After a dreadful movie serial in the 1940s, two awful TV movies in the 1970s, and an embarrassingly bad feature film in the 1990s, we finally get a good version of Captain America on screen as Chris Evans nails it. He’s supported by a nifty script, great visuals, superb performances by Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci, and Neal McDonough, plus we get arguably the finest character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Hayley Atwell’s magnificent Peggy Carter. The great superhero movie rewatch kvells over Captain America: The First Avenger.
Evans is surrounded by a superlative cast, who all support Cap, but provide excellent characterizations beyond that. Stanley Tucci’s Erskine is a delight, full of so many nice touches—responding to Rogers’s query asking where his German-accented self is from with “Queens,” ruefully saying there’s less Schnapps left than there should be the morning of the test, and so on—but also a subdued passion that matches that of Rogers. Tommy Lee Jones is his usual amazing self, bringing an acid cynicism and snottiness that contrasts nicely with Rogers’s earnestness. (He also gets many of the film’s best lines, delivered with Jones’s expected perfection.) Hugo Weaving, for the second time in this rewatch, has portrayed an iconic comics character with far better talent than I’ve seen him evince in other genre roles (he was one of many reasons why I hated The Matrix, and his Elrond was dreadful). His Shmidt has a calm intelligence and a ruthless practicality that makes him incredibly scary. Sebastian Stan’s Barnes is a solid friend and comrade, his easy camaraderie with Evans’s Rogers showing a deep abiding friendship, a bond that will continue through several more movies. Dominic Cooper’s Stark is his son’s father, as the hints of the elder Stark’s seamier side that we saw in the “gag reel” Tony Stark watched in Iron Man 2 are in full force in the younger version. (Hilariously, Cooper’s Howard Stark is much closer to the 1960s version of Tony Stark than Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony was in his two movies.) Neal McDonough’s Dugan is perfect, and I deeply regret that we didn’t get a TV miniseries or a movie or something that was just Dugan, Carter, and the howling commandos continuing to fight the good fight in WWII after Cap stopped Hydra. (As it happens, my favorite episode of the great, underappreciated Agent Carter series is the one McDonough guest stars in as Dugan.) The rest of the Howling Commandos don’t get much to do, but create interesting characters in a very short amount of screen time. (My favorite is Kenneth Choi’s Jim Morita, who whips out his dogtags with practiced frustration when Dugan questions his being freed with the others with a cranky, “I’m from Fresno, ace.”)