The rousing WWII origin of the leader of the earth’s Mightiest Heroes
by T.T. Stern-Enzi
For the uninitiated moviegoers out there who have enjoyed the two Jon Favreau-directed Iron Man installments with the ultra-hip and charismatic Robert Downey Jr. as the billionaire weapons manufacturer behind the invincible iron mask, next summer’s plan to assemble the Marvel’s greatest superhero team would most likely be spearheaded by that handsome old buckethead. Even encased in gold and scarlet armor, Downey’s Tony Stark is the draw, right?
Thor, the Norse god of thunder opened this year’s summer session and whipped up a nice box office squall, but what did he have to offer in terms of a lasting impression? He’s headstrong with big daddy issues. I mean, his father is The All-Father of Asgard, so what else would you expect, especially with the great Shakespearean Kenneth Branaugh at the reins? And yes, Thor is strong, but so is The Hulk, who last time (Louis Letettier stepped up after Ang Lee’s less fan frenzied outing at the helm) was listed as The Incredible Hulk and there have been two different actors playing his alter-ego (Eric Bana and Edward Norton) with a third (Mark Ruffalo) ready to bust loose when The Avengers comes together.
So, what the team needs is a real backbone, a tactical leader and not some pretty face with loads of money to throw around as a quick fix. The Avengers, with Downey as Stark, will be media-ready with more than enough friends, but they must be able to defend themselves against a nefarious set of enemies.
Enter Captain America.
You see, Cap (Chris Evans) is old school. Really old school, in fact. Steve Rogers, his regular guy alter-ego, was a gung-ho kid back in the early 1940s who dreamed of going to fight against Hitler, the big bully of Europe. Rogers was a scrawny scrapper who knew a thing or two about being knocked down by the big guys, but he wasn’t one for staying down. His diehard spirit (a decidedly can-do American attitude) caught the attention of German defector Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), hardboiled Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), industrialist Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and got him fast-tracked into the top secret Super Soldier program, which transformed him into the peak human specimen.
Before Cap could be unleashed on the Nazi’s secret program, a blend of science and the occult run by Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), aka the megalomanical Red Skull, he had to pay his dues as a pawn in a USO-styled tour to sell war bonds, knocking out Hitler onstage, night after night. But once he embarks on a suicide mission to save his best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and a politically correct ragtag collection of POWs (including Neal McDonough, Derek Luke and Kenneth Choi) who end up becoming his butt-kicking sidekicks, Cap winds up on the inevitable path towards his destiny.
Captain America, more than any other Marvel character, even Thor, is all about the creation of a legend. He is the mythical American, the working class Everyman, the little guy, the underdog who proves to have the biggest heart, the best work ethic and the desire to defend those who can’t defend themselves. Director Joe Johnson (The Rocketeer), another of the Spielberg acolytes toiling away this summer, worked most closely with the master during his serial-inspired early days (as a visual effect guy on Raiders of the Lost Ark before helming Jurassic Park III), so he understands how important it can be to make the sentimental legend feel real without winking and nodding at the modern hipsters, and that’s exactly what makes Captain America the first Avenger and the natural-born leader of the new school team that will assemble next summer. This Captain is our captain; he, and this movie, remind us of a time when we were young and our best days were still ahead of us.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi