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…

Retrospective/review

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.

TV Review: Marvel’s ‘Agent Carter’ S2 EP1 “The Lady in the Lake” – SEASON PREMIERE

Starring:  Hayley Atwell, James D’Arcy, Enver Gjovak, Chad Michael Murray, Bridget Regan, Wynn Everett

Series created by:  Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely

Written by:  Brant Englestein / Episode directed by:  Lawrence Tilling / aired in the UK  : 28/01/2016

What’s this episode about?

SSR Agent Peggy Carter is transferred to Los Angeles where she’s reunited with old friends and faces a new mystery…

Episode review

With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on its State-side mid-season break, Marvel’s second network television series returns to fill the gap.  Since Agent Peggy Carter’s introduction in Marvel Studios’ Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), actress Hayley Atwell has been able to forge a likeable and important screen presence with numerous subsequent appearances in episodes of Marvel’s first small screen spin-off, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (courtesy of flashback sequences) as well as big screen hits Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and Ant-Man (2015) helping to develop connective strands woven through the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Given the overwhelmingly positive reception of the Agent Carter ‘Marvel One Shot’ short included in the Iron Man Three blu-ray release it was no surprise that Atwell would subsequently land her own series.  Over its eight episodes the first season of Marvel’s Agent Carter proved to be a successful mix that was thrilling, fun and funny.  The season 2 premiere (which aired together with episode 2 in the U.S.) sees Peggy transferred to the newly established L.A. division of the SSR by disgruntled Chief Jack Thompson (Murray), not wanting to be outshone by Carter whose struggles to prove her worth as a skilled and competent agent in a male dominated environment were explored last season.  The breaking point for Thompson comes when Carter aides in the capture and interrogation of Black Widow assassin Dottie Underwood (seemingly tying up lose threads from last season?  That may not be the case?).  These chain of events allow for an action packed opening and for Atwell to stretch her acting chops in some well-played scenes between Carter, Underwood (a returning Bridget Regan once again providing the right level of cool and unhinged femme fatale villainy) and Thompson.

Gladly, Carter arrives in L.A. to be reunited with Howard Stark’s faithful (albeit suffering) butler Edwin Jarvis, bringing back together the exceptional team of Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy that was a one of season 1’s most successful elements.  D’Arcy is pitch perfect in the role of Jarvis and deftly infuses the character with doses of British stiff upper lip as he bemoans of the glitz and glam of the Hollywood lifestyle and the obsessions and demands of his master.  Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark may himself be absent from this episode but his presence is certainly felt as Jarvis grapples with the latest addition to Stark’s menagerie…a pink flamingo that refuses to co-operate!

There’s some unease when Carter confronts her new chief, Daniel Sousa (Dollhouse’s Enver Gjovak) given hints of a blossoming romance at the end of last season but both soon re-establish their camaraderie as the SSR investigates the corpse of a mysterious women, frozen in a lake (during an L.A. heatwave no-less) and how it may tie to actress Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett), the LAPD and a radioactive isotope being manufactured by shady corporation Isodyne Energy.

The move to L.A. provides the series with a fresh start that’s welcoming to new viewers and once again the recreation of post-War 1940s is well-presented via costume and production design (aided by the peppering of some period stock footage).  Brant Englestein’s script serves well as a reintroduction to the main characters and a taster for this season’s storyline along with some neat twists (and a surprising connection to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and the odd easter egg for die hard Marvel Comics fans.

The bottom line:  Peggy Carter is back in a fun and tantalising opening for Agent Carter’s second season.

Marvel’s Agent Carter airs in the UK Thursday evenings on Fox.  U.S. viewers can catch it on ABC.

What did you think of the ‘Agent Carter’ season premiere?  Share your thoughts below!

Hayley Atwell returns as Peggy Carter in Marvel's 'Agent Carter'.

Hayley Atwell returns as Peggy Carter in Marvel’s ‘Agent Carter’.