Dear Captain America: The First Avenger,
First things first; you have restored my faith in the possibility of a good film coming out of the shared universe being created by Marvel Studios. In the past I may have said that the attempt to meld an overarching, multi-movie meta-narrative out of the Avengers would only result in a string of inferior stand alone movies. Thor, while fun, seemed like a harbinger of failures to come with its SHIELD-related tangents, and Green Lantern seemed to be heralding the coming end of new quality super hero properties in general. The future looked dim, and I was ready to give up on any future non-Nolan comic book movies.
Then, like a shot, you came out of nowhere and exceeded my expectations, shattering my skepticism. You rode in on an old Victory motorcycle, brandishing a Browning pistol, and espousing the kind of old-fashioned, rollicking charm and ideals that bring a smile to even my jaded face. With a perfect mix of action, humor, romance, grandeur and classic American heroism you create an experience like the rascally lovechild of Indiana Jones, The Rocketeer, and The Dirty Dozen.
How exactly did you succeed so thoroughly where others failed? Well for one thing you know how to tell a story, and also understand that even if a film is part of a greater whole, it should still be able to stand on its own two legs. You don’t bungle simple exposition or allow outside-narrative world building to get in the way of simple, straightforward storytelling.
It is 1942, and Steve Rogers is a weak, sickly, incapable young man who is trying to get into the military. On his sixth attempt he is hand selected by an expatriate German doctor working for the US military to be part of a special program that will create an army of super soldiers to help battle a new threat rising out of the Third Reich. Hydra, Hitler’s occult weapons research wing – just go with it – has gotten its hand on an item of infinite power which will allow it to bring the world under its control. When a Hydra agent destroys the lab that will produce these super soldiers shortly after Rogers is turned from a zero to a hero, Rogers is the only one who can save the world.
Except at first no one knows that, and in fact no one is sure what to do with him. The concept of a one-man army is lost on military leaders, and with the super soldiers project irreparably damaged, Rogers is brought to the forefront of the domestic war effort. He is turned into a propaganda piece, given the title of Captain America and made to advertise war bonds. The small fulfillment he feels from this gig is shattered, however, when he travels with the USO to the Italian front and finally gets a taste of real battle.
Needless to say from there you turn into a tale of daring-do against the forces of evil, but what is really special is the way in which you approach this whole story arc, especially in respect to your underlying themes of selflessness, heroism, and duty. Rogers, as portrayed by Chris Evans, is a pure hero from start to finish. He never backs down and remains steadfast in his commitment to his ideals of protecting the weak and standing up to the bullies of the world. He wears his ideological heart on his sleeve, and never once wavers from this course of righteousness. Above all, he is one of the most organically and passionately pro-American characters on film in quite some time, and yet his love of country comes from the USA’s alignment with his own ideals rather than blind patriotism. This makes his christening as and acceptance of his monicker all the more meaningful. It is rare for a film to focus favorably on someone who is so pure and earnest, especially when that earnestness transmutes into patriotism, and that he never becomes a caricature is a compliment to Evans talent and your tone in general.
A great asset in helping to ground and bolster Rogers’ patriotic purity is the villain he is set again; Red Skull and his Hydra army. When your hero is a Hollywood Golden Age staple such as a Rogers – a movie-star-handsome super soldier soaked in gee-shucks down to earth American idealism – the only suitable enemy really is a man who thinks that Hitler isn’t evil or ambitious enough. Hugo Weaving sinks his teeth into the role, affecting a menace and narcissism that perfectly suits an uber-Nazi without going over the top. After all, he already has a bare red skull with no nose and a German accent, we don’t need much more to convince us of his nefarious intent.
The technical aspects of your production also deserve praise. You are steeped in a sepia-hued palette that brings to mind the hand-drawn posters of old school action-adventure films. Your production design is art deco retro modernism that feels fresh and timeless and full of wonder. Your buildings have secret doorways that lead to massive underground labs filled with blinking control panels and busy scientists. Your wartime set pieces are outlined in the kind of gung-ho style that used to entertain me for hours as a child while watching the likes of Indiana Jones. You embrace the stylized roots of your comic book and Saturday afternoon serial origins with the same enthusiasm that you embrace the patriotic, ideological comic book roots that make up your themes. Everything about you is energetic earnestness and full throttle fun. You deploy humor and action with equal affect and never wink at the audience.
A long time ago, super hero movies were a rarity. In recent years, super hero movies have become common, but truly great super hero movies have entered into the minority. Luckily for anyone in the mood for an unapologetically forthright, earnest, good-natured and – most importantly – fun time at the movies, you are one of those rare films.
I salute you.
Until we meet again,
Brian J. Roan