The Civil War Marathon Part I – Captain America: The First Avenger

In celebration of this Friday’s release of Captain America: Civil War, I have put together a multi-night Marvel marathon. I have chosen the movies to focus on Steve Rogers, his relationship with Bucky, and his relationship with Tony Stark. The marathon is as follows:
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
There are no Iron Man stand alone films here because they give no insight into his present state that the Avengers films do not already give.

As I watch each film I will post entries on each in turn.

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As I began my marathon I was surprised by the attendance for The First Avenger. A lot of people were very excited to see the original Captain America, a movie I wasn’t certain other people loved as much as I do.

Watching this film from the perspective of it being the first Marvel film you see, there’s a very different feeling in the opening scene. You don’t know that S.H.I.E.L.D. just found Captain America. Instead it’s a shadowy government operation that’s found some relic of the past. There’s a lot more mystery. Questions to be answered as we go back in time.

Surprisingly enough, the first scene in WWII that takes place in Norway is the only one where characters speak German. I have long had negative opinions on the Nazis all speaking and writing in English, but I came to a realization in recent years that makes me appreciate the film all the more. It wants to be a propaganda film. The whole thing is constructed to evoke the classic propaganda films from World War II, and that is why the Nazis are so cartoonish and the heroes are just so damn good.

Speaking of villains, they could not have cast a better Red Skull than Hugo Weaving. The man plays villain like no other and he chews the scenery the exact right amount here. Of course since he’s a big name they found a way to have Weaving’s real face on screen, at least for a good chunk of the movie. That being said, you can see even in his first scene, that there are little wrinkles on his skin just under his ear. Exactly where he will pull this mask off later.

Finally Steve Rogers arrives, and the effect of putting Chris Evans’s face onto a tiny skinny body is still uncanny. It’s disconcerting at first, but you quickly come to terms with it and even grow to love it. I would even say it holds up after the five years between the film’s release and now. Most of that comes from Evans himself and his great performance. Everything else falls away when he’s in this role and he just becomes Cap.

Finally Bucky arrives to help Steve out of an alley fight. What’s fascinating here is that in his original iteration, Bucky was Cap’s teen sidekick. They met after the super soldier serum, so Bucky always looked up to Steve. Instead here they made Steve and Bucky childhood friends and it only deepens their bond. They know each other as much as two people could, and they would do anything for each other. Even start a civil war.

Now I have to talk about Howard Stark. Coming at this character without knowing his son first, or even the version of him in Iron Man 2, really allows Dominic Cooper’s performance to shine. He isn’t the future father of Tony Stark, he’s the scientist trying to build flying cars in the 30s. This guy is capable of great things, and if he were around in modern day who knows what he would be capable of.

After this Steve loses track of Bucky in another attempt to enlist. He finally gets his wish, but he never gets to tell his best friend. Bucky has all ready shipped off to London.

Steve comes into contact again with Howard Stark at his Super Soldier serum trial, but the two are never properly introduced.

It’s only when Howard is flying Steve to save Bucky in Europe that they actually share words. Howard comes off cocky and Steve clocks him as a romantic rival over Peggy. So yeah, he’s a Stark.

There are many things worth noting when Steve saves Bucky. First of all, Doctor Zola is absolutely already turning Bucky into the Winter Soldier. But another thing is the sound all of the hydra weapons make. They sound like Iron Man’s repulsors. There’s a connecting line between what Howard Stark is studying now, and what his son will perfect.

It’s after this that Steve and Bucky share their most important scene. Bucky agrees to be a part of the Howling Commandos, not because he believes in Captain America, but because he believes in the Steve Rogers that existed before the super soldier. Essentially Bucky knew Steve before he was cool.

At the same time Howard and Steve cement their friendship. Howard assures Steve that there’s nothing going on between him and Peggy and they begin working together to fight the Natzis. We never get much more of a feel for what their friendship is like. They work together, but that’s about all we really see.

Then Bucky dies. And while everybody and their mother knows Bucky comes back, the grief on Steve’s face is real and resonant. He’s lost his best friend and for the first time we get a flash of darkness as he puts together a reckless plan to take down hydra once and for all.

I’ll admit, the third act of The First Avenger is not all that strong. The movie just kind of arrives there. The heroes win a lot with very low personal stakes. The Red Skull is the only major enemy by now, but even the stakes between he and Steve don’t feel grand enough. Finally Steve is fighting the autopilot on hydra plane, but the audience isn’t convinced the only solution is to fly it into the ocean. It’s a shame that the first act is so much stronger than the third.

But you cannot deny the excitement of seeing Steve run around modern day New York. We have spent so much time in a computer generated depression era, that the modern stuff feels like a breath of fresh air. Although Cap has lost everybody he’s ever known, and you don’t know if you can trust Nick Fury in this context, it’s a hell of an exciting cliffhanger.

So it’s a really great thing we don’t have to wait very long to watch The Avengers.

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