Captain America: the First Avenger

Captain America: the First Avenger
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Captain America: the First Avenger is the kind of film that has a narrative and content clearly influenced by its context of production. When Paramount Pictures Corporation began to roll-out the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, Captain America became the final character to be given an introductory origin story. And that technique raises the question as to what extent the art and economy of film-making should intrude on each other. There’s the populist opinion that films shouldn’t care about how much money they generate, and should be entirely artistic, but the film industry is still a business, and artists do actually understand the importance of having money in the pursuit of what they do.

But Captain America: the First Avenger feels mostly like a prequel to what’s going to come. The plan plan was for each character introduced into this universe to team-up as the “Avengers”. And as a period piece, that makes Captain America “the First Avenger”. Even though, surely it would’ve made more sense to introduce that character first, especially as Director Fury – who’d appeared in other Marvel Cinematic Universe releases – appears in the final scene before the end credits? His original cameo in a post-credits scene had surprised those who’d discovered it, unaware that there even was a post-credits scene.

In Captain America: the First Avenger, the post-credits scene is a trailer for everything the Marvel Cinematic Universe had been building-toward. That asks the question, then – is Captain America: the First Avenger just a trailer/prologue/prequel? The others all contained Easter eggs and inside references to each other, and knowingly established plot threads that would be answered once all the characters had assembled, but here we get an actual trailer. To say Captain America: the First Avenger is the last standalone before the beginning of the team-up, that’s not very subtle.

Even the subtitle’s an advertising hook – “The First Avenger“. The other Avengers had their codename in the titles of their films, but none of them were overshadowed by a subtitle that only cares about the future, rather than the present. “Phase One” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe had, up until this point, been little character pieces that only contained external references just because it was aware of its context. But here, those references are made so obvious that they’re showing not the way each film’s been considered in relation to the others, but that those others are all we have going for this one.

Iron Man’s first standalone was the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that therefore contained almost no references to anything, on the basis that it might not work. His second standalone contained so much set-up that it had almost no room to properly breathe. And here, Captain America’s standalone origin prequel does have a story, but it’s still entirely influenced by set-up.

The Tesseract was only established to explain it’s presence in the previous film, and to explain what it is in the following film. S.H.I.E.L.D. is only really featured to give the universe a grounded feel. Howard Stark’s included to explain Captain America’s relevance to Iron Man. Everything in this film is influenced by something outside of it.

A film is a cup, and the content of it the cup is what’s in the film. The approach to a shared universe was to at least prepare each drink first to see if it would work for the audience in order to then make any adjustments for the cocktail that had been planned all along. When taking these characters, pouring each drink together would have made perfect creative sense. But the content of this film is to not have so much a drink as to the water that would be included later on to keep the cocktail from being over-saturated.

And that water works just fine. Water never fails to satisfy. But that makes it the easy option – the guaranteed way for your audience to like something is for it to be so minimal as being beyond substantial criticism. Can you honestly say anything against clean, honest water?

Normally, I couldn’t. But in an assembly line of other drinks, each containing little elements of each other, then Captain America: the First Avenger – especially given it’s the final on the line before the cocktail – exists in a specific context, with other films linked by an overarching style with their own flavouring, that it’s difficult to come away from this with any feelings other than “just skip to the good bit”.

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