Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man
Joe Johnston, responsible for the beloved Jumanji and The Rocketeer, held the reigns for Steve Rogers first MCU appearance. Coming just a year after the underrated Iron Man 2, The First Avenger is an equal character piece as much as it is a celebration of the silver age era that birthed the chipper heart of Marvel’s favourite boy scout. Chris Evans traded in his fantastic spandex for a star-spangled uniform, after apparently declining the role three times. Fortunately for all of us, Robert Downey Jr. stepped in to convince Evans to take up the role in exchange for freedom in the future with his career goals.
I think it’s safe to say we are all grateful for Robert stepping in at the eleventh hour.
Set against 1942 era New York initially, we find Steve Rogers; a noble but naive soul looking for his chance to aid his country. He dreams of fighting alongside his childhood buddy, James Buchanan ‘’Bucky’’ Barnes (Sebastian Stan). It’s in his life force to fight for the ‘’ little guy ‘’. You couldn’t ask for a more patriotic beginning for the captain.
Upon receiving another rejection in the recruitment process, divine intervention presents itself in the form of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). He’s more than aware of Steve’s fleeting efforts to fight, despite the odds been largely stacked against him. Abraham recognises the heart that fuels Steve and gives him the chance he’s been longing for. It’s not all smiles and well placed cheese for long.
Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) is a Nazi officer in search of a different power than being pure of heart. Schmidt and his cohorts come into possession of an ancient relic, known as the Tesseract. The extent of its power is unknown, which does nothing but further accelerate Schmidt’s descent into delirium. Casting Weaving as Schmidt / Red Skull (surprise!) was nothing short of a stroke of genius from Johnston and Sarah Finn / Randi Hiller / Priscilla John respectively. Already having permeated the air of the villain world with his iconic turn as Agent Smith, Weaving delivers a performance that wreaks threat and menacing confidence.
Also turning in one of the most heartfelt performances in the MCU is Hayley Atwell as fan favourite Peggy Carter. More than a capable of standing her own in the fray, Peggy is a compassionate and diligent force. Dominic Cooper gives us an insight to a younger Howard Stark that gives meaning to the phrase ‘’like father, like son’’, just a year after dissecting his legacy in Iron Man 2.
Adventure drips from Johnston’s frames. Harkening back those days of The Rocketeer, Johnston demonstrates he was the only choice that was right to kick off Rogers journey.
Pulling from the same 1940s serial gusto as Indiana Jones and fittingly the Amblin sense of wonder, The First Avenger is as eloquently charming as it is wondrously exciting. Rick Heinrichs production design is punctilious; showcasing some of the MCU’s most effectual environments. This is complemented by the lusciously textural cinematography from Shelly Johnson. Every theatre or base of operations feels all the more in our grasp due to this excellently tight collaboration.
Johnston’s direction is wholesome enough to make the cheese of the Captain America spirit work but exacting enough to make sure the heart of the movie beats strong. The First Avenger is absolutely rife with heart. Our hero is not thrust into a path of goodwill because that’s the ‘’ superhero ‘’ thing to do. Rogers physically and emotionally can’t turn his back on the good fight.
This incredibly weighty sense of righteousness makes Rogers a true poster boy for the definition of good. Having this ironclad will also make its crux that Johnston dabbles within the action propelled finale. Sinking that jet into the ocean is the right thing to do, a dance will have to wait. In the face of true horror, the power of love has to be subjected to the greater cause.
Any hero would probably have done the same thing. It’s heftier in the case of Rogers because this is the moment he’d always dreamed of: protecting his country no matter what the cost.
Love and courage are the most present themes in The First Avenger yet Johnston manages to ruminate on friendship along the way too. Rogers and his ragtag bunch of do-gooders are a bonafide joy to watch as they chew the scenery together. Notwithstanding, the definite highlight is that of the relationship between Steve and Bucky. Although their screen time is limited in comparison to their later escapades, MCU writing duo Markus and McFeely still employ this warm aura over their bond.
For all of the positives I can swoon over, Markus and McFeely do criminally waste Weaving’s Red Skull. While we might have enjoyed the unexpected reappearance of Schmidt in Infinity War, it stills leaves a sour taste in my mouth. It’s part of the comic book movie formula at this point, bar a few exceptions, to dispose of the villain by the time the credits roll. It’s a real shame to see Rogers most famous nemesis disappear in the brief time we get with him.
The First Avenger has always felt like a companion piece to Iron Man 2 in that legacy and saviours are heavily woven into their DNA. Tied together by the inclusion of Howard Stark in the lines of continuity, we see two heroes aiming for the same goal, yet their mindsets are vastly different. Tony is willing to martyr himself while Steve fights to make sure people don’t have to.
Joe Johnston showed us before Ryan Coogler in particularly came along with Black Panther that the MCU formula could be played with a confident manipulation of what makes it enthralling. With the release of Endgame drawing closer, now is better than ever to reevaluate the Captain’s debut.
Cast: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones