Science fiction is an amazing genre. You can be anyone, anywhere at any time doing anything, with the only actual limit being your imagination. The realm of animation is the same and perhaps nobody knows that better than PIXAR Animation Studios. Their first feature film – 1995s Toy Story – is a landmark of cinema and they continued to push the boundaries of possibility with films like 2002s Monsters Inc and 2003s Finding Nemo. Today, Toy Story remains one of their most profitable IPs with 3 sequels and numerous shorts but clearly, they’re not done yet. Their most recent release is the first one to hit cinema since 2020s Onward, thanks to the COVID Pandemic, and it’s a wonderful return.
Lightyear sees Space Range Buzz Lightyear marooned on a distant planet with entire spaceships worth of people, determined to get them home. To do so he must perfect the formula for a hyperspace crystal and battle an armada of robots led by the mysterious Zurg with the assistance of several not-quite-rookies. The trailers may imply that this is an action blockbuster akin to the later Star Wars films but it has more in common with the 1977 original. There’s action, but it’s more focused on the main character and his journey, both across the barren landscape and emotionally. Chris Evans slides seamlessly into the role made famous by Tim Allen without ever feeling like a stand-in or replacement. The other characters can be fun too, especially the Hawthornes and Sox but Mo and Darby can often feel a little one-note.
The film is filled to the brim with references and homage. It may not be to everyone’s taste, especially if you dislike things feeling too meta, but others are sure to get a kick out of it. For sci-fi fans, there are plenty of recognisable callbacks to some of the finest films ever produced in the genre. There are elements of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, and Alien that aren’t difficult to find with Lost in space being especially prevalent. There are plenty of nods for Toy Story fans too. A large amount of the dialogue is lifted directly from Buzz’s lines in the first two Toy Story installments without ever feeling forced or out of place. Even a few of the camera shots are direct parallels from previous movies, particularly the iconic scene of Buzz landing on Andy’s bed.
Tying it all together is the majestic score from Michael Giacchino who is one of the finest composers currently working in the industry. This marks his 8th collaboration with PIXAR and he continues to bring something new to everything he writes. The Incredibles was perfectly heroic. Ratatouille was suitably quaint and Lightyear aptly provides the space-traveler feel. It helps this to feel like the kind of movie that would inspire a TV show like Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.
A TV show that actually happened, aired on the Disney Channel, and never got a proper release after the fact. It deserves to be released DISNEY.
As previously mentioned, it won’t be for everyone. Some may find it slightly derivative of other sci-fi stories or may find that it doesn’t hit as hard emotionally as other PIXAR productions but it never feels like it set out to do these things. It exists to tell an entertaining story with some amazing visuals and it does that. As “kids’ first sci-fi” it’s brilliant, introducing a wide variety of concepts and explaining them simply. It feels like a love letter to the genre and the realm of animation.
It doesn’t go to infinity or beyond but it’s still worth travelling to see.
Just because a film is good, does not mean it is without major flaws. Equally, discussion of a great film can include criticisms. Avengers: Endgame is such a film, with the added disadvantage of being a Pop Culture Milestone. It serves as an ending to the MCU and must resolve many character arcs, but without seeming too final, as the MCU will continue afterward. It succeeds at the majority of these aspects, but the times it fails failures almost overcome the successes.
The story picks up 3 months after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, with the remaining Avengers unsure of Thanos’ location. With the return of Captain Marvel, along with the previously desolate Tony Stark and Nebula, there is finally a chance to find him. Thanos has retired to a planet he calls The Garden, where the Avengers take him off guard, cutting the Infinity Gauntlet and the hand it is still fitted to from his body. However it is too late, as he has already used the Stones to destroy the Stones, but this doesn’t stop Thor from decapitating him. This beheading is bittersweet vindication as it is what Thanos deserves, but it won’t bring anyone back to life. This is before the screen cuts to black and the words “5 years later” make their way onto the screen at a painstakingly slow pace. It almost seems to be allowing time for the audience to process what they have just witnessed and that the universe indeed has to live with the effects of The Snap for 5 years.
From here, we catch up with each of the remaining Avengers. Nat is still keeping an eye on the world, including Clint Barton who has taken to murdering gang members out of rage, whilst Steve Rogers is running a therapy group for survivors of The Snap. It is a small group that includes a cameo from Thanos creator Jim Starling and director Anthony Russo who is portraying a gay man. To call him the MCU’s first canonically gay character would technically be correct, albeit overly gracious. To have a nameless gay character who is only present for a moment, can be cut without affecting the plot, and is used as a director’s cameo, is not a win- it’s insulting. It is disappointing. Although, at this point in the franchise’s history, it is not surprising.
Ant-Man returns from the Quantum Realm and reunites with his now-grown daughter Cassie. Despite being away for 5 years, he experienced it as 5 hours, leading him to the theory that the Quantum Realm could be used as a time machine- a brilliant idea that requires a large brain. Thus, the crew head to Tony Stark’s cabin in the woods, where he resides with Pepper and their 5-year-old daughter Morgan. He still holds a grudge against Steve for the events of Captain America: Civil War because he is petty and resistant to change, so the crew seeks the help of Bruce Banner who has merged his mind with Hulk’s body to create what the credits lovingly refer to as Smart Hulk. Having this major character development occur off-screen after being wasted in Infinity War is a real kick in the teeth. The situation is only moderately acceptable due to Banner’s optimistic awkwardness.
Smart Hulk and Rocket Raccoon then travel to the small village of New Asgard in [Norway?] to recruit Thor who is living with Korg and Meik. He has grown ever more depressed and piled on weight which is Endgame’s first major stumble. Thor’s depression and, later, self-acceptance should be one of the strongest emotional arcs in the film, but it is used time and time again as the butt of jokes. It’s morally disgusting and made worse by Thor not being hugely obese. His weight is that of a not-eve-middle-aged man who drinks too much, and he’s nowhere near as rotund as his friend Volstagg. It also conflates weight gain with depression which is borderline dangerous. Depression can lead to weight gain (and/or loss), as well as alcohol abuse, but they are not synonymous. Equally, somebody can have issues with weight gain/loss and/or alcohol abuse without being depressed. Endgame never makes that distinction, as it’s too busy using them all as punchlines. If you are having any of these issues, please speak to a medical professional.
This is where Stark rejoins the team, having solved Time Travel by inverting a mobius strip and other such fake technical jargon. This is Endgame‘s other biggest issue… the time travel mechanics. Of course, the simple solution is alternate timelines but the Russo Brothers have stated in interviews that it is not. If this is the case, then there is no reasonable explanation for how any of it works, which the Russo brothers are aware of. They know that their time travel doesn’t make sense and they don’t care, which led me to 2 years of torment figuring out how this all fits together if not with alternate timelines. The answer is simple. The Russo brothers are liars. Presented next is the solution:
Since 2008, the MCU has taken place one solid timeline, which I’ll call Alpha. When the Avengers travel into the past, they do so simultaneously, and in taking the Infinity Stones, create one solid alternate timeline which I’ll dub Beta. This means that despite leaving from the Alpha timeline, they return on the Beta timeline. This is the timeline that they save, although unknowingly. When Cap jumps back to the moment they took the stones, he returns stability to the Alpha timeline. Upon jumping to 1945, he once again jumps onto the Beta timeline, where he lives out the rest of his life, leading to Old Cap on a bench (again) in the Beta timeline. The 2014 version of Thanos, who jumps through the time portal and emerges in the Beta Timeline is already from the Beta timeline. This does not mean that there are 2 sets of Avengers in the Beta universe as it’s safe to assume that the Beta Universe Avengers also jumped into a separate universe, creating an infinite cascade of Avengers replacing Avengers. This ultimately means that the MCU now takes place on the Beta timeline, not that it matters given what happens to the timeline in later projects, which makes the entire situation even more infuriating.
Meanwhile, in the plot, The Avengers are pulling off their time heist. Tony Stark, Steve Rogers Scott Lang, and Smart Hulk are in 2012 New York retrieving the Time, Mind, and Space Stones. Nebula and James Rhodes head to the planet Morag in 2014 to collect the Power Stone whilst Nat and Clint go to the planet Vormir that same year to get the Soul Stone. It is, in essence, Marvel’s Greatest Hits: A Walk Down Memory Lane, and Endgame has earned the right to do that. It’s mostly entertaining fluff, but the most interesting moments are in the brief character progressions.
After a blunder in 2012, which leads to that variation of Loki escaping by using the Space Stone, Steve and Tony jump to Steve Rogers’s old home, Camp Lehigh , in the 1940s. Here, Tony interacts with a younger version of his abusive, neglectful father on the eve of Tony’s birth. It’s a cute moment for anyone who likes these characters and can put aside what a terrible father Howard Stark was. It also includes a cameo from his butler Jarvis, portrayed by James D’arcy who played the role in TV Series Agent Carter. It’s not a confirmation that the show is canon but a lovely little easter egg.
Meanwhile, on Vormir, Clint and Nat are informed that one of them must be sacrificed in order to gain the Soul Stone. In an alternate version of this scene, they would have been attacked by Thanos’ Chitauri minions but that would have ruined this very pure character moment. The fate of the entire universe rests on their shoulders and their friendship. In the end, it’s Nat who bites the bullet, which is how it should be. Her underdeveloped character was no longer required, having completed her arc, and it means that Clint can return to being one of the MCU’s best dads. Some have wondered why Nebula didn’t inform them that a sacrifice would be required since it was information she was aware of and that’s presumably because that kind of information is best saved for the last moment. Had she informed the group earlier, nobody would have been willing to let anyone else take that leap.
With all of The Avengers back in 2023, minus Nat, the Infinity Stones are mounted onto a Stark Tech glove and Hulk snaps all of the dusted people back into existence, without erasing the events of the past 5 years. It’s a tense scene, filled to the brim with Hope, and it’s only fitting that Clint is the first to receive a call from his previously dusted wife. Finally, the nightmare is over. Then the audio cuts out and the camera pans to Thanos’ ship in the sky, which has followed them back through the time portal from 2014, beginning its missile barrage. From here on out, it is unabashed fanservice, as any prior issues with the film take a back seat and the ultimate battle finally begins.
As the first people to recover from the assault, Steve, Tony, and Thor take on Thanos, knowing that if they fail, not only will the universe once again be plunged into chaos but Thanos won’t allow humanity to survive. Despite being wasted for the majority of Endgame’s runtime, Thor is in his element with new Asgardian armour and plaits in his beard, to make his current appearance more regal. After a grueling, solid 10 minute brawl, it seems as if hope is once again lost. Stark has been tossed to the side and Thanos has Thor pinned against a rock. The mighty hammer Mjölnir rises from the ground, rushing past them into the hands of Steve Rogers in a payoff so grand, it’s sure to elicit screams from any Marvel fan. After a brief showdown, Thanos obliterates Steve’s shield but, despite deep wounds and almost non-existent energy, Steve still stands. It’s a beautiful moment that really demonstrates the heart of the character. Only in death does his mission to protect humanity end and it looks as if that end may be upon him. The frame looms large with the full might of Thanos’ army, who are sure to overwhelm Steve, and it seems as if this is to be Captain America’s last stand.
And then portals begin appearing. Through them appear all of the returned Avengers and whatever armies they could find. Finally, Cap announces for the Avengers to assemble, shivers run down my spine, and the battle begins again.
It’s honestly an unfair fight considering the Avengers have Wanda Maximoff, who single handedly comes close to killing Thanos until he orders the battleground to be flooded with missiles. You know, like a coward. Thus enters Captain Marvel, who is here to serve as the film’s Deus Ex Machina and to lead a shot of all the MCU’s female characters in what is one of the cringiest moments of all time. Marvel is clearly desperate to show how diverse they are, so as to not lose the female portion of their demographic, but one moment does not make up for 10 years of neglect, nor does it solidify any promises about a female-centric future. The Guardians of the Galaxy don’t even refer to Mantis by name.
Inevitably, the battle comes to an end when Tony uses the Infinity Stones to dust Thanos and his entire army, sacrificing himself in the process. It’s an apt ending for the character who once only thought of himself. His arc, which saw him learning to play well with others, comes to a natural conclusion. It also makes sense to end his story and the Infinity Saga at the same time, considering they started out that way. The Russo brothers have stated in interviews that they only killed off Tony Stark because they hate his character and, whilst hating the character is a valid opinion to hold, it is not a good enough reason to kill him. They lucked out on it being the ending the character seemed destined for. As for Steve Rogers, he returns the Stones and hops to 1945, to live out a life with Peggy Carter. It’s not a perfect end for the character but it’s not awful either. If he wanted to live a normal life, he could have found a nice girl and moved to the countryside, like Clint, but his heart has always belonged to Peggy. Until now he had thought a life with Peggy was impossible, but finally, the opportunity to have it is here so it makes sense that he would.
This may be the final film in the Infinity Saga but it is not the end of the MCU. There are small moments of set-up, like the female line-up, but the biggest indication of things to come is the passing of the shield. Having returned to , and aged like a fine wine, Steve Rogers hands over his shield to Sam Wilson. There are those who would have liked Bucky to get it, but that shield has always represented America, so it should go to Sam. It would be a nice little nod to the comics to have it in Bucky’s hands but it is much more important that a group of often marginalised people see themselves represented on screen.
The biggest issue that Avengers: Endgame has is its production. Yes, production went smoothly before it was embroiled in a level of secrecy that would make the FBI blush. It’s not the secrets withheld from the audience that’s the issue, even if they went to ridiculous lengths to make it happen, but the secrets kept from the actors. Acting is a job that requires a large amount of skill and is at its best when every aspect of the performance is believable, which takes time to prepare for. So why the Russo brothers didn’t tell the cast that they were shooting Tony’s funeral until the moment before they began shooting the scene is beyond me. This isn’t the only scene where this happened but it is, by far, the most egregious. It robs the actors of any real preparation time and is disrespectful in the way it assumes that any of these actors would leak the information. The absurdity of “Leak Culture” is a conversation worth having. Why such great lengths are gone through to prevent leaks, how people ride the infamy by leaking fake information, and how much of these leaks are actually allowed by the studio, are all worth a separate article. It is a blight on Hollywood and in fandoms, that only gets worse by the year but is being exacerbated by the MCU specifically.
So is Avengers: Endgame the finale this story deserves? Not entirely. Its plot is middling and some character actions are questionable, but it still gives some of the MCU’s finest moments. The first 15 minutes and the final act are where this film shines and it is those moments that will be remembered in the years to come. No, Endgame isn’t perfect, but it does deserve to be remembered.
This feels like a franchise installment. That is to say that this feels like what franchise installments seem to have become: focussed on the future instead of the present. Civil War is nowhere near as much of a cluttered mess as Batman Vs Superman because the story and characters are compelling. However, the universe becomes heavy-handed in a way that it never has before within the MCU. This isn’t a case of there being too many characters—Avengers: Infinity War proves that there’s no such thing—but rather that there are too many introductions. New characters, new locations, returning characters, and returning plot threads all collide through an otherwise good, character-driven story.
On another mission to a foreign country, Wanda Maximoff accidentally destroys a portion of a building containing innocent civilians. As the latest in a long line of damage left behind by The Avengers, the US Government decides to step in, asking that they sign a document compiled by the United Nations. The Sokovia Accords (named after the city that The Avengers dropped from the sky in Avengers: Age of Ultron) would switch control of the team from themselves to the UN and, primarily, the US. This prompts a moral battle between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes which culminates in a straight-up fight, when Steve Rogers/Captain America commits an unsanctioned act. As this is happening, Sokovian Helmut Zemo is framing Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier for the murder of Wakanda’s King T’Chaka and unveiling a dark secret to destroy The Avengers’ friendship.
This is a lot to pack into two and a half hours, but it works because the characters are previously established and grounded in this universe. It is the members of The Avengers and the emotional conflict between them that is at the heart of this story. At the time, the advertising was very similar to Twilight, dividing people into “Team Cap” or “Team Iron Man”. How righteous are The Accords, and should they be signed? The film never gives an explicit answer, treating both sides as equally valid opinions. Cap’s argument is that the Government would use The Avengers for their own means and not in the best interest of the American people. He has lived experience in the area of ‘organisations doing what they think is best’ and has seen how poorly it can end. Meanwhile, Tony’s argument is that The Avengers have inadvertently killed too many people during their battles and that they should be held to account. His decision is fueled by pure guilt, and ignores that civilians would still be hurt if the team was under Government control. The film sits on the fence, trusting the audience to make up their own minds, but there is a correct answer… and it’s not signing The Accords.
This confrontation between Cap and Tony almost reaches an amenable end before Zemo strikes the final blow. Having lured them and Bucky to a secret base in the mountains where Winter Soldiers were trained, he reveals that Bucky murdered Tony’s parents. Their deaths had been unveiled as suspicious to the audience in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but now it is finally revealed to the characters along with the tragic truth. It’s a brilliant plan on Zemo’s part. He is, to date, the only person to defeat The Avengers, who will continue feeling ramifications until Avengers: Infinity War. He knew that emotional scars often cut as deep, if not deeper, than physical ones because he too has suffered. His family was killed when Sokovia fell and it drove him to revenge. When this mission is complete and he is at peace, he feels like his story can come to an end. Peace like this won’t be seen again until the ending moments of Infinity War, but this resonates more emotionally.
Whilst Civil War is telling its story, it is also setting up several others. The fictional African country of Wakanda has been mentioned before, but this is the first time that its people are present with the introduction of Prince T’Challa – The Black Panther. He’s cool and calculating but is overcome with vengeance when Bucky is framed for his father’s murder. This is an interesting element that deserves more time, but there simply isn’t enough to give to it. On top of this is the introduction of Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Aunt May to the MCU. This is the third iteration of these characters in 20 years, so the film assumes that the audience is familiar enough with them to drop them in here. While it’s true that Spider-Man is a popular character, nobody is familiar with this iteration. Audience awareness does not a character make.
This isn’t to say nothing of returning characters who are crossing over for the first time. Scott Lang/Ant-Man has been fleshed out by his own origin movie, but this is his first time with big players like Captain America. It’s clear that he is excited, but there’s barely any time spent on this. Then there is General Everett Ross, whose return here is a significant moment. Until this point, the MCU has felt like it is ignoring the existence of The Incredible Hulk, but including Ross puts that to an end. He is the first character from that film to make his way into the wider MCU, discounting The Hulk himself because he was re-cast. Finally, there is the return of Sharon Carter/Agent 13 from The Winter Soldier who is here to act as a love interest for Cap. She also provides information from SHIELD but her primary existence is as a love interest, which is gross considering she is the niece of Peggy Carter… who was Cap’s last love interest.
Captain America: Civil War is an enjoyable action-adventure with impactful character moments but it is prevented from being great by setting up too many future stories. It’s an acceptable aspect when done generically and in smaller doses, but there is a limit to how much can be crammed into 2 and a half hours. It leaves this Captain America story feeling more like an Avengers one.
At the time of its release in 2014, The Winter Soldier was the most devastating thing to happen in the lore of the MCU. The events within the plot would shape the cinematic universe going forward and add an extra layer to the films that came before it. Whilst this is a Captain America film, it is intrinsically tied to the larger story of the MCU, as all 3 Captain America films are. He was the very first Avenger and many heroes/villains have come from governments/organisations attempting to replicate the serum that courses through his blood. Aside from being one of the most important stories in this franchise, The Winter Soldier was also one of the most profitable, making around $700million on a budget of about $170million. By the time this film arrived, it was almost a given that any film in the MCU would make bank, and this continued to solidify that statement as fact.
The plot follows Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) as they find themselves on the run from SHIELD and a mysterious assassin known as The Winter Soldier. Along the way, they meet Sam Wilson (Falcon) and must face some harsh truths about the organisation they once thought to be safe. SHIELD has secretly been host to HYDRA agents and, in an attempt to expose the truth, both organisations must fall. The film wastes no time in establishing the stakes by killing SHIELD Director Nick Fury and having a STRIKE team attempt to kill Cap. Of course Fury survives (after all, no death is permanent except Uncle Ben) but for a solid chunk of the runtime none of the characters are aware of this. When his survival is finally revealed it doesn’t change the mission because there is too much at stake. It provides an excellent shift in dynamics between Fury and Cap, with Fury finally giving Cap his full trust and Cap finally feeling like he’s being trusted.
All of the relationships in The Winter Soldier are handled well, especially the friendship between Steve and Natasha, which is a core element of the plot and (thankfully) is never played as romantic. It’s clear that Nat has been shaken to her core by the revelations about SHIELD and is terrified that she is no longer the hero she thought she was. The faith that Steve places in her is clearly something that she experiences very rarely, and with her reciprocation, you get one of the best friendships in the MCU. Meanwhile, Sam is an excellent person to round out the trio. His military service and loss of a close friend gives him an instant connection with Steve, and he trusts Nat because Steve does. Sam is willing to take orders, but it’s clear that he won’t do so if it conflicts with his moral compass and, to top it off, he’s a super fun character.
The small spanner in the works, and one of many plot twists spoiled in the advertising, is the reveal that The Winter Soldier is Cap’s best friend Bucky Barnes, who supposedly died in 1945 after falling over a cliff from a moving train. It transpires that he fell into a river, which broke his fall, but he was picked up by Soviet Scientists and had his mind erased before being given a metal arm and getting cryogenically frozen between top secret missions. This is a traumatic experience for him once his memory begins to return, and the film never shies away from that. We are shown his mind being wiped and the rage of confusion as it grows inside him until he can’t bear it anymore. There are several tragic and sympathetic figures in the MCU, but I think that James Buchanan Barnes may be at the top of that list.
The large spanner in the works, and a selling point for the film, is that HYDRA has embedded itself inside SHIELD. A couple of key players are shown to have been HYDRA all along such as Agent Casper Sitwell (from Thor) and Senator Stern (from Iron Man 2). The infiltration really does go all the way to the top, and there’s no knowing who can be trusted. To truly solve the problem, both organisations need to collapse, which will have a lasting impact going forward. Without SHIELD to protect them, The Avengers will finally be held accountable by the government, and will see their popularity start to falter. This is where the age of liability begins.
There’s so much happening in terms of the larger MCU continuity that I’d consider The Winter Soldier essential viewing in an MCU marathon. It marks a drastic change in circumstance and introduces characters, as well as destroying an organisation that has been ever present thus far. For once, in an Earth-based installment, there are no Infinity Stones, and they really aren’t needed because the stakes are big enough on their own. We won’t see ramifications this massive until Captain America: Civil War, and we won’t see a main Avenger in a non-ensemble film until Thor: Ragnarok. The main question that this film raises is where the other Avengers are, considering how devastating this event is, and you can keep wondering because it’s never explained. I suppose none of the other Avengers actually work for SHIELD, so they don’t need to step in, and they do eventually team up again to deal with the aftermath in Age of Ultron, but it might have been polite to check in. If this is my biggest issue with the film, I think that’s a pretty good sign.
This may be an MCU film, but it’s an espionage film through and through. It keeps the conflict focused on our main characters despite the conflict itself being massive. Each of our longtime characters get to progress their arc, and that includes Black Widow who gets to demonstrate that she’s a brutal spy with deep insecurities. I’m a little nostalgic for this era of the MCU, if I’m honest. It felt like there was more agreement back then.
Released in 2011, this was the fifth film to be seen in the MCU but it sits first chronologically. Set in 1943, it tells the tale of Brooklyn born Steve Rogers who isn’t permitted to join the US Army due to several health conditions, but who is given a second chance by a Dr Erskine as part of an experiment. After being given a super serum and witnessing the death of his dear doctor, Steve becomes Captain America- a spokesperson for the Army who later disobeys direct orders to save the captured battalion of his best friend James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes. Here, he comes up against a former Nazi organisation known as HYDRA, led by Erskine’s first test for the serum: Johann Schmidt, also known as The Red Skull. Along the way we also meet Steve’s love interest and capable agent Peggy Carter, Steve’s best friend since childhood Bucky Barnes, and world-renowned ladies man/inventor Howard Stark.
The First Avenger is a perfect film to start off the MCU timeline as it introduces us to a load of elements that are going to remain important going forward. First is The Tesseract which is a Cosmic Cube that Schmidt plans to use to fuel HYDRA’s weapons and vehicles, but is ultimately lost to the ocean. It will re-appear in the next film Captain Marvel, before becoming the main plot point of Avengers Assemble and eventually being revealed as one of the 6 Infinity Stones, specifically the Space Stone. What’s great is that there isn’t a bigger picture being painted here, it’s primarily present as a McGuffin which allows it to push the plot forward without drawing attention away from the plot. There’s also a good introduction to HYDRA, who will go on to play a much larger role in the MCU, specifically The Winter Soldier, but work just as well as villainous goons. There’s a lot happening here in terms of universe set-up, but The First Avenger focuses on its own story and characters.
Steve is given the label of Captain America but this story is about the man who became the myth. He’s finally living his best life, falling in love and making new friends, but ultimately gets iced for 70 years, and that’s rough. Meanwhile, we are introduced to Howard Stark whose currently unborn son Tony will become pivotal to the story of the MCU. Meeting Howard first allows for more understanding as to why Tony is the way he is, and it gives his declaration against weapons much more weight. Then there are Peggy and Bucky who will come to define the two pillars of Captain America’s moral compass when he returns. One is the girlfriend who represents the “ordinary” life that he could have had, whilst the other is his best friend whose death ensures that Cap is determined to save every life he can.
The only issue with watching The First Avenger first is the film’s final 15 minutes. Having plunged himself into the icy depths to save America, Steve awakes after almost 70 years, just shortly before the events of Avengers Assemble, which was the next film to be released. It introduces us to Nick Fury, before we properly meet him in Captain Marvel, which is understandable considering the way this universe was built. They wanted the film releases to flow smoothly, and it doesn’t feel like Captain Marvel was ever totally planned so it makes sense to introduce us to him here. Now that we do have Captain Marvel, I think this would have worked better as a post credits scene to Thor which was released the same year as The First Avenger. In terms of a post credit scene, there isn’t space for one here and it seems like Marvel agreed because we instead get a trailer for Avengers Assemble….6 films early. it’s a great trailer, but it does disrupt the flow a little bit to have a trailer featuring a bunch of characters we’ve never met.
As for The First Avenger itself, it has remained one of my favourite MCU films, if not one of my favourite films period, and I’ve watched it more than any of the other films in this franchise. It has all the action and general vibes of an Indiana Jones film which is appropriate given they both take place around the same time, however the Visual Effects are undoubtedly bigger and flashier. At the core, this is a character driven story and that is exemplified by the beautiful leitmotif given to Steve. The rest of the score is fairly standard fare, but the absolute standout is The Star Spangled Man which is such a marvellous mix of the campy tones of the original comic and the military propaganda of the time. As for the title of The First Avenger, there has been some debate that it belongs to Captain Marvel, and I respectfully disagree. Yes, he is never called an Avenger, but he is the first official Avenger to be born and the first person to serve a hero role. Make no mistake, when I think of The First Avenger, I think of Captain America, and when I think of Captain America I think of The First Avenger.