Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Recap: "Captain America: The First Avenger" Part 1: The American Dream

So let's ignore the fact that "The First Avenger" would logically be the first guy Nick Fury recruited. You know, Iron Man. Or the fact that you could even say the first guy with a movie would be the First Avenger. So... still Iron Man.

Looks like Cap's got some expectations to live up to with such a claim in the very title.

Hopefully, the red and the white and the blue will come through.
The movie opens in the far North. The wind howls, the snow falls, and some bundled-up guys from S.H.I.E.L.D. meet with a bundled-up guy working at some kind of Arctic excavation. As he explains to his S.H.I.E.L.D. visitors, some Russians called it in about eighteen hours ago. There’s something in the ice.

As they approach the metallic behemoth, it first appears as though Wilford Brimley has been building flying saucers in the ice again. But when their plasma cutter makes a hole in the top, it becomes very clear that this craft was manmade.

Some men descend into the icily preserved interior of the hull, and they find something near the pilot’s seat. Something once thought lost forever.

A certain something that, when thrown, causes all those who chose to oppose it to yield.
Now, The Incredible Hulk was actually going to feature a cameo of Captain America in a deleted opening scene where Bruce Banner tried to kill himself in the arctic. But the scene was cut, most likely because it was a bit morbid. Or possibly so they could have a bit of freedom with wherever they ended up sticking Cap's frozen body.

One Cap-cicle, extra frosty.
Anyway, we then cut to T√łnsberg, Norway, in its second appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first time we saw it, back in Thor, the Asgardians were busy fighting Frost Giants. The date is March, 1942. The Frost Giants are gone, but there’s still fighting. The Nazis are invading.

A young man rushes to a tower to warn the tower’s keeper, who I’m going to call Filch for no other reason than he’s played by David Bradley.

Because it was either that or referencing the time he played a suspected murderer/pedophile in Broadchurch.
As was sadly often the case during World War II, the Nazis soon arrive. They knock down a wall of the building with a battering ram and rush in to attempt to pry the lid off of some kind of stone sarcophagus. “Try” being the operative word. They get nowhere very quickly, so their boss comes in to do it himself.
Let me get something straight about Nazis.

Their philosophy was racist garbage.

Their methods were inhumane.

Their goals were abominable.

But those evil sons-of-bitches had style.

And this is exemplified when the Head Nazi Bastard enters in his best Hugo Boss, like a boss, with more spotlights shining on him than a Spielberg movie. He walks over to commend Filch for keeping this place hidden for so long, and the proper lighting reveals that he’s played by none other than the villain in pretty much everything ever, Hugo Weaving.

Head Nazi Bastard: “What others see as superstition, you and I know to be a science.”

"You know as well as I do the power stepping on a crack holds."
Filch: “What you seek is just a legend."
Head Nazi Bastard: “Then why make such an effort to conceal it?”

The bastard effortlessly pushes the lid off the sarcophagus, showing us that there is perhaps more to this guy than meets the eye. Wouldn’t be the first time for Hugo Weaving.

He picks up a beautiful crystal cube from the cold, dead hands of the skeleton inside.

Head Nazi Bastard: “The Tesseract was the jewel of Odin’s treasure room.”

Well, if he liked it so much, why did he stick it on Earth?

Maybe he had to make room for his new stuff.
The Head Nazi Bastard drops the cube against the floor, shattering it. He knows a fake when he sees one.

The fact that it wasn't being all weird and 4-D was probably a giveaway.
In classic Nazi fashion, he threatens the lives of the rest of the village unless Filch reveals the whereabouts of the true Tesseract. And Filch’s eyes betray him. The HNB follows his gaze to a relief of Yggdrasil, the World Tree which Norse mythology states surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the Nine Realms together. HNB finds a hidden button in the carving, revealing a secret compartment containing….

Marcellus Wallace's soul, apparently.
HNB: “And the Fuhrer digs for trinkets in the desert….”

So… he’s digging in the wrong place?

I wouldn't exactly call this a "trinket," either....
Concluding his visit in true Nazi fashion, the Head Nazi Bastard orders his men to raze the village anyway. And he shoots Filch for good measure. Because he really is that evil.

Over in New York City, a skinny weakling named Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans, is getting a physical so he can be in the army. You know, do his parents proud. Like many superheroes, Steve here is an orphan. His dad died in the Great War and his mom got tuberculosis while caring for tuberculosis patients. Funny how that works.
Clearly, she hadn't had enough blood letting performed on her.
Unfortunately, due to Steve’s laundry list of health issues, including asthma, heart trouble, and sinusitis, Steve gets marked unfit for duty with a stamp of 4F.

Man, "4F" is always giving Chris Evans trouble.
Steve is saddened by the news, but he’ll probably get over it. All he needs to do is get his mind off of the war in Europe. To occupy his time, he goes to the theatre… which is currently showing a newsreel about the war in Europe.

Narrator: “Every able-bodied young man is lining up to serve his country!”

Salt in the wound, there.

A heckler starts yelling at the projectionist to just play the dang movie already. Steve isn’t going to take such an insult to the troops lying down, so he politely tells the guy to show some respect to our men and women in uniform. Then he tells the jerk to shut up when he keeps being rude. Five seconds later, Steve is in the alleyway, getting his tiny rear handed to him by the loudmouth.

Yeah, right, like shields are ever going to do you any good.
Steve lamely tries to fight back, but ends up on the ground in no time. Luckily, help arrives in the form of Sgt. James “Bucky” Buchanan Barnes (Sebastian Stan), all decked out in his military dress uniform. Bucky soon has the jerk on the run and helps his buddy Steve up.

Bucky: “Sometimes I think you like getting punched.”
Steve: “I had ‘im on the ropes.”

Steve finally gets a look at his pal and realizes that the dress uniform probably means he’ll be shipping out to the 107th soon. The next day, in fact. Without Steve. Despite the fact that in real life, the 107th had been disbanded for years.

Gives me an idea for a World War II ghost story, though....
In order to cheer Steve up, Bucky takes him to get ready for a fun night out at the 1943 World Exposition of Tomorrow. At said fun night out, Bucky tells Steve to cheer up. After all, with all the strong, young men in Europe, Steve’ll have his pick of the ladies.

Speaking of ladies, Bucky found a couple to spend the evening with. Honestly, they’d barely be worth mentioning… if it weren’t for the fact that Bucky’s date is apparently Clara Oswald.

"Nah, it's just one of those timey-wimey copies of her."
Ah. That would make sense.

"Or maybe I forgot to pick her up after I promised to show her the 1943 World Exposition of Tomorrow."
Either way, looks like she's on the rebound from Danny Pink. Seems she has a thing for soldiers who meet horrible fates at the hands of cybernetics.

"Wait, what?"
Never you mind, Bucky.

They stop at the main pavilion, where they’re showing off such marvels as television, aerosol mosquito repellent, and a “synthetic man” that looks like it will probably burst into flame before the night is out.

Like a "Human Torch," if you will.
Alongside these fantastic inventions, a certain Howard Stark, the founder of Stark Industries, (Dominic Cooper), is showing off his latest invention while a few line dancers do their thing behind him. He plays the audience with the ol’ Stark charm while hyping up his latest invention, a flying car.

Yeah, they promise jetpacks and rocket cars, but all the dumb ol' 21st century has is iPhones and better medicine.
Actually, I'd rather have the iPhones and medicine.
The “gravitic reversion” works for a few seconds before failing, which Howard laughs off.

Howard Stark: “I did say a few years, didn’t I?”

Looks to me like there wasn’t enough power going to the floaty-things. If Howard doesn’t come up with a better power source soon, then Marty McFly won’t ever get to ride a hoverboard.

You have about three months, Mattel.
But Steve isn’t impressed with the presentation. He saw an enlistment power and the gaze of Uncle Sam once again compelled him to try and enlist. Bucky spots him outside the enlistment office, and he tries to get Steve’s mind back on the ladies.

Steve: “You go ahead, I’ll catch up with you.”

Now, Steve has been using aliases in order to try and enlist over and over again. Since that’s illegal, Bucky’s worried that they’ll find out. Or worse, ship him over to Europe to let him die. But Steve reiterates that as long as he has the right to fight for his country, and as long as there’s breath within him, he’ll keep trying. This piques the curiosity of a man listening in on their conversation.

Bucky might not like it, but he knows that he can’t stop Steve form trying again, so he lets him be. The process goes as it ever does, but with one big exception. They don’t even examine him. The doctor gets a message from the nurse and leaves. Steve assumes he got caught, and prepares to make as much of a run for it as he can. But an MP arrives, accompanying the man from earlier, played by Stanley Tucci.

Eavesdropper: “So. You want to go overseas. Kill some Nazis.”

Steve doesn’t answer the question, because telling a man with a thick German accent that you want to kill Nazis isn’t a bright idea in the 1940’s.

The man introduces himself as Dr. Abraham Erskine of the Strategic Scientific Reserve. They make small talk, and Dr. Erskine reveals that he used to be from Germany. Which would explain the accent. Speaking of hometowns, he goes over Steve’s various enlistment attempts, with a different hometown on each. They’ve been watching him for a while.

Dr. Erskine: “But you didn’t answer my question. Do you want to kill Nazis?”
Steve: “Is this a test?”
Dr. Erskine: “Yes.”

Uh oh; should have studied, Steve.

Steve: “I don’t wanna kill anyone. I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.”

This was apparently the right answer, because the good doctor offers Steve a chance.

Dr. Erskine: “Only a chance.”

But the choice is made, and Steve ends up with a stamp of 1A on his file. Hopefully, this change from 4F to 1A will do as much good for Steve as it did for Chris Evans.

We then cut to a secret evil lair. We can tell it’s an evil lair because it’s cut from the side of a snowy mountain. Inside, the Head Nazi Bastard asks Dr. Arnim Zola, played by Toby Jones, if he’s ready to begin. In a cute little reference to Dr. Zola’s robot body in the comics, we first see his face in a TV screen before meeting the man proper.

"I could get used to appearing on a screen...."
HNB opens his box and uses a device to pull out the Tesseract within before inserting it into their mad science machine, being careful the whole time not to actually touch the thing. The energy surge grows and grows, stabilizing at 70%. HNB cranks it up all the way to 100, filling the machinery with crackling energy.

"Nazi science sneers at safety protocols!"
With the energy stored, Dr. Zola finally has enough power for his evil Nazi superscience.

Head Nazi Bastard: “This will change… the world.”

We then cut to skinny little Steve Rogers at Camp Lehigh in the smallest soldier outfit they had for him while a British lady, played by Haley Atwell, introduces herself.

Woman: “Gentlemen, I’m Agent Carter.”

Agent Carter…. You know, that’s got a nice ring to it. What a shame that this character is probably just a glorified extra. Yep, I’m absolutely positive we won’t be seeing much of her.

He said knowingly....
She explains that she’s basically in charge of their division. This being the 40’s, one of the grunts lined up in front of her disrespects her. Not for her cooties or ovaries, but because of her funny accent. She tells him to step forward, and he does. Then she decks him in the face, which I’m fully confident she will someday teach a young Hope Van Dyne how to execute.

Voice: “Agent Carter!”

Colonel Phillips comes up, played by Tommy Lee Jones… well, just being Tommy Lee Jones.

"You want the schtick, I'll do the schtick. Just make sure the check clears."
He gives a small speech about how America has the best men, though he trips over his words a bit when he spots Steve. We get a montage of Steve’s boot camp experiences as Col. Phillips explains that the Scientific Strategic Reserve is a joint effort of the greatest Allied minds to kick Hitler’s butt. But they only need one man out of the best of the best. In other words, they’re looking for…

"The best of the best of the best. Sir!"
"Heh."
"What's so funny, Edwards?"
"Your boy Captain America, over here."
"Hm?"
"Not you, man."
You know, if Will Smith had gotten the role, this movie would basically be a Men in Black prequel. Fanfic writers, get your pens a-going!

Anyway, as Col. Phillips explains, the goal of the Scientific Strategic Reserve is to not just make one really good soldier, but to make the world’s first super-soldier. One of the tests involves grabbing a flag off a very high flagpole in order to be allowed to skip the rest of a very hard run. Apparently, nobody has succeeded at this in seventeen years.

Not since that cross-dresser.
After the others try and fail to climb up the pole, Steve just takes out the pin supporting the pole, knocking it over. After picking the flag up off the ground, he hands the flag to the drill sergeant and enjoys his jeep ride back to base.

Now, there’s a very simple solution to the problem presented by the pole. If the recruits would just stand on each other’s shoulders and getting the flag with a human pyramid by having them all present the flag to him. But Steve’s solution’s good, too. Agent Carter seems to be amused by it.

As the troops start doing pushups later, Col. Phillips comes up to Dr. Erskine say that, quite frankly, he’s opposed to making Steve into the guinea pig for this experiment. Not because he’s scared for Steve’s life, but because the colonel wants the big, tough bully to get superpowers.

Col. Phillips: “Stick a needle in that kid’s arm, it’s gonna go right through him.”

But Dr. Erskine isn’t looking for brawn. His mysterious experiment can take care of that. He’s looking for heart. Phillips tries to prove his point by tossing in a dummy grenade as if it were the real thing. While all the other soldiers dive out of the way, Steve actually dives into the grenade in an attempt to save them.

Col. Phillips: “He’s still skinny.”

Later that night, as Steve sits alone in his bunk, Dr. Erskine comes to join him for a bit before the next day’s super-secret-scientific procedure.

Steve: “Can I ask you a question?”
Dr. Erskine: “Just one?”
Steve: “Why me?”

A fair question, and one that needs a little backstory. Dr. Erskine explains what happens to the little people in wars.

Dr. Erskine: “So many people forget the first country the Nazis invaded was their own.”

He explains that the Germans felt weak and small after the Great War. Until Hitler made them feel big again. Hitler was very interested in Dr. Erskine’s work, so he sent Johann Schmidt, the head of the Nazi science division, HYDRA, after Erskine. And Schmidt is the kind of person who makes everything about him.

"Me, me, me...."
Schmidt became convinced that the gods left their power on Earth, and believes that it’s waiting to be recovered by “superior men.” And when he hears about Erskine’s formula, he forces the good doctor to use it on him. But because the serum wasn’t ready, it had a few… side effects. But in other ways, it went horribly right.

Dr. Erskine: “The serum amplifies everything that is inside. So… good becomes great. Bad becomes worse.”

Which lines up with the other stuff we’ve seen this formula do.

Anger becomes a force of destruction.
Bullies become monsters.
Steve was chosen because he has no power. He knows and understands how important it is to use power wisely.

"With great power comes.... wait, this sounds familiar...."
As a little gift, he treats Steve to a glass of schnapps… before taking it away because Steve has his procedure tomorrow, and he can’t have any fluids.

Steve: “Alright, we’ll drink it after.”
Dr. Erskine: “No, I don’t have procedure tomorrow. Drink it after? Drink it now.”

Over with Schmidt, he’s listening to Wagner while getting his portrait done. For some reason, the painter has a lot of red paint on his palette....

Dr. Zola enters, looking at some photos on the table that reveal the Nazis know Dr. Erskine’s whereabouts in America. And what he plans to do. And they’ve already given the order to move against Erskine’s efforts.

The next day, Steve is getting a ride through Brooklyn, where he recognizes the sights.

Steve: “I used to get beat up in that alley.”

Oh, well that’s…

Steve: “And that parking lot.”

Huh. Well, Steve and….

Steve: “And behind that diner….”

Okay, can you just point out the places you didn't get beaten up? That would probably save us some time.

Agent Carter: “Did you have something against running away?”

Yeah, it’s called asthma.

Carter tells him that she knows what it’s like to have people treat you worse than you deserve, and Steve tries to compliment her. Tries.

Cut him some slack; he's better than Peter Parker.
Steve: “Women aren’t exactly lining up to dance with a guy they might step on.”

"I know, right?"
They soon arrive at their destination. An antique store. In a sequence that actually comes very close to the original source material, they enter the building and are greeted by the old lady who runs the place.

Old Lady: “Wonderful weather this morning, isn’t it?”
Agent Carter: “Yes, but I always carry an umbrella.”

Yeah, yeah, swordfish, but the Owls are still around, open sesame.

She hits the button to open the secret door in the bookcase and Agent Carter accompanies Steve to the secret laboratory where the great experiment will take place.

Project: Frigidaire
Seriously, though, I love this aesthetic. Slick, and 50's, smooth, and shiny.

You dang right.
Dr. Erskine is already there, and they soon prepare for the experiment. Col. Phillips meets with the bigwigs up in the observation area as Steve is strapped in.

"Will it hurt?"
"I won't feel a thing."
Steve: “Save me any of that schnapps?”
Dr. Erskine: “Not as much as I should have.”

Doing science with a hangover? Who do you think you are, Howard Stark?

Speaking of Stark, he’s working on the project, too. He’s got the power grid hooked up to the machinery, which he says may dim half the lights in Brooklyn. If only Howard Stark had some kind of miracle power source for this experiment. But alas, such things are but a pipe dream.

Dr. Erskine takes the mic hooked up to the observation booth and gives a typical speech about how he’s taking bold steps on the path to peace, yadda yadda. Then he begins narrating the process. First, they’re going to inject all of his major muscles with some kind of formula. Then, they’re going to flood his body with “Vita-Rays.” It’s a very important step.

I mean, if you got the serum but not the Vita-Rays....
Steve gets a simple injection and remarks that it wasn’t too bad.

Dr. Erskine: “That was penicillin.”

The super-soldier serum is soon pumped into his veins with some much scarier needles and Howard Stark hits the buttons for the second phase. The rack Steve’s strapped to lifts up and encloses him in a metal shell. The shell is then absolutely flooded with Vita-Rays as the saturation percentage climbs. But at 70%, Steve starts screaming in agony. They prepare to abort, but Steve demands from within that they continue to crank it up. The machinery sparks and sputters like an Enterprise control panel and then shuts down. When the shell opens, the 90-pound weakling is gone. In his place stands what appears to be a fusion of man and Dorito.

What a magnificent wedge of a man.
 He may be bulky, but I think we can all be thankful that he doesn't have Liefeldian proportions.

The horror... the horror.
All the bigwigs come down to inspect their new super-soldier, but one leaves a mysterious device behind in his chair. Agent Carter asks him how he feels and gets a little bit gropey before taking her hand away.

C'mon, who wouldn't?
True story, this wasn’t acting. This was Haley Atwell having to actually stop herself from feeling up Chris’s muscles. But can you blame her? You could do your laundry on those abs.

But the celebration is cut short when the weaseliest and most traitorous-looking bigwig (Richard Armitage) turns out to be a Nazi spy. You'd think the name Heinz Kruger would be a bit of a giveaway.. He detonates the bomb he put in the observation booth, steals a sample of the formula, and shoots Dr. Erskine before fleeing the scene. Steve rushes over to the doctor, but it’s too late. Without any breath left to give his last words, he simply points at Steve’s heart.

Meanwhile, Thorin Oakenshield, Elrond's top assassin, is failing to get gunned down by the old lady with a machine gun at the entrance to the storefront. He speeds off in his getaway car as Agent Carter rushes out to stop his car with her pistol. And she actually succeeds by shooting the driver. Through the back window. From the other end of the street.

And that, readers, is why she has her own show.
But the traitor hijacks a cab, followed by Steve Rogers on foot. A chase ensues, and Steve is actually doing a good job of keeping up, despite running into a lot of obstacles because he’s not used to his new size or powers. Thanks to a shortcut through an alley, he grabs onto the cab’s roof. The spy starts trying to shoot him through the roof of the cab, and….
Wait.

Wait just a minute here! This is exactly what happened after Uncle Ben died in the first Spider-Man movie.

Father figure gets shot. Bad guy runs off in a stolen car. Newly-created hero gives chase and ends up on the car’s roof, bad guy shoots through the top of the car.

But this chase ends with the cab flipping over, the spy taking a little kid hostage, and Steve using the cab’s door as a makeshift shield. And in order to fuel fans’ crazy theories about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the kid’s name is apparently “Phil.” The spy heads to the docks and tosses the kid in the water to distract Steve. But seeing as how the kid can swim, Steve runs after the spy.

The guy is getting into a mini-submarine, but Steve’s a faster swimmer, so this doesn’t last long. The spy is brought to the surface, and in the ensuing fight, the vial of serum is broken. Before the spy commits suicide with a cyanide capsule, he gives a final message.

Spy: “Hail HYDRA.”

"You think that will catch on? I hope it becomes a meme."
Coming up in Part 2! The mighty military man becomes a star-spangled savior.

2 comments:

  1. Maybe they meant first Avenger chronologically? I dont mean first born, cause thats Thor I think, but in sense that his adventure happens first.

    Unless they meant first one with movie, counting these outside MCU.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, I figured they meant chronologically. I guess "The First Avenger to Begin His Career as a Costumed Superhero" wouldn't fit on the theatre marquees.

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