Jan 31, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Captain America: The First Avenger

If you’re anything like us, than you were blown away when the first Avengers: Infinity War trailer dropped.  The extended Comics Cube family was so excited that we have decided to embark upon a full re-watch of the Marvel Studios film series.  Every week we are going to watch and provide a roundtable discussion about each Marvel movie in release order.  Next up is the one fans had been anxiously awaiting since the announcement of the Avengers movie franchise.

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War
Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger was released on July 22, 2011 and made $65 million on its opening weekend.  It ended its theatrical run at $193 million in the United States and $370 million total worldwide.  Not bad for a period piece war movie featuring a soldier draped in the American flag.

JD: I love this movie.  It’s still my favorite of the MCU.  It’s the best kind of origin story.  It’s not the same old flawed person “learning a life lesson” and becoming a better hero.  It’s about a good person becoming the best kind of hero.  Steve Rogers will jump on a grenade for you.  I don’t see any other character doing that before they get their hammer or their iron suit or whatever.  I get swept up in this movie.  It’s campy, but not too much so.

LAMAR: I’m glad they went with vintage Captain America with this movie, because I was worried they were doing Ultimate Cap with these.  I liked The Ultimates as a comic, but that version of Steve always came off like Great Value Frosted Flakes to me, in comparison to regular Steve.

DUY: I remember, at the time, being worried at the approach they’d take also.  They could have easily gone with the Ultimates version.  And the helmet worried me, but you’d barely notice with all the motion – it still looks terrible in the comics though.

MATTHEW: This movie had more heart than any superhero movie before or since.  I still don’t know if I can point at a superhero in a movie that matches his portrayal of Cap.  He is exactly what I was hoping to see in a Captain America movie.

SAMANTHA: This is my favorite in the MCU, or… with Ragnarok having made me fall harder for the Hulk… at least in my top 3.

MATT: I love a good WWII buddy movie.  I have found the Cap movies to generally be the best stories they’ve told.  They do good character development, follow through, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving, all the hits.

BEN: I remember thinking it was the best pure superhero movie yet.  It’s the pitch perfect depiction of Captain America.  The commitment to doing a full WWII movie made it seem more faithful to the comics.  It was all-around enjoyable.

BRIAN: Man, enjoyable movie, but disappointing Red Skull.  Especially since the actor (Hugo Weaving) doesn’t seem interested in doing it again.

DUY: I thought Red Skull was okay, in the sense that that was basically the bare minimum I needed for Skull to be enjoyable.

TRAVIS: This is still not as good as the Albert Pyun movie, and Red Skull is magnitudes not-as-good.  No plastic ears, though, so… point!

JD: I rented that so many times from Blockbuster.

TRAVIS: High bar for cinematic Red Skulls.

ANTONIO: I will never understand your love for that movie, Travis!

It’s not the same old flawed person “learning a life lesson” and becoming a better hero.  It’s about a good person becoming the best kind of hero. -JD

JEFF: I remember when I first saw this, both this movie and Thor were out the same year, and after my initial viewing of them both I preferred Thor.  I didn’t care for them using Hydra and energy weapons for WWII (aren’t Nazis evil enough?) was my thoughts back then, but the more I’ve seen them both since, the more my feelings on them have reversed.  I can watch Thor but never feel like actively putting it on, but Cap is something I can never get sick of now and a large part of that is Evans.  He’s nailed it each time he’s playing Steve, no matter the tone of the movie or situation Cap is in. He’s played it perfectly.

SAMANTHA: Didn’t it freak you out in the slightest that, in imagining Nazis as the worst kind of evil, that there was something out there worse?  And that he was using more powerful and dangerous technology?  That kind of blew me away when I sat and really thought about it during the first time I watched the movie.

KATHERINE: I remember thinking that too!  When Hitler and the Nazis are basically like, “Damn, okay, now you guys have gone too far,” you know these guys are bad.

DUY: I believe, and I could be absolutely wrong, they used Hydra because Nazis may have been a hard sell to some international markets.  Also the subtitle “First Avenger” because they needed to be able to remove “Captain America” from some markets.

BEN: I’d like to point out that Thor is thousands of years old, so “first” Avenger is questionable.

SAMANTHA: Let’s not play semantics.

(Evans has) nailed it each time he’s playing Steve, no matter the tone of the movie or situation Cap is in. -Jeff

DUY: I would put First Avenger up as the best score in all of the MCU.  All of it.  Including “Star-Spangled Man with a Plan.”

JEFF: I get that stuck in my head for hours whenever I watch this movie.

BEN: Steve: “Where are we going?”  Bucky: “The future!”  And they both do!

ANTONIO: Easter eggs!  Wasn’t the original Human Torch also at that expo?

BEN: Yes he was.

ANTONIO: So originally, Logan and Magneto were supposed to have cameos.  That fell apart due to the film rights, of course.

BEN: Namor and Black Widow were in the script at one time also.

ANTONIO: Namor showing up during a battle montage woulda been cool.

BEN: The scene between Erskine and Steve is so great.

DUY: The earnestness just shines through so many times in this movie.  “Do you want to kill Nazis?”  “I don’t want to kill anyone, I just don’t like bullies.”  And also, Steve jumping on the grenade.  They establish what makes him special before they ever gave him powers.

ANTONIO: I love the grenade bit.

SAMANTHA: That’s what made him deserving of the supersoldier serum.  That he wouldn’t abuse the power he was given.

DUY: Yes, I just really hate the argument that Cap is only special because of the serum.  I think the fact that he was a skinny kid who just kept trying and trying is what made him special.

SAMANTHA: Steve getting back up while those street bullies were beating the crap out of him.  And then bringing that goddamn tenacity back during Civil War.  “I could do this all day.”  Chills!  I freaking love Cap so much as a character.

JEFF: Favorite line – Hydra goon: “Cut off one head…”  Bang!  General Phillips: “let’s go find two more.”

BEN: “Go get him!  I can swim,” gets me every time.

MATT: I did love the Gordian knot cutting of the flag scene.  And Stanley Tucci’s taking Steve’s drink away from him.

SAMANTHA: Don’t ever discount Stanley Tucci!  I don’t care if the dies early in the film!

DUY: One of the big changes this movie made from the source material is the introduction of an adult Bucky.  I think it worked for the better, and I also believe the comics followed suit, retconning it so Bucky was always an adult.

SAMANTHA: OK, so what I always wondered was how longtime readers took to the changes – however large or small – between the movies and the comics.  Also, what were the most significant changes?

DUY: Quite honestly, for me, that was it, and I don’t think kid sidekick would have flown in a WWII movie.  There are details that changed, but I definitely thought at the time that Evans got it.  He was Cap the way Hemsworth was Thor.  (RDJ was different in the sense that he actively transformed Tony Stark.) I was definitely afraid that they would make Steve more cynical, darker (y’know, the way some movies have for their eternal beacon of light characters).  It was such a breath of fresh air that they didn’t do that.

BEN: I’ve always been fine with changes as long as the characters remain recognizable as who they are, or the changes make more sense, like with Bucky.  The kind of changes I don’t like is how in X-Men: The Last Stand they would waste a longstanding character name on a random mutant bystander, who doesn’t even have the correct power-set.

ANTONIO: But the movies went ahead and made them friends from before the war.  That’s probably one of the biggest departures.  The films made them neighborhood buddies.

“I could do this all day.”  Chills!  I freaking love Cap so much as a character. -Samantha

SAMANTHA: I loved (and still do) the relationship between Bucky and Steve in this movie.  I kind of got the impression, which we didn’t see much in the way of it, that Bucky had a hand in keeping Steve the good guy that he was.  It wasn’t especially pertinent to the story, but sort of a side thing that Bucky was that guy.

KATHERINE: The flashback in Winter Soldier shows that, which I love!  Steve becoming an orphan could’ve broken him, but Bucky was there to pick him up and literally took him in.

BEN: This movie might be even better now, after the sequels.

KATHERINE: Totally agree.  I think rewatching it knowing what happens to Bucky and Peggy makes it even better and richer.  I didn’t put a lot of stock into their friendship and Cap losing Bucky the first time I saw it, but rewatching it afterwards and seeing how he’s mourning and trying to get drunk (but his metabolism is too fast) is heartbreaking.

BEN: It didn’t seem like the Bucky relationship was properly fleshed out, but it is all here if you’re watching for it.

KATHERINE: Knowing that he becomes the Winter Soldier makes all of their moments together (and every moment when he’s this happy, flirty, smart-ass… who becomes this hollowed-out shell) feel more significant.  Especially after Steve saves him and they walk back to the base camp – Bucky’s the one who starts the rally and round of applause: “Let’s hear it for Captain America!”

BEN: One of my favorite lines.

DUY: It got better with age.  It and Thor were similarly received when they came out, if I remember right.  This one aged better in light of the next movies.

BEN: Apparently, Peggy touching Steve’s newly buff chest was an adlib.  Haley was so taken aback by Evans’ body that she “ruined the take.”

ANTONIO: Yeah, she was all “yumyum.”
I didn’t put a lot of stock into their friendship and Cap losing Bucky the first time I saw it, but rewatching it ... is heartbreaking. -Katherine

KATHERINE: What do you guys all think of the romance in this movie when rewatching it?  Cap and Peggy are my favorite couple in the MCU (well, second favorite after Cap and Bucky).  I felt like everything about them in this movie worked.  Great natural chemistry and I just love the dynamic of such a tough badass woman seeming to be kind of interested in him even pre-serum because of his heart and his clever problem-solving abilities and him being flustered and intimidated by her even post-serum.

MATT: Yes, they spent the time developing the characters and throwing them together both before and after the serum.  It makes the crash effective and affecting.  If any of us have hearts anymore.

KATHERINE: Yes, the fact that it was an almost-romance that never really got to take flight makes everything about them more poignant.  Honestly, that was my biggest criticism of Wonder Woman.  Why did the romance with Chris Pine have to become such a big part of the story?  It seemed like it would’ve been more powerful if they had pulled a Cap without them “falling in love” and sleeping together.  To me, leaving her with the question “What if he was the love of my life” that can never be answered feels more powerful.

BEN: I’m way too invested in the sex lives of fictional characters.

SAMANTHA: It was important that she saw him pre-serum, because her character would have been attacked for being ‘thirsty’ for the Cap bod.  I don’t know much else about her character otherwise, but I love how she ‘loved’ him from the start, even if it was in a protective sort of way at the beginning.  Also, Bucky realizing that he was the new ‘little Steve’ at the bar when Peggy couldn’t take her gaze from Cap’s?  Delightful.

BEN: Every scene with Steve and Peggy makes my eyes watery now.

KATHERINE: I adore Peggy.  The feminist icon we all deserve.  And to see Captain America respecting the hell out of her was beautiful.
I kind of got the impression, which we didn’t see much in the way of it, that Bucky had a hand in keeping Steve the good guy that he was.  It wasn’t especially pertinent to the story, but sort of a side thing that Bucky was that guy. -Samantha
SAMANTHA: I also love when she shot at Cap’s Shield.   I realize that may be a bit awful of me, but I think she got the point across pretty perfectly.

BEN: Bucky is only at like 65% sexiness levels in this movie.

ANTONIO: He looked good in his military uniform!

BEN: 65% might be too generous, he’s no good all cleaned up.

KATHERINE: Still hot!  Evil dirty Bucky is definitely sexier, but I’m not even sure why.  I feel like that’s just something wrong with us as a society that we instinctively are more attracted to these damaged bad boys.

BEN: It’s the eyeliner.

KATHERINE: Smiling eyes and happy smirk vs evil raccoon eyeliner and frickin death mask, and yet the second is considered sexier.  I don’t know what’s wrong with us.

ANTONIO: Evil Bucky is a challenge.  Smiling Bucky is too easy.

KATHERINE: Totally agree that the challenge is part of it.  Still, we’re messed up for even wanting the challenge of a brainwashed evil assassin over a well-adjusted dude from Brooklyn.

Every scene with Steve and Peggy makes my eyes watery now. -Ben

BEN: Starlord’s mom is in this movie, the actress, not the character.

ANTONIO: Yeah, she kisses Steve and Peggy walks in on them.

KATHERINE: The one who kisses Steve is freakin Margaery Tyrell with her evil little smirk.

ANTONIO: Love her smirk.

BEN: Starlord’s mom is an autograph seeker at the 50-minute mark.

KATHERINE: There’s an article I saved awhile back that had a really interesting take on Captain America embodying a new kind of masculinity that the world needs examples of. (link) Then there was also an article about how Chris Evans’ casting is so perfect because he also embodies that same type of masculinity. (link)

SAMANTHA: These should be shared everywhere.  Though it perplexes me that we have to sell just being a decent human being in general as “a new kind of masculinity.”  But that’s a whoooole different conversation.

I always thought it should’ve ended with the Junior Howling Commandos too. -LaMar

DUY: Okay, here’s my one gripe with the movie, it should have ended with the kids playing in the street, pretending they were Cap and the Howling Commandos.  That’s it.  Then you blast the score all the way to the mid-credits, and theeeen… you do the revival.  This is the only Marvel movie without a post-credits sequence, but I think it had the perfect post-credits sequence right there.

LAMAR: This movie was just about perfect aside from that slip at the end.  I always thought it should’ve ended with the Junior Howling Commandos too.

TRAVIS: They should’ve "killed" Cap at the end.  Brought him out of the ice as a post-credits or for Avengers.  Movie should have hit the credits with his sacrifice.

BEN: The problem with that is they find his crashed ship at the beginning of the movie.

TRAVIS: So, they found a body.  Or, just cut that and start with us in the past.  His death just loses too much oomph for me, if they’re going to immediately jump him to awake in the present that fast.

BEN: I’m guessing they were worried a crucial event like that would be skipped by some viewers.  Too much potential for confusion heading straight into Avengers.  People still, to this day, start leaving the theater during the credits when I go see a Marvel movie.

KATHERINE: I wonder if it’s been a rule that they never put vital story information in the credits.  It seems like it’s always been jokes or teases and setups for future movies, but nothing that you definitely need to walk away from the movie knowing.  Have there been any exceptions that I’m not thinking of?  I agree that ending the movie with him dead would have been a really emotional and artistic choice, but would too many people have walked out of the theater really thinking that he dies at the end?  I mean, even now in freakin’ 2017, 20 movies later, people leave without waiting for the credit scenes!  It still shocks me.

BEN: Every time I see people getting up to leave when the credits start, I think to myself “Seriously?”

SAMANTHA: I do it too!  Whoever I’m with usually laughs because I’m like “what, are they new?!”

DUY: Honestly, at that point, when the credits hit I’d have forgotten the first scene.  If they had done it postcredits, I’d have been like “oh yeaaaaah.”  It doesn’t ruin the movie for me, but it could have been this really big emotional gut wrench all the way till he wakes up.  As it is, I ended up waiting until the second Guardians to get that feeling.

BEN: I think the gut wrench is about him losing the world, the people, and the woman he loved.  It was never about a death that wasn’t going to stick anyway.

DUY: Even then, you could have had extra time for that gut wrench to sink in.

Cap and Peggy are my favorite couple in the MCU (well, second favorite after Cap and Bucky). -Katherine

BEN: Sam Worthington and Will Smith were in early contention for the role of Captain America.  Channing Tatum, Scott Porter, Sebastian Stan, John Krasinski, Chad Michael Murray, and Jensen Ackles were on the final shortlist. Alice Eve, Gemma Arterton, and Keira Knightley were considered for Peggy Carter.  Emily Blunt turned it down.

SAMANTHA: See?  I watched so much of The Office that I was kind of puzzled when I heard John Krasinski was up for the role.  Then I felt awful, because I typecast the dude and he’s not a bad actor.

BEN: He’s amazing in the Benghazi movie.

ANTONIO: I can’t really see it working out as well as it did with any other crew.  But I guess I would have dismissed Evans back then too.

BEN: Evans was the most skeptical I had been about a Marvel casting announcement, at that point.  He declined the part three times before finally accepting.

SAMANTHA: I actually love that story, though it’s sort of sad.  He had major anxiety about what taking this role would do to him, to his career.  He went to therapy to come to terms with the decision.  It’s an amazingly real thing to admit, and kind of tied me to his movies even more.

ANTONIO: I don’t even think he was supposed to stick around long as Cap, but he ended up digging the positive way folks saw him.  Kids and stuff, going to hospitals.

DUY: Yeah, I love how Evans basically just turned into Cap offscreen.

ANTONIO: His transformation was pretty awesome too.  He lost over 200 lbs of body mass and over a foot in height through sheer willpower for the role.  Method acting at its greatest.

ANTONIO: Will Smith woulda been so weird.

BEN: I like Will Smith, but he’s not an earnest enough presence.  And, you know, the internet would have actually exploded.  In flames.

ANTONIO: Racist flames.

DUY: I’m in favor of racebending more often than not, but I genuinely believe you cannot straight up racebend Steve Rogers.  It’s 1941 and he’s going to rally an entire nation behind him.  I would love to see that movie or read that comic – but it would be a completely different story.  Plus, if it were gonna be a completely different story due to the racial dynamics… Will Smith is not the guy to pull that off.

ANTONIO: In Spider-Gwen, Captain America is a black woman.  I wouldn’t mind seeing that on the big screen someday.  Played by Will Smith, of course.

DUY: It’s 1941, he has to rally a whole nation behind him, and the nation is still ignorant.  There are Japanese internment camps and black people can’t use the same water fountains and bathrooms.  You can’t just slot in a black Steve and have it be the same exact thing.  That’s a Captain America that wouldn’t be served in some restaurants.  It’d be interesting as hell; I’m just saying you can’t do the same thing as you would if, say, Tony was a different race.  (Assuming someone of a different race can approximate 98% of RDJ.)

BEN: It’s an interesting what-if.  Could the country have embraced him out of sheer patriotism, or is the prejudice and racism too strong?  Regardless, it’s much too complex an idea to do in a Will Smith movie.

DUY: Gonna jump the gun here with the comics recommendations: Truth: Red, White and Black, which is about a black guy named Isaiah Bradley who was the test subject for the first super soldier serum, which goes into that topic.  And also, Patriot, which is about Cap’s replacement.  There’s a scene where he has to go to his gay friend’s funeral and he goes as the Patriot, because the government won’t let him go as Cap. (To tie all that together, the next modern-day Patriot, Eli Bradley, is Isaiah's grandson.)

ANTONIO: I’ve never read Truth.  Heard good things, though.  Also, I can’t see Cap not going to a gay friend’s funeral as anyone else.  Especially if the government told him he couldn’t.

BEN:  He’d go as The Captain at least, or Nomad.  “This funeral is a job for Nomad!”

DUY: We’ve gotten hints before of a bigger shared universe – the supersoldier serum and the Tony appearance in Incredible Hulk, the Stark reference by Coulson in Thor, and Cap’s shield in Iron Man 2.  But this is, I think, the biggest one yet – the fact that Cap’s serum was worked on by Tony Stark’s dad.

LAMAR: Hell, Cap himself was the Incredible Hulk.

MATT: The Cap movies, as a whole, are probably the strongest single character stories.  Particularly what I like is that each is a different genre movie done well (Civil War is definitely the weakest).  This is, as I stated before, an excellent WWII buddy action movie romp.  I think it shows in our comments that we are basically quibbling around the edges of a strong movie.  I say we fight about Best Supporting Actor.  Peggy?  Bucky?  Both?

JD: Haley Atwell or Stanley Tucci.  For me it’s a tossup.  But I would lean towards Tucci.  That scene with the drinks is 10/10.

BEN: Haley is the only Marvel supporting actor that I prayed would get her own spinoff series (and she did) so her by far.  But Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones were pretty great.

SAMANTHA: I was torn between the Tooch and Haley until I said it out loud.  It’s gotta be Peggy.  She’s Cap’s best girl, his ride or die – she was on his side from the beginning and saw who he was before anyone else had.

BEN: Dominic Cooper was great as Tony’s crazy old man.  I love that he probably taunted Tony for his entire life with Steve Roger’s comparisons.  “Cap would never lie about sneaking out of the house, Tony.”

SAMANTHA: The tension between them later wouldn’t have meant as much without the psychological damage endured by little Tony?  That’s kinda sad.

DUY: It’s Peggy.  How is it even anyone else?

BEN: I guess the harder question is, was this the best cast as a whole so far?

SAMANTHA: Almost, but no Coulson.  Nothing captured my heart faster than watching his cool, collected demeanor crack as soon as Cap was in the same room with him.

BEN: I think this is the best cast because of the criminally underused Howling Commandos alone.

DUY: This is the best cast so far, yes.  And for whatever it’s worth, Cap’s Howling Commandos blow Wonder Woman’s Howling Commando wannabes out of the water.

BEN: And seemed a little less “calculated.”

DUY: Well, considering Wonder Woman’s troops are all playing stereotypes… (I love Wonder Woman, but that's something no one ever talks about with that movie).

Was this the best cast as a whole so far? -Ben

BEN: What comic recommendations do we have for Captain America?

DUY: I’ve already said Truth and Patriot.  I think my biggest Cap-related recommendation, though it’s not gonna be set in wartime or have the same tone, really, is Roger Stern and John Byrne’s run, entitled “War and Remembrance.”  That in eight issues gets the essence of Captain America, the earnestness and the awesomeness.

TRAVIS: Operation Rebirth has my favorite Cap story anywhere (Sanctuary) and Waid and Garney just kill that whole run that this collects.

JD: I love Brubaker’s entire run.  I even loved Reborn.  There’s a couple moments in it that I really nerd out for.

JEFF: I love Operation Rebirth as well, including the story collected in the same trade, Man Without a Country, an overlooked Waid/Garney gem.  I love the exchange between Steve and Doom in this story.  Justice is served, Cap going after the Scourge of the underwold who has been killing off villains.  Marvel Fanfare #18, this is a story that feels like it belongs in the War and Remembrance trade with Cap tracking down a group of arsonists.  And, Man out of Time is a good read looking at Steve dealing with waking up decades after the war had ended and Bucky’s “death” and with the end to the First Avenger this is a nice story to pick up.  Captain America #454 is one of my favorites with Cap taking on an army on his own.

TRAVIS: That is, hands down, my favorite Cap story.  Him refusing to board unless they take all the slaves who’re also under fire is a beautiful moment.  Cap, being chased and fired upon, just freeing people as the goes… put that in a movie.  That’s Cap to me, and I think, for me, the Cap of this movie, much more than, for example, Civil War Cap (movie or comic).  The guy who throws himself on the grenade.

DUY: “Get them to safety.  Meanwhile, I’ll hold off the army.”  Then he does!

JEFF: I think if I read that issue again I’m going to have the main theme music from this movie in my head.

BEN: Since I’m pretty sure Evans wins our “Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday” award for best performance, I’ll ask, who has done the best acting job in these first five movies between Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Robert Downey Jr? I really want to say Evans, but I think that would be taking RDJ for granted too much.

JD: I’ll say RDJ as well.  For Cap and Thor, I think the heavy lifting is in the writing and directing.  It takes some acting chops to make Tony Stark that likable.

MATT: Yeah, I think RDJ as well.  This is based solely on how much I loathe Iron Man as a character and that first movie, man, I liked him.  No matter how much I try not to.  I like Cap and know some crazy Norse mythos stories, so they had an easier sell.  I’m willing to bet RDJ would be Duy’s huckleberry.

DUY: I think they all have a high degree of difficulty, but I’m gonna have to give it to RDJ.  Hemsworth had to walk a fine line between taking himself too seriously or not seriously enough.  Evans’ performance gets better in the context of what comes after, but we’re judging it just by these five movies so far.  RDJ had to hook you, and he did hook you.

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