Fun with Franchises: Final Thoughts on The Marvel Universe – Captain America: The First Avenger

All right… we’ve watched the film, talked about it, had fun with it, and then we went and listed our favorite images from the film yesterday. Now all that’s left is to finish up with what we actually thought about the film as a whole.

This is our space to go over what we liked and didn’t like about each film we watch for Fun with Franchises. We talk about specific things as we get to them during the articles, and we’ll mention our general thoughts during them, but we don’t really ever get to sit and do broad strokes during the articles. So this is why we do these Final Thoughts. We get to take a step back and talk about the films as a whole, rather than discussing specific scenes or images. We’ll talk about how we felt about the film, how we liked it as a film, how we liked it as a member of its franchise, and where we think it falls within that franchise.

Again, it’s not very complicated, but it is a place to find out what we actually thought about certain movies, since, while we’re having fun with them in the articles, it may get difficult to tell sometimes. Because we’ll just rip things to shreds for fun, even if we love them.

So here are our final thoughts on Captain America: The First Avenger:

Final Thoughts on Captain America: The First Avenger:

Colin:

There’s a good movie in here trying to happen, and it’s not even that far beneath the surface. I think a lot of that has to do with where the Captain America story falls vis-a-vis Marvel’s universe.

One thing I didn’t really mention during Thor that I thought was relevant here is that the universe building was necessarily limited by the two films’ respective dimensions; a sizeable chunk of Thor literally takes place in a different dimension (or just a different planet? They’ve said both.) and Captain America comfortably predates the rest of the Marvel universe by about 65 years. The whole prequel thing can easily go off the rails (“Check it out! C3PO’s naked and Obi Wan has a rat tail!”) and while there was some of that here, it wasn’t egregious to the point of a facepalm. The Tesseract and Tonsberg were connections I could have done without (did we really need that Thor tie-in to ensure Cap’s relevance during The Avengers?) but other than that, we only have to deal with Howard Stark. I enjoyed Stark more than most of this movie’s minor characters, so no issue there.

I did LOVE that they spent several minutes of this movie doing a song and dance number with old set pieces and black and white movie footage and rear projection walking. They could have done more with it, but the fact that they were ballsy enough to spend that much time on that stuff at all makes me want to rank this movie higher than I would otherwise. Well done there.

The reason this movie wasn’t great was elucidated during the articles. Mike pointed out that the war should have been more than a backdrop for the movie’s action, and suggested that HYDRA and Captain America be participants in the larger war, including Hitler’s Germany. The example he used was The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, where the main characters’ motivations are unrelated to those of the Union or the Confederacy, but each of them identify with one side — or both sides — to navigate the plot. Understandably, I was baffled for long stretches of this movie when there were no Nazis to be seen, and when this massive, evil organization existed independently from Nazi Germany but for whatever reason, didn’t kill Hitler and/or take over Germany’s forces. An effective film revises history, amends history, bends history; it doesn’t flatly ignore history. How about a movie where Captain America fights HYDRA and Nazi Germany at the same time? And Nazi Germany fights HYDRA and Captain America at the same time? And HYRDA’s playing everyone and taking over Nazi infrastructure from the inside (which even plays into the whole Winter Soldier parasitic HYDRA plot). Then, once HYDRA’s defeated, the war in Europe is ACTUALLY over, instead of how it was handled in this movie: Captain America crashes an airplane that nobody knew about a day earlier, and suddenly the war is over. Even if you make the [weak] case that the Nazis happened to surrender at the same time, the movie was plainly edited to show “the war” as having occurred between HYDRA and like 8 good guys. Why would you give me a movie that’s supposed to do war stuff and then skip the war stuff?

For that matter, screw steampunk/dieselpunk or whatever you want to call it in this instance. The crazily advanced machinery and weird technology juxtaposed with sepia screens and analogue dials is just dumb. Mike said he likes sepia screens, and so do I — I just want them without all the other stuff. How about acting your era for a change? Steve Rogers packing a handgun looked and felt great. Steve Rogers dodging fire from a target-seeking laser turret-laden flying wing while piloting a rocket-powered propellor-driven flying bomb doesn’t resonate the same way. This movie needed less Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and more Saving Private Ryan. But then, this is the director from The Rocketeer. And Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. And Jumanji. Come to think of it, there was only one imperiled child in this whole movie, which is relatively few imperiled children for this director.

Let’s all be thrilled that Stanley Tucci was in this movie for even the short time that he was. I love that Stanley Tucci was in this movie just to do a German accent, drink booze and poke Chris Evans in the chest. While we’re praising secondary characters, let’s give Tommy Lee Jones a bump, too. Well done, casting. Hold on, I forgot Toby Jones. Also great. My favorite scene from the whole movie is still probably Tommy Lee Jones and Toby Jones in the cell as Tommy Lee Jones eats the steak. I guarantee you most people forgot about that scene on their way home from the theater, but it’s the one that I think of first when I’m trying to drum up great moments in this movie.

Leading roles…Chris Evans doesn’t compete with Hugo Weaving. I don’t care about any of Red Skull’s issues, the character is Hugo Weaving being a dick. Evans felt like par for the course, however ridiculous the character may have been at times. His delivery absolutely convinced me that he was the type to get a boner listening to The Star-Spangled Banner and write Betsy Ross fan fiction. His character suffers from perfect syndrome, though. Think about him in relation to some other heroes and their arcs, and you’ll see that he starts virtuous, stays virtuous and ends virtuous. Which, fine — it’s Captain America. But give us SOMETHING more in the way of guilt or insecurity to make him less perfect. They give him inner conflict when he gets heckled by the real soldiers, but then he saves the prisoners and he’s perfect for the rest of the movie. The only real bumps he has are losing Bucky (which made for about 15 seconds of grief before the plot moved on) and kissing Natalie Dormer to the dismay of his British non-girlfriend. Was that supposed to be a character flaw? Did that represent struggle? And speaking of the non-girlfriend…

Wow, did they mess her up. First, don’t make her the stereotypical stereotype-breaker. A beautiful British woman, in this MAN’S ARMY?! But she’s an agent and she punches people and shoots guns. We have nothing of her background, no character development other than her obsession with abs and pecs, and we’re spoon-fed her “competence” in the form of a sucker punch to a subordinate. Beyond that, she’s a love interest who they bring through the motions (awkwardness, infatuation, uncertainty, jealousy, realization, reconciliation, confession, loss) in textbook fashion without building a character there. She may as well be a cardboard cutout. When she gets angry about the kiss, you want to yell at her through the screen. She hasn’t staked her claim on him, they haven’t shared enough tender moments and we aren’t invested in them as a potential couple, but she sees someone kiss him and we’re supposed to follow along. That element, like many of Marvel’s plots, felt like loose improv comedy. “Okay, I guess we’re doing THIS now?”

The ending was discussed at length. There were many better ways for him to end up crashing that plane, and they could have done a little more to make the crash look more necessary. Beyond that, they didn’t watch A Matter of Life and Death to figure out how to do that scene over the radio properly. He’s no David Niven and she’s no Kim Hunter, but you work with what you’ve got.

I guess I [stupidly] had high hopes for this movie because it had a chance to be so different from the rest of what Marvel had done previously. But it didn’t. Even though there are plenty of reasons to put this reasonably high up on the list, it’s still just another Marvel movie. Better than most, yes, but not better enough, if that makes sense.

My Final Thoughts:

I like this one. I mean, I like it as a Marvel movie. The Marvel movies I like best are ones that are trying to be other movies. More genre movies. This is trying to be a war movie. And it tries really hard to be that for a while, and then the Marvel takes over and there are blue laser guns, giant gunships and a dude with a skull for a face. But I appreciated them trying to tell a coherent story.

Steve Rogers might have the most complete character arc and backstory of any Marvel superhero. Well, I guess next to Stark. Stark is a horse of a different color. (Rogers knows that reference.) But, the first act is entirely about letting us understand who Rogers is. And it works. And then he becomes Captain America, and… then he pretty much stops growing. (As a person. Because, you know… steroids.) There’s really no arc there. Which they handle pretty well in Winter Soldier. But I’ll get to that when that comes up. Here, though, what this movie does well is ground you within Rogers the character and in World War II. The war stuff in this movie is great. (Until we get space guns.) I really appreciate them having the guts to set this movie during World War II. Which ultimately makes me have to be okay with the ending, since he had to be brought around to hang out with everyone else. And ultimately that sequence is pretty great, even if the logic is flimsy.

Oh, and they got to put a full-on musical montage and vaudeville sequence. Which deserves its own segment. Because I’m down for any movie that stops for a musical sequence. The more mainstream, the better. And then the fact that he shot these old time propaganda movies! I want to be upset that there wasn’t more of either of these things, but I’m actually pretty shocked they got as much time as they did.

I also like how the time period prevented them from going heavy on the universe building. And actually, when they did do it, it was actually pretty heavy-handed. Stark kind of worked, timing-wise but also did feel forced in there.

It’s also really weird, as Colin pointed out, how they just choose to ignore Germany completely in this movie. We never actually see Captain America (or any American soldier, for that matter) fight a German soldier. They’re all HYDRA. The only Nazis we see are the guys that Schmidt kills with his space gun. Which, as Colin said — don’t make the audience sympathize with Nazis. And then they don’t ever get into the HYDRA/Germany relationship. Since it seems that HYDRA is single-handedly keeping Germany in the war, and once HYDRA goes down, then Germany just loses. And Japan is just separate from all of this.

It’s weird for me to try to rate this, because you have to rate it on that scale of — it’s Marvel, and as that, it’s only gonna be so good, but even then, there’s some good stuff here, they cast the movie really well (Tucci was amazing, Tommy Lee Jones is always good (and brought his A-game for that interrogation scene), Toby Jones was solid, if underutilized (though well-cast for that particular part), and Hugo Weaving was straight up the greatest casting choice you could have made for the Red Skull. Evans, overall, is a good choice for what you want Captain America to be. I like that he downplays the hero aspects of the character as much as he can. Though once he goes into combat, there’s nowhere for them to really take Rogers. Which is why the time jump was actually helpful for any kind of character growth. I don’t have much to say about Cooper as Stark or Atwell as Peggy. She does fine, but the character doesn’t have much going for it except for requisite flashes of spunk just to make the role seem less one-note. Mostly she’s just making the sex eyes at Chris Evans. And Stark, I said throughout, really serves no purpose here other than to be Howard Stark. Could have been anyone, and by the end, his scenes were cutaways from the plot. “Write that down.” That was just a random comic interlude for sixty seconds and nothing more.

I will cop to really liking the Matter of Life and Death ripoff. That opening scene is really terrific (and way more effective, since those characters have never met and their relationship only exists through that radio. And you completely buy everything within minutes), and I like how they used it here. It works, emotionally, and it actually packs enough of a punch that I’ll give Marvel a pass on the logic involved.

Look, I like this movie. This is probably my third favorite Marvel movie, overall. I consider both Captain Americas to be above average Marvel product. They stick out over everything else, including the movie we’re starting tomorrow.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow we start Avengers.

(See more Fun with Franchises here.)

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