Countdown to The Avengers (Part 5) - Review from the Vault: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

So here we are, May 4th has arrived, and with it the release of The Avengers!  I am posting this earlier in the day than I have my previous entries because some of you may be seeing The Avengers as early as this evening (if you haven't seen it already - and if you have, I'm jealous).  I have some family in town this weekend and am currently planning on checking out The Avengers Sunday afternoon/evening.  If you aren't seeing it before then, be sure to check back here for my review.  Anyway, my review for Captain America: The First Avenger from last July completes my re-cap countdown and should help get you primed for Joss Whedon's adventure with Earth's Mightiest Heroes.  My personal ranking of these five Marvel 'feeder' films is posted and discussed at the end of the post.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), PG-13, 124 minutes - This new Captain America movie (there was a terrible one made back in 1990) checked in at #3 on my personal Most Anticipated Films of 2011 list. Cap also happens to be one of my favorite comic book characters so my hopes for this movie were pretty high. Much like Thor, I was quite satisfied with the end result.

Captain America: The First Avenger, as one would expect, tells the origin story behind the character. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny young American who attempts to enlist in the Army repeatedly in 1942. He keeps getting rejected due to his size and medical history. During one attempt, he is checked out by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). Dr. Erskine is a German scientist who defected to the United States and is overseeing the Super Soldier Project in an attempt to help the U.S. fight Hitler's Nazi's. He offers Rogers the one thing he wants: an opportunity to join the Army and fight for his country. After showing many beneficial qualities above and beyond his physical size during boot camp, Erskine selects Rogers over more physically qualified soldiers to be the Super Soldier Program's test subject. As you could probably guess, the Super Soldier Project is a success and Steve Rogers is transformed into the perfect physical specimen. Just as the procedure ends, a Hydra spy (a splinter Nazi group) assassinates Dr. Erskine and destroys all of the equipment used causing Rogers to be the only successful test subject. Rogers chases down the spy and apprehends him, becoming a media sensation in the process. Thinking that he is just one man and not an entire army, Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) assigns Rogers and his new Captain America persona to touring the country hawking war bonds. After getting fed up that he is not able to contribute the way Dr. Erskine had promised before his death, Rogers eventually gets the chance to prove his worth on the front lines. That opportunity leads to his hunting down the Red Skull and the Cosmic Cube powering Hydra's weapons.

When it was announced that Chris Evans would be bringing Steve Rogers to life on the big screen, I wasn't sure what to think. More often than not he has been entertaining in his previous films. What worried me was that his characters tend to be sarcastic and comedic, neither of which are traits of good ole Captain America. Then it was announced that Hugo Weaving would portray Cap's greatest villain, the Red Skull. Any trepidation I had about casting pretty much went out the window with that news. Shortly thereafter, more names like Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci were added and a pretty solid cast was assembled. As it turns out, Chris Evans makes a pretty darn good Steve Rogers. And just as expected, Hugo Weaving's Red Skull was great. Lesser characters help round out the feel of the film with good performances from Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark), Toby Jones (Dr. Arnim Zola), and Neal McDonough (Dum Dum Dugan).

Captain America: The First Avenger is a solid movie whether or not you're a comic book fan or a fan of the movies based upon them. The story may be a little bit cliche (the rise of the little guy), but hey, this is America and that story never gets old. It also doesn't hurt when you use a Nazi splinter cell as your antagonist. Cap is yet another solo adventure in the Marvel Universe (Iron Man, Thor) that leads into The Avengers next summer. It will be interesting to see if they can all fit into one movie. Which reminds sure to wait for Marvel's usual post-credits scene. Not only is there a scene but there's also a quick teaser trailer for The Avengers.


- There are a couple of cheesy moments, but they are obviously meant to be that way (primarily Cap's war bond selling tour). The best part of this campy stretch of the film is the ridiculous costume that Steve Rogers has to wear on tour, a nice nod to the original, classic, comic book design of Captain America.

- Stan Lee makes his standard Marvel cameo.

- While both were portrayed differently in the movie than the comics, I liked how the 'deaths' of both Bucky and Cap were handled. Cap obviously comes back at the end of the film and for The Avengers, but the way Bucky's death was shot leaves the possibility for him to return down the road as the Winter Soldier (as Ed Brubaker brought him back in the comics) and that would kick all kinds of ass.

- Speaking of deaths. It's obvious that the Red Skull didn't die, but was teleported elsewhere by the Cosmic Cube. Will he pop back up in The Avengers as it appears Loki (from Thor) will?

- Between the Cosmic Cube and the inclusion Nick Fury and a younger Howard Stark, they did an excellent job tying Cap into the Marvel Universe that was previously established in the Iron Man and Thor films (although I kind of wish that they had gone into the powers of the Cosmic Cube more. I guess that may be explored in The Avengers as it was part of the post credits teaser scene on Thor.)

- I really enjoyed the inclusion of Dum Dum Dugan, the Howling Comandos, and Dr. Arnim Zola. Nice nods to the comics.

- It will be interesting to see if Hayley Atwell is brought back in future installments to play Sharon Carter, Peggy Carter's niece. For those who don't know, in the comics years later, after being thawed out, Steve Rogers falls in love with Sharon who strongly reminds him of Peggy, his first love.

- I liked how they portrayed the relationship between Bucky and Steve: Steve being the scrawny friend who couldn't join the Army and Bucky being the best friend who was completely opposite in just about every way (in the comics, they don't meet until after Steve becomes Cap and Bucky is introduced as a sidekick).

It's pretty hard to rank the five Marvel films that, as they were released, teased The Avengers more and more.  At least it is for me.  They are all pretty good.  It is really a matter of which one(s) do I like more because none of them are bad.  But if I had to rank them in order of my least favorite to my favorite, the list would look like this (starting at number 5):

5) The Incredible Hulk - It is a much better Hulk story than the previously released film.  I really enjoyed Edward Norton as Bruce Banner.   As mentioned earlier in the countdown, due to creative differences, Norton will not be portraying Banner again and Mark Ruffalo will give Banner a shot.

4) Iron Man 2 - A very good second installment to the Iron Man franchise.  I just wish that they had done more with the Mandarin tease from the first film.  I also hope that they can create an Iron Man movie where the villain isn't another suit of armor.

2b) Thor - Thor is easily the Marvel film that I was most surprised by.  When it was released, I had read the current run of stories in the comic (written by J. Michael Straczynski, Kieron Gillen and Matt Fraction), and a little bit of Walt Simonson's classic run on the book, but didn't have a really strong tie to the character.  The movie actually implemented many pieces of the stories that I had read and included other little nods to the character's comic history which I thoroughly enjoyed.

2a) Iron Man - The first of the Marvel studios films, I think it may still be the best made origin story of the bunch.  Granted, not all of them concentrate specifically on an origin story, but this one did it right.  Robert Downey, Jr absolutely nailed Tony Stark and it was a great mix of action, comedy, and drama.

1) Captain America: The First Avenger - Captain America is the Marvel character that I have the most invested in as a reader (behind Daredevil of course).  A few years ago, Brian Michael Bendis' amazing run on Daredevil was coming to an end and a writer named Ed Brubaker was going to take over the book.  Being curious about what I might be able to expect in the pages of my favorite character's book, I started looking for other things written by Brubaker.  At the time, he was about 20-25 issues in on his continuing (and now epic) run on Captain America.  I was hooked immediately, and had looked forward to the Cap movie since the day it was announced.  Somehow, I didn't get over hyped.  I guess that just shows how well it turned out.  The story, the characters, their interaction with each other.  It all turned out great and I really couldn't have asked for anything more.  Iron Man may be a better made film from beginning to end, but Captain America: The First Avenger is easily my favorite of the Marvel films so far.

So there you go, this countdown is over!  Thanks for checking in this week, and maybe, in some small way, this has helped refresh your memory (or given you something new to add to your watch list) leading up to The Avengers.  Like I said, I won't be able to get to The Avengers until Sunday evening sometime, so I will now be avoiding the internet in an effort to miss spoilers and not hate my friends that get to see it before me!  I'll have a review for The Avengers shortly after seeing it, that is for sure!


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