regardless of the set-up it provides for the MCU.
As for the rest of the film, there’s plenty of really great action, in particular an awesome montage scene of Cap destroying all the Hydra bases. It’s quite refreshing because even though it’s set in the war it’s not a generic war film and even though we’re seeing people fighting with special laser guns, it’s done in a fresh way and Marvel have put their own comic-book spin on the war film which makes it even more intriguing to watch. From seeing him get his iconic shield, to watching him getting trapped in the ice for nearly seventy years, this film has it all.
Setting the tone
However, the thing that really sticks out when revisiting The First Avenger ten years later is just how much this film sets up the rest of the MCU as so much of what comes in later films began in The First Avenger. Avengers: Endgame was the ultimate conclusion for so many of our favourite characters and in particular, Captain America. Endgame saw him get the ending he always wanted but never thought he could have. He got to live his life with Peggy Carter. Endgame came out eight years after TFA and none of the films since TFA propelled Steve’s relationship with Peggy in the same way. Carter had a small role in The Winter Soldier and her funeral took place in Civil War, as well as her getting her own spin-off TV show Agent Carter in-between the two, but otherwise we haven’t really seen or heard much about Carter. However, the relationship between these two characters is so well developed in TFA that it is the only possible great ending that Cap could have had in Endgame. The seeds were being planted for his ending ten years ago and that’s why the payoff is so great. Endgame’s ending is so perfect because of the relationship established between the two in The First Avenger.
As well as this there are countless other things that The First Avenger sets up for the rest of the MCU. It sets up Bucky and we see the two are inseparable and with each other “til the end of the line” only for Bucky to fall tragically to his death. However, Bucky returned as the Winter Soldier, and he’s even got his own show on Disney+. Bucky has driven the MCU with him playing an important role in The Winter Soldier, Civil War and now The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Because his introduction in TFA is so great and because his relationship with Steve is so believable it’s provided so much more material for the rest of the MCU and without him, who knows were the MCU might have gone.
Back in 2011 when the film first came out it wasn’t entirely clear what happened to the villain Red Skull at the end of the film as the Tesseract opens up a portal and whisks him away which might leave some fans slightly unsatisfied but having seen Infinity War and Endgame now, we know exactly what happened to him. Red Skull ended up on Vormir guiding others to a treasure he cannot possess and seeing him again in Infinity War finally brought a bit of closure to TFA. It’s just a small detail like this from a later film that really rounds of The First Avenger and really cements it as a great film and a great piece of storytelling.
There’s just so much that gets established in Captain America: The First Avenger including Hydra and the Tesseract as well as crucially putting Captain America in the perfect position for Avengers Assemble. Looking back on the film now ten years old, after eighteen films and a couple of TV shows later, its position in the MCU is so vital. The First Avenger is a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable film and now with everything that’s happened in the universe since, it just gets better and better. When you reach the film’s final line and Captain America says “I had a date”, the crushing weight that the film left you with back in 2011 is now no longer there and it hits in an entirely different way.
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