So ‘Captain America: Civil War’ is fast approaching, in fact for some people it has already arrived making this post slightly pointless, for them at least. This film has been set up as a lot of things, another ‘Avengers’ instalment, the reintroduction of Spider-Man, a versus movie between Marvel’s main heroes but most of all it should be viewed as a third Captain America movie because after all the film is called ‘Captain America’. But what of the other entries that have portrayed the adventures of Steve Rogers on the silver screen? Well I’m going through them now, and oh boy were there some oddities in this collection.
The original outing for Captain America was actually the first adaptation of a Marvel property ever, in fact it was so old that Marvel weren’t even called Marvel at this stage, with the character belonging to a division called Timely Comics. Released in 1944 this film serial was the most expensive of its kind at the time and starred Dick Purcell as Captain America a.k.a…..Grant Gardner. You heard me correctly, no more Steve Rogers, soldier turned superhero, instead we have U.S District Attorney Grant Gardner. This is just one of many baffling changes as the serial also neglects to include any super serum, Bucky does not make an appearance (as far as I can tell, none of the supporting characters are lifted from the comics), despite having fought Nazis in the comics until this point there are no Nazis within the film which is even more remarkable considering that it was made during World War 2 and you’d think what would be the perfect propaganda opportunity to have a dashing hero (that literally has America as part of his name) vanquishing them. Additionally, Cap’s famous shield also fails to make an appearance, with the hero’s weapon of choice being a standard revolver.
You may be thinking that this doesn’t sound remotely like a Captain America film apart from its title, and you would be right. Originally the script was titles ‘The Mysterious Doctor Satan’ but with the growing popularity of the character the studio were able to procure the Captain America name and shoehorned him into the existing script, making as few changes as possible. So this is a Captain America movie in name only and I’m sure that for the average movie goer at the time, who knew literally nothing about any comic book of any kind, it was still fairly terrible. In fact I feel as if rattling off the film’s production history says enough about its quality so I won’t go into it much further. I will say however that Dick Purcell was described at the time of filming as having an “average to overweight physique’. That description was probably justified when the process of filming proved to be too strenuous for his heart and he died weeks later in a locker room. Which is slightly sad, but then again the film itself is rather sad, in every possible way.
Amazingly though, things could only get worse. Captain America fans were treated to two straight to video releases that….well look I cannot find the strength to actually talk about that movie so I’ll just put a picture of Cap himself from the movie up at the side and you can judge for yourself.
Then there was another theatre release, in 1990…for the U.K at least (wow, aren’t we lucky). Over in America they had to wait two more years for it to be released on home video. So putting aside what may be the worst marketing campaign in history to not release a Captain America film in American theatres (maybe the makers were doing a service to America by not showing it) the film itself is even worse. From the makers of ‘Masters of the Universe’ and ‘Superman: The Quest for Peace’ comes ‘Captain America’. You heard me.
It stars Matt Salinger (best known as the son of J.D Salinger) as Captain America/Steve Rogers (well at least this version got that part right). When he partakes in an experiment involving super serum he goes from weakling to super soldier, despite undergoing no actual physical change at all. He ends up being frozen after preventing a missile from hitting the White House by kicking it with his foot and being dragged with it to the arctic. This does sound somewhat accurate to the story that is familiar to comic book readers and fans of the latest film incarnation, but imagine if every element of the recent Marvel films were executed so terrible and horrifically that it stifles any form of enjoyment whatsoever, and then you have this film. The characters are all shallow charisma vacuums and the production budget is laughable, as is the acting, and the plot and everything really, especially when you remember that in the summer of 1989 audiences were treated to Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’. So there is no excuse for this mess of a film.
But finally, finally, we arrive at Chris Evans’ portrayal of the character, who made his debut as Captain America in 2011’s ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’. Now I’ve never been overly fond of this instalment, viewing it as one of the more forgettable films of the MCU, but there is still a lot of fun to be had with it. It tells its origin story with good conviction and depth to make it engaging and interesting, I enjoy the way it approaches the character as a form of propaganda that morphed into a real soldier (it even throws out a quick reference to the 1944 serial) and there is a fun retro style to it, feeling more like an adventure serial from the era rather than an average blockbuster. Evans gives the character a broader emotional range and vulnerability just as well as he establishes his superb abilities and heroism. Nevertheless I still stand by my original complaints with the film, that ultimately it feels too simplistic and by the numbers to leave a lasting impression and ultimately just acts as a fancy set up for ‘The Avengers’. That is not to say it doesn’t have a unique flair to it, but not enough to be anything more than average.
Due to my opinion of ‘The First Avenger’ I didn’t go into ‘The Winter Soldier’ with high expectations and you can imagine what followed. I was blown away by it. It is a rare superhero film that can act as both a continuation and an entry point. It works to satisfy fans of the original comic while also working as a standalone film. Hiring the Russo Brothers to direct this may still stand as the best decision Marvel has ever made with their movies, they are directors who understand the source material and know what aspects of it work cinematically but they also craft a film that on an aesthetic level more closely resembles a political thriller from the 1970s. Movies like ‘Three Days of the Condor’ and ‘All the President’s Men’ spring to mind, and having Robert Redford in the cast only helps to emphasise those similarities.
That in itself is wonderfully subversive, as Alexander Pierce Redford is playing the antagonist he would usually be running from back in the 1970s. But in switching roles he shows the same amount of commitment as he always does and this is reflected by the entire cast, with Evans once again adding an unforeseen level of depth the character but at the same time loses none of the heroic charm. Scarlett Johansson is a great inclusion as she turns Black Widow into more than just the obligatory female companion, she becomes a mysterious femme fatale. Then you have Samuel L Jackson, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan who are also mightily impressive.
The plot brilliantly and at just the right pace, never leaving the heroes a moment to breathe but somehow finding the time to include some emotionally heavy moments within it. As well as that the action scenes themselves are fantastic, once again it is down to the Russo Brother’s direction as they draw suspense from each action sequence, giving it a sense of weight and purpose but also injecting it with a visceral energy. It strikes the perfect balance between finding the right amount of realism so that you care for the characters, but not too much that it no longer feels entertaining. It is a rare blockbuster that is as entertaining as it is well made.