There had only been three MCU movies before the arrival of “Captain America: The First Avenger” back in 2011. All of them, while entertaining and quality in their own right, still fell into the realm of “comic book movie,” stories beholden to not a particular film genre but the illustrated format that inspired them. “Captain America: The First Avenger” was the first to test the notion of comic book movies expanding beyond their own self-confined genre to be something more.
I know what you’re going to say: “What about ‘The Dark Knight?'” That movie is a noir, but so is all of Batman comics. It’s a different take on Batman, but one that is still quintessentially Batman none-the-less. “Captain America” is still true to the essence of the “Captain America” comics, but acts as a wartime propaganda movie akin to “The Great Escape.” It’s a film with a distinct voice, even if that voice changes tones in later entries.
Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, the nebbish but determined pipsqueak with a penchant for patriotism and back alley brawls. Rogers wants nothing more to enlist and fight the big bad nazis overseas but keeps getting 4-F’ed by army higher-ups. A doctor recognizes his enthusiasm and dedication, opting him for a super soldier program where measure of wit triumphs over length of biceps.
But with the super soldier serum, Steve is transformed into an American Adonis, capable of smashing through brick walls and flinging nazis off staircases with relative ease. Steve’s Brooklyn bud Bucky joins him on overseas wartime adventures, where their fiercest enemy isn’t even a true nazi at all but the menacing Red Skull.
It’s all fairly formulaic, keeping true to the unwritten rules of war movies and movies in general. But the idealism present in “Captain America” is still infectious even if unconvincing. Agent Carter (Haley Atwell), Steve’s perennial source of sexual tension, is a formidable wartime femme. And Evans’ performance as Rogers captures the unbreakable spirit, hopeless naivety, and uncrackable good will of its comic hero magnificently.
Sure, Hydra doesn’t exist in real life, nor do we read about Red Skull in history books. But “Captain America” hearkens the best parts of the greatest generation, staying true to its WWII roots while branching off into new realms of creativity .