From Iron Man through to Guardians of the Galaxy, right up to Captain America: Civil War, Marvel has become progressively sophisticated in not just how the story's told, but how each strand weaves it's way through the tapestry of the shared cinematic universe. So, even with the latest knock-down-drag-out installment of the Captain America saga - or indeed the Marvel Cinematic Universe entire - it's easy to dismiss Steve Roger's inaugural debut. Overly earnest and intentionally twee, much like our Chief Avenger, Captain America had a lot of responsibility on it's shoulders, while still heroically standing up to his colleague's solo outings. Thor had just thrown down the hammer by delivering wonder and magic with Shakespearean eloquence. Tony Stark oozed rock'n'roll through every joint in his Iron Man armour. How then would the weakling from Brooklyn fare? Particularly when he started lecturing us on right and wrong because he now had the greatest gun show in town? Not only that, but being set during World War II meant that this would be the ball of yarn that all the other threads would originate and then entangle themselves. It's a tall(er) order.
Thankfully, it doesn't take the fabled super soldier serum to notice the super-heroic effort the team behind Captain America: The First Avenger made. It still accomplishes everything it set out to do and keeps it's own identity. It's especially rewarding now, seeing the bigger picture of the MCU confirmed by the installments that were yet to come. Bucky turning up to save Cap in the alleyway has a sting tinged with loss now. While the opposite can be said for Steve's courageous "I can do this all day", bearing in mind the fisty-cuff in Civil War.
By the second scene our Mcguffin, The Tesseract, is established using the Norse mythos set up by Thor. Howard Stark nonchalantly charms his way through scenes, leaving little doubt to where Tony got it from. The birth of SHIELD spinning out of the SSR is a minor touch, though not an easter egg. Speaking of which, Captain America: The First Avenger standing alone in this particular part of the MCU timeline, leaves it free to add in bonuses that wouldn't upset the present apple cart: A cheeky presentation at the 40's Stark Expo of the original Human Torch is a delightful nod to the Invaders. Arnim Zola's introduction is as much a nod to his comic book counterpart as the reverential reprinting of Captain America's first comic cover when our Star-Spangled Avenger rises in popularity.
While the tone may teeter on mawkish, particularly when cap exhibits his trademarked do-right attitude, it's hard to imagine how Cap would be better introduced to us. Certainly the 40's was a lot less jaded and while it's only as obvious in Erskine here, Cap's impassioned proclamations and unwavering integrity was certainly more common. Even if you're not completely sold on Cap's wholesome schtick, you're hard pushed to disagree with his principles and actions, thus it becomes convincing that Steve would eventually get his own team to run covert ops and near-single-handedly win the war! Of course it helps that he's been dosed with super soldier serum and blasted with rays. However, it's not the only thing that keeps him stronger than those around him. The evening before Steve's procedure Ersklne mentions the amplifying effects of the programme, "Good becomes great..." he says. What then of Steve's resolute beliefs? Maybe his faith alone in what he feels America should stand for, is what keeps him nigh-indestructible (or extremely lucky). Not letting go of his star spangled shield is one clue, should you want to go down this road. His first outing; deep behind enemy lines, on an unauthorised rescue mission. While the shield may provide a certain amount of protection, anyone with a passing interest in staying alive may not fly the enemy colors quite so fragrantly, particularly when they're that bright. Nearing the climax of the film, Cap single-handedly infiltrates the Red Skull's base. Just before he enters the final gate a tank, that looks like a skyscraper on tracks and armed with the energy of an infinity stone starts to blast at our hero. What else is there to do, but firmly plant the shield, adorned with the modified stars and stripes, on your handle bars and speed up? As ridiculous as it may seem, it's perfectly fitting to the man who would later plant himself like a tree, in the way of the whole world and say, "No. You move."
4* - National Measure
Others in the series: