CAPTAIN AMERICA @10
CAPTAIN AMERICA @10
Ten years to the day since Chris Evans' Captain America first saluted the big screen, David Black considers the trajectory of the shield-slinging Avenger.
Ten years ago, the Marvel Cinematic Universe brought the star-spangled Avenger to the big screen and Steve Rogers' journey from principled weakling to supersoldier echoes that of Marvel Studios itself. The studio's fifth film could have defrosted Rogers at the beginning and continued with only perfunctory nods to how he got there. Instead, it eschewed the existing formula and was instead a largely standalone period film which replicated World War Two New York in 21st-century Manchester. It was a gamble and it paid off in spades.
The most important factor to get right was the casting of Cap himself and a former Human Torch for Fox's Fantastic Four movies might seem a surprising choice, but Chris Evans plays the role with a humility and a vulnerability that makes it impossible to imagine anyone else in the role for this movie.
The key to his success is that the pre-super serum 'Skinny Steve' is a fully realised three-dimensional character in his own right. The first act of Captain America: The First Avenger establishes that the serum that created the supersoldier is only part of his appeal. Steve's morality is his greatest asset. Just as 'Skinny Steve' couldn't hope to win in a alley fight, but fought it anyway. Cap was never a match for Loki, Ultron or Thanos, but the key is that he didn't let that stop him stepping up. Standing up for what's right is despite the odds is what makes him a supersoldier.
This gives weight to the frustrations of the post-op poster boy performing in shows to entertain the home front and the western front alike. Ironically for such a by-the-book hero, Steve Rogers doesn't really become Captain America until he abandons his post, defies orders and rescues Bucky and a hundred captured soldiers. It is also this that finally wins the heart of Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter. Rogers' icy sacrifice and subsequent thawing, robs him of any reward for his efforts.
Rogers is far more than merely the First Avenger, he is the lynchpin of the MCU's Avengers Initiative. With the Avengers assembled, it is Cap that unites them, despite tensions between him and the other potential candidate, Tony Stark. The man from yesteryear has his comedic culture clash with the new century, but has lost none of what made him the man of the hour 70 years earlier.
Sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier ups the frenetic action, which plays to Evans' balletic and gymnastic strengths, but also sees a shift in tone as Hydra are now presented as an insidious secret force rather than Red Skull's army. Warcraft has given way to spycraft for a more intelligence driven age. The sequel pairs this most honest of superheroes with Black Widow who lies for a living and also with Peggy Carter's niece, Sharon for some creepy flirting. The Winter Soldier tops many lists of the MCU's best films, but its greatest impact is on Rogers himself. It cements his friendship with Anthony Mackie's Falcon and ultimately undermines his trust in authority.
The film would have a effect on the franchise as S.H.I.E.L.D. became Hydra had obvious consequences for the fledgling Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series sat this point in its first season. They went from being backed by Government to being on the run from them and with a spy in their midst. The Winter Soldier gave the show a fundamentally new dynamic that was a real shot in the arm and certainly a factor in its longevity. Sticking with TV, Agent Carter got her own show due to Atwell's wonderful breakout performance in The First Avenger. She was a woman in a man's world but the narrative showed that Steve Rogers was a hard act to follow. The film also brilliantly makes the case for a Howling Commandos TV Show that has yet to materialise.
The relationship between Rogers and Stark continues to deteriorate in Avengers: Age of Ultron, leading to their taking opposite sides in Captain America: Civil War's contractual dispute turned violent. Cap loses Peggy again and lies to Stark, something that would have been unthinkable a couple of films ago. Rogers and Stark never meet in Avengers: Infinity War, but both spend the film attempting to emulate the other, with disastrous consequences. While Avengers: Endgame puts their relationship back on track and gives the man out of time a second chance at everything he loses in previous films, but the price is that he passes the mantle of Captain America to Falcon.
Falcon's attempts to assume the Captaincy are shown in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier. Steve Rogers believed in them both, but they struggle to believe in each other. On paper, US Agent is the perfect replacement for Rogers, but in reality he is far more concerned with the results than how they are achieved. He is far more of a shade of grey than of red, white and blue. US Agent forces Falcon to assert himself in the role of Captain America. Mackie is due to graduate to playing the role in a forthcoming fourth Captain America movie. While Peggy Carter will become a supersoldier herself in an upcoming episode of What If? and Chris Evans is also reportedly in talks to return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in another separate film.
“Truth, justice and the American way” may be Superman's line, but it applies far better to Cap. Chris Evans' performance came to embody everything that America aspired to be.