Captain America: The First Avenger, is perhaps the best of the films featuring characters from the Marvel Universe. This film is a great war film, an accurate-feeling period piece, a caring romance flick, and a superb superhero epic. It is also turning out to be a blockbuster at the box office. Unless you have been living under a Cosmic Cube lately, you probably know that this movie is the latest in Marvel’s lead-up to the 2012 release of The Avengers movie, which will feature an assemblage of the most powerful figures in the Marvel Universe (and in Marvel Studios productions).
In many ways, no Avengers movie can happen without a full understanding by the movie public as to who and what Captain America is, and is not. The Captain America we meet in this movie is a normal guy named Steve Roger. This guy is not some powerful god, he is not a tech-savvy billionaire playboy, or some cosmic-powered alien from another planet. He was not born with any mutant powers, and he is not gifted with an alien artifact and told to go save the universe. What he is, though, is a man with heart and with guts, a good, decent, patriotic man who prefers to see the good in the world, but is more than willing to stand up to the bad in the world, whether it be in the form of standing up to a street-wise bully, or standing up to Hitler and his evil cronies. The Captain America portrayed by actor Chris Evans starts out as a scrawny, skinny, runt declared “4F“by the Army. Steve Rogers wants to serve his country and stand up to the Nazis, but the Army declared him physically unfit to serve. Chosen by a wise immigrant scientist to take part in an experiment to create a Super Soldier, Rogers undergoes an amazing transformation. Without giving away too much here, let’s just say that the origin story presented in the film pretty closely matches the “real" origin story of Captain America as originally presented in Captain America Comics in 1941. The skinny runt turns into an athlete with the physique of an Apollo, uses his new-found physical prowess to take down a murderous Nazi spy, and then goes on to become Captain America.
The true believers out there who are steeped in comic lore (like myself) will love the movie for its attention to the overall spirit (and quite a few of the details) found in the original Captain America source code (the comics themselves). But, this IS a Hollywood (specifically, a Disney) release, and some alterations in the Marvel Universe canon took place. But even to a life-long Cap fan, these alterations appeared seamless and fit within the overall rubric of the story that Marvel is trying to tell with these pre-Avengers films.
The movie differs from Marvel continuity and canon in a few ways. (Note: Spoilers down below. Watch your step)
1. In Marvel canon, Captain America’s sidekick is a kid named Bucky Barnes, who discovers that Steve Rogers is secretly Captain America, and basically blackmails Cap into letting him serve as his sidekick. In the film, Bucky is an adult about the same age as Steve Rogers, and they are old pals who grew up together in Brooklyn. In the film, Bucky is one of the Howling Commandos, and does not wear a costume as in the comics, but a regular army uniform. Actually, this is a more realistic depiction of what Bucky should have been than the original in the comics. And actor Sebastian Stan does a pretty good job of playing Bucky Barnes.
2. Staying on the Bucky theme, all true Cap fans know what happened to Bucky in the end. It was not pretty in the comics, and what happened to Bucky changed Cap in terms of his feelings of guilt and remorse and a sense that he could have done more. The nature of Bucky’s end in the film is different, with Bucky not dying in the final rocket ship/doomsday weapon scene, but by falling off of a train somewhere in the mountains. Still, this sets up a possible future film story where Bucky comes back as the Winter Soldier (one of the best Cap comic book story lines of the recent past by the way). The film could have shown more of Captain America’s emotional grief at the death of his best friend, but perhaps we will see more of that referenced in the Avengers movie.
3. Perhaps the biggest deviation from the comic canon is who the bad guy is who launches the weapon that ends Cap’s (and Bucky’s, in the books) World War Two career. In the 1964 retcon (retroactive continuity) as written by Stan Lee (who has a brief cameo in the movie), Captain America and Bucky were believed killed in action while disarming a super-weapon launched by Nazi scientist and all-around bad guy Baron Zemo. In the movie, there is no Zemo, but we do have Cap’s other main nemesis, the evil and nefarious Red Skull. Again, this change fits into the movie well, and realistically, having both the Skull and Zemo in the film (plus the evil genius Arnim Zola), would be too much.
4. HYDRA is, in the comics, a terrorist organization seeking world domination led by Nazi Baron Strucker. In the movie, it is the Red Skull. Again, it makes sense for this movie.
5. The Howling Commandos in the comics were led by Sergeant Nick Fury, and would occasionally team up with Captain America. The movie version has the Howling Commandos as Cap’s idea and Cap’s team. No Nick Fury showing up in World War Two in this version. Just as well, as he is a prominent figure in the current pre-Avengers movie line.
Other nice touches to the film include the connection to the recent Thor film with the use of the Cosmic Cube and the interesting things it shows when handled carelessly. The surprisingly major role of Howard Stark (father of Tony Stark/Iron Man), makes the connection to the Iron Man movies, and, I suspect, the blood drawn from the post-experiment Steve Rogers is connected to the super-soldier serum given to Emil Blonsky/Abomination in the second Hulk movie. And, of course, we once again see Colonel Nick Fury at the end of the movie, who serves as the tie-in to the formation of the Avengers (in May of 2012). As usual with recent Marvel films, fans will want to wait for the end of the credits to see the last scene related to the next movie.
Pickiness aside, the changes in the movie from the comic lore all seem to fit. Again, this is a great movie. The romance (such as it is) between Rogers and Peggy Carter is almost an innocent (and definitely chaste) affair, and given Rogers’ background, it makes sense. And it fits the overall sense that this movie is truly set in the 1940s. Many of the movies of that era never even hinted at actual sex between unmarried adults, and in that regard, this movie feels like a true period piece. The patriotic fervor of the times is captured quite well, as is the clothing, dialogue, and the music of the times.
Captain America: The First Avenger is a fun, absorbing movie that neatly sets the table for next year’s Avengers movie. I will likely see Captain America again, and when I do, I plan on adding an addendum to this review with any other points I may pick up. Go see it.