As we count down to the long-awaited uber-team-up Avengers: Infinity War (out May 4), EW’s Marvel Movie Club is preparing by revisiting the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe in the weeks leading up to the mega-sized movie. EW’s Chancellor Agard (that’s me!) will revisit one Marvel movie a week, every week, to reassess its powers and hopefully answer important questions along the way like “What was The Incredible Hulk?” “Does Nick Fury wash his eye-patch?” and “Is there a point to Hawkeye?” This week, Chris Evans’ star-spangled hero reminds us that perpetual brooding isn’t the necessary requirement for being a compelling superhero in Captain America: The First Avenger.
Now, we’ve finally reached my favorite Phase One movie: Captain America: The First Avenger. Directed by Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer), this World War II-epic was our first introduction to Chris Evans’ star-spangled boyscout who just really hates bullies. It’s an astounding movie that feels part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe without feeling like it’s just another building block for the universe. Sure, the movie introduces important elements like the Tesseract, the magical cube with undefined powers that factors heavily into Avengers; HYDRA, the world domination obsessed organization that began as the Nazis’ special secret weapons division; and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s predecessor, the Strategic Scientific Reserve, which was the Allies’ response to Hydra. But you can watch the movie and not really care about what those things mean outside of how they’re used here. Unlike most Marvel movies, Captain America feels like a standalone film, which is mostly due to the fact that it’s set in 1942 — meaning, there’s no reason to cutaway to S.H.I.E.L.D. in the second act.
As I rewatched Captain America, two things stood out to me. First: Evans is Captain America from the moment we meet scrawny, pre-Super Soldier serum Steve Rogers. Evans gives such a compassionate, earnest, and soulful performance that makes you root for Steve right from the start. Throughout the entire movie, you really just want to give him a hug because there’s still an awkwardness and melancholy to the character even after he undergoes his transformation — which is still surprising now because that’s definitely not how you felt about character in the comics. In the main Marvel Comics continuity, Cap was a stern solider, and in the Ultimates universe, he was a jingoistic jerk. Neither portrayal was very huggable. Now, when most people think of the character, they think of Evans because he took ownership of the role in the same way that Robert Downey Jr. did with Tony Stark.
The second thing I realized while watching the flick is that I had almost completely forgotten who was in the cast. Of course, I remembered Hayley Atwell, who made a case here for having her own Peggy Carter-centric spin-off, and Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull, the first in a long line of Marvel villains who want everything and nothing (I dare you to try and keep count of all the times the Red Skull talks about becoming a god or surpassing humanity). However, I completely forgot that Stanley Tucci (#TucciGangAssemble), rebellious Aunt Hailey from The O.C., Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s Kenneth Choi, and several other recognizable actors also appeared in the movie.
In the interest of helping you refresh your Marvel memory, here’s a rundown of some of the familiar faces that pop up in Captain America: The First Avenger:
In Marvel’s defense, there’s a reason beloved character actor Stanley Tucci wasn’t cast as Doctor Strange: he had already played another character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here, Tucci plays Dr. Abraham Erksine, the German scientist who created the Super Soldier Serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America (and Teutonic-myth obsessed Nazi scientist Johann Schmidt into the Red Skull). Alas, Dr. Erksine doesn’t make it past the 38 minute mark because a HYDRA agent kills him right after Steve is injected with his drug. But he doesn’t leave this mortal plane without reminding Steve to not lose his good heart post-transformation.
Tommy Lee Jones
Tommy Lee Jones growls and barks his way through the movie as Colonel Chester Philips, a military guy who also works for the S.S.R. He’s the second decent military man we’ve met in the MCU (the first one was Rhodey in the Iron Man movies). Initially, he doubts Steve’s skills (even after his upgrade), but he eventually comes around to him. In the movie’s climax, he barks “I’m not kissing you!” in the beat between Steve kissing Peggy and Steve jumping onto the Red Skull’s flying death machine.
The Harry Potter actor pops up as a nameless old tower keeper charged with guarding the Tesseract. Obviously, he meets his maker when the Red Skull invades Tønsberg, Norway looking for the glowing MacGuffin.
Doctor Who wasn’t the first time Jenna Coleman, who played Clara Oswald on the long-running BBC series, popped back in time. She briefly cameos here as Connie, Bucky’s (Sebastian Stan) date to the World Exposition of Tomorrow. The only thing we know about her is that she, like most people, loves the idea that cars may one day fly.
Before she began manipulating unqualified boy kings on Game of Thrones and gave us a rather excellent turn as Sherlock Holmes’ arch nemesis Moriarty on Elementary, Dormer popped up for about two scenes in Captain America as a Private Lorraine, a military secretary who worked for the S.S.R. On behalf of every woman in America, she makes out with Steve to thank him for saving all of those prisoners of war.
Kenneth Choi, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke
The Howling Commandos, Captain America’s WWII squad, was comprised of many familiar faces. Neal McDonough — who currently spends his day gloriously hamming it up as Damien Darhk in the Arrowverse — played beer-lover Dum Dum Dugan; Derek Luke, who plays an ineffective school principal on 13 Reasons Why, portrayed the multilingual soldier Gabe Jones (I love the detail that Gabe attended Howard University, the black mecca); and Kenneth Choi played Jim Morita. Choi would later go on to play Jim’s descendant Principal Morita in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Assuming everything is connected, Aunt Hailey enlisted and became a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent after The O.C. ended. However, in 2011, she was still working her way up the ladder. While she was chosen to be the first face Steve saw when he woke up from his 70-year coma, she still hadn’t done enough to earn a name.
Next Week: The Avengers, Or That Time Black Widow and Hawkeye Went On and On About Their Ledgers