Flashback: ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’

Before The Avengers would assemble, audiences were introduced to perhaps the team’s most crucial member…

Chris Evans leads as Steve Rogers/Captain America in director Joe Johnston’s ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ (image credit: Disney/Marvel Studios).

Year:  2011

Starring:  Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Samuel L. Jackson

Directed by:  Joe Johnston / written by:  Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Captain America created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby)

What’s it about?

Rejected from enlisting in the U.S. Army, Steve Rogers, a physically weak but strong spirited young man from Brooklyn is recruited for a secret programme that will see him transformed into the ‘Super Soldier’ Captain America, to lead the fight against the forces of Hydra…


In July of 2011, Marvel Studios edged closer to the culmination of ‘Phase One’ of its plans for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it approached The Avengers, with the release of Captain America: The First Avenger introducing audiences to Steve Rogers/Captain America, the classic Marvel hero who will be the keystone of the eponymous comic book superhero team.

Directed by Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Jurassic Park III), and starring Chris Evans, Captain America: The First Avenger is predominantly a period piece bookended by scenes taking place in modern day.  The bulk of the narrative unfolds at the height of World War II, where Steve Rogers (Evans), a physically diminutive but noble spirited young man from Brooklyn, repeatedly refused enlistment in the U.S. Army, is selected for a top-secret programme where an experimental serum transforms him into the tall, muscular and agile Super Soldier ‘Captain America’ who will lead the fight against Nazi lieutenant Johann Schmidt – aka ‘The Red Skull’ (The Matrix trilogy’s Hugo Weaving) – and the forces of Hydra as they seek to unlock the powers of a mysterious and powerful artefact known as the Tesseract.

The casting of Chris Evans in the lead role may not have seemed an obvious one (even though he was a highlight of 20th Century Fox’s not-so-great Fantastic Four films, where he played The Human Torch) but any fears where quickly allayed with an instantly likeable and grounded performance as Steve Rogers, prior and post-transformation and it’s now difficult to imagine anyone else playing the role.  It helps that writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely provide Rogers with a strong character arc, from the frustrated underdog and determined recruit to subsequent propaganda performer (the stage shows and movie serials with accompanying costume providing nostalgic homages to the history of Marvel’s ‘Star-Spangled Man’) and his eventual first real mission as Captain America, it affords Evans with rich material to invest in.  Kudos also must be given to costume designer Anna B. Sheppard as Cap’s World War II battlefield uniform is a standout example of creating something that is both faithful and unique and looks great onscreen.  The use of doubles and digital effects trickery also proves convincing in presenting viewers with the smaller and more slight pre-serum Rogers.

Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull, one of the MCU’s more memorable villains (image credit: Disney/Marvel Studios).

Evans is ably supported by Sebastian Stan, making his first appearance as Steve Rogers’ best friend James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (later to become the Hydra-conditioned assassin known as The Winter Soldier) but it’s undoubtedly the superb Hayley Atwell who proves his equal as the no-nonsense and dutiful British Agent Peggy Carter.  Evans and Atwell have wonderful chemistry and Carter is a great addition to the MCU, so it’s little wonder that Atwell would reprise here role in subsequent films and earn her own short-lived tv series (the sorely overlooked Agent Carter).  As the main antagonist, Hugo Weaving (who had previously worked with Joe Johnston on Universal Monster remake The Wolf Man) effortlessly delivers one of the MCU’s more memorable villains as the iconic Red Skull.

The cast is rounded out impressively with the participation of Oscar Winner Tommy Lee Jones (earning the prestigious award for Best Supporting Actor in The Fugitive) as Colonel Phillips, Stanley Tucci as the Super Soldier serum’s creator Dr. Abraham Erskine (who also has a great rapport with Chris Evans, with some great character-building scenes between the two), Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark (father of future Iron Man, Tony Stark), Neal McDonough as “Dum Dum” Dugan (one of the infamous “Howling Commandos”) and Toby Jones as Hydra scientist Dr. Arnim Zola.  Lest us also not forget that there’s another enjoyable cameo from late Marvel Comics legend, Stan Lee as well as an appearance from Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

Much like he demonstrated on The Rocketeer, Joe Johnston balances story, character and action brilliantly, weaving touches of Raiders of the Lost Ark into the nostalgic and adventurous fantasy period piece.  Of the film’s action set-pieces, they are numerous (and enhanced by Predator and The Abyss composer Alan Silvestri’s music score) and expertly staged, whether it’s Rogers’ rescue of imprisoned soldiers from the clutches of Hydra or the tense and gripping flying-wing finale.  Said finale of course sees Captain Rogers attempting the ultimate sacrifice to save the free world from annihilation.  Luckily, he is frozen deep in ice, to be discovered and revived in present day, leading to a poignant dénouement that paves the way for Marvel’s expanding film and television universe.

Captain America: The First Avenger is an underrated early effort from Marvel Studios that firmly establishes Marvel’s Golden Age hero and puts the final pieces in place before unleashing their ambitious and highly anticipated team-up, The Avengers.

Geek fact!

Actress Laura Haddock, later to play Peter ‘Star Lord’ Quill’s mother in Guardians of the Galaxy makes a brief appearance in The First Avenger as an autograph seeking admirer of Captain America.  Subsequent Doctor Who companion Jenna Coleman can also be seen in a small role as Bucky’s date at the Stark Expo.

All images herein remain the property of the copyright owners and are used for illustrative purposes only.

10 thoughts on “Flashback: ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’

  1. Great read as always, bought back many an enjoyable memory of this Phase One classic!
    Have to admit as well that Captain America is one of, if not my favourite of all the avengers films so far! I think it has true depth and heart thanks to Chris Evans’ character, plus overall it’s just a very likeable film! It has it all!
    Can’t believe it was directed by the same chap behind JP3 too! Which although I haven’t seen, (JP3) I’ve heard enough to avoid it like the plague!!
    Awesome post!!!

    • Thanks for reading Alex, glad you enjoyed the post. Growing up reading comics, Iron Man was my favourite Marvel character but in terms of the MCU I feel that the Captain America films are some of the strongest and The First Avenger is a good start to a consistently solid trilogy. Chris Evans is of course a big part of that.

      Oh, and JP3 isn’t that bad, it’s worth a look (bear in mind it is the weakest Jurassic Park film though) and don’t forget Johnston also directed The Rocketeer, which is great.

  2. Captain America The First Avenger is a really good film and retelling of Cap’s origin. Its very underrated, the story is well crafted, and its a really good action adventure.

  3. I think the first half of this film is absolutely great. When Steve gets the serum, I think it dissolves a little too far into generic action territory, but it was still mostly entertaining in spite of that. Good review.

  4. It’s been so long since I’ve seen it and never got around to properly rewatching it. It’ll probably be one of my future projects once I’ll have properly reviewed all of the older DC movies hahah Although, with your review, it did refresh my memory and I do recall many of the great moments in this movie. It’s amazing how much Cap changes over the course of the MCU until Endgame. In fact, what do you think about Disney/Marvel bring back Chris Evans to reprise his role in future movies (probably more in Captain America 4)? Will he become a mentor of some kind? Or just be used in some kind of flashback sequences? 😮 That being said, great retrospective review, my friend! I didn’t connect the dots between Rocketeer and Captain America: The First Avenger until now hahah

    • The First Avenger definitely deserves more appreciation, whilst The Winter Soldier is one of the absolute best MCU entries I still think this is a great introduction for Chris Evans as Cap.

      I’m not opposed to Evans returning (and they certainly need to address what’s going in with old man Steve) but for the most part I’d say his story is done. That’s the thing about the MCU, whereas characters continue in the comics we’re obviously not going to see that in the films as time passes.

  5. As always a well written retrospective on an underappreciated gem from the MCU. There’s so much to love about the first Cap movie and Marvel Studios made the right choice not only with Evans’ casting but with the director given his creds, especially his underrated classic The Rocketeer.

    It would great to see Evans return, being that there are so many great Captain America stories yet untouched by the MCU, but it has to be for a solid reason. In other words, a spectacular script, the Russo Bros. returning, and Marvel Studios’ top people. But at this point, the best we will get is probably an extended cameo with Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) carrying the torch of the legacy of Captain America. And that will do!

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