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Countdown to Civil War, Is ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ (2011) – Best MCU Origin Story?

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With Captain America: Civil War less than a month away, let’s looks the debut of Captain America in The First Avenger.

While Iron Man started the foundation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America may be its most solid franchise to date if the early reviews of Civil War are any indication. Captain America: The First Avenger stars Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, a wholesome, patriotic, brave and proud everyman who wants to sign up to fight the Nazis in World War II. Unfortunately, his physical and health problems render him unfit for military service after trying numerous times.

An opportunity arises in the form of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who allows Rogers to enlist. Within a field of recruits, Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) pulls the pin and throws a grenade in front of them.  While the other recruits scramble for cover, Rogers hops on the grenade to shield everyone else from the incoming blast. When the grenade was revealed to be dummy, Rogers is selected as the candidate for Erskine’s super soldier experiment.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) - Chris Evans
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – Chris Evans

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The experiment bulks Rogers up giving him superhuman abilities with strength and stamina. Following its success, disaster strikes as a spy from H.Y.D.R.A., a secret organization in collaboration with the Nazis, infiltrates the lab and steals secrets about the super soldier formula shooting Erskine down in the process. Rogers is able to stop the spy before he was able to flee the city.

Branded as Captain America, Rogers becomes a performer to raise morale of the troops on stage. Unhappy with his role, Rogers takes charge on the European front after finding out his best friend Sgt. James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is MIA while fighting Johann Schmidt’s (Hugo Weaving) forces of H.Y.D.R.A.

The film, unlike other Marvel origin stories, completely takes place in the 1940s and is the final film in the MCU leading up to The Avengers. It’s filled with a strong supporting cast with Haley Atwell as British agent Peggy Carter, Weaving, Stan, Jones, and Tucci. Atwell plays Peggy beyond just Cap’s love interest. Her desire for duty and serving in the face of adversity in a patriarchal society draws Cap given how much he had to fight for getting to where he’s at now. Tucci and Jones make the most of their minor roles providing a veteran presence.

Weaving provides an ideal foil for Cap as the Red Skull. It’s a shame how the film wrapped the Red Skull character up; his scientist collaborator Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) did end up having a presence in later films.

The film was directed by Joe Johnston, who’s no stranger to blockbusters with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer, and Jurassic Park III. Johnston’s prior success with The Rocketeer helped him particularly with the film, and there’s a clear linear similarity. It was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Both have previously written The Chronicles of Narnia film franchise and became a staple on the MCU on both Captain America sequels, the TV series spinoff Agent Carter starring Atwell, and Thor: The Dark World.

For all the special effects and abilities of the superheroes within the films, credit not only goes to the directing and writing, but how well Evans pulls off Cap. While Evans plays the character as straight and narrow as can be, the films works because the heart he shows throughout. Despite all the enhancements, the chaos around him and struggles, he’s just an everyman trying to do what’s right and that’s why he resonates so well. Not bad for the former Human Torch.

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Tom Chang
Sci-fi and technology geek since the NES days, Tom loves everything from the cult classics, the contemporary hits to the beast with two backs that is Disney and Marvel. His life's mission is to be the ultimate nerd savant sitting on the iron throne as CEO of Skynet while masquerading as a vigilante at night wearing hockey pads.
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