Captain America: The First Avenger
Coming back to the first Captain America movie after seeing the full Infinity War saga, two seasons of Agent Carter and several of Agents of SHIELD, I like the film even better than I did the first time. It deepens the story to know what the Tesseract actually is, where the Red Skull ends up (it makes more sense now than when I dimly remembered what happened to him), the future of Hydra, how Steve and Peggy and Howard and Bucky’s lives intertwine over the next few decades.
And it’s not quite what’s become the standard superhero movie. The Marvel movie formula hadn’t been established yet, and it’s more of a war movie even than Wonder Woman (which I now see as kind of a companion piece to this one…which is appropriate because she was DC’s star-spangled hero invented to fight the Axis, just like Cap was Marvel’s). The final battle is high-stakes and high-action, but it’s not the overblown special effects extravaganza that they’ve become since.
This was still back when they felt the had to justify the comic-booky visuals like Cap’s costume, or Red Skull’s appearance – or Cap’s name, for that matter! – but they made it work in an otherwise realistic war film. And I really liked the design work in the settings they invented: Stark’s facilities looked very much like a 1940s view of near-future tech, but Hydra’s looked a bit more modern – more like what you’d find in a 1960s James Bond movie, just darker.
You can see all the ways it’s setting up for the present-day MCU. But it’s also a very strong story of what makes Steve Rogers a hero: It’s not the super-soldier serum. It’s his heart. His determination to do the right thing, his integrity, and his willingness to sacrifice himself for others. That’s what defeats Hydra Mark I, that’s what keeps Cap going when he’s unfrozen, that’s what brings him into conflict with Tony Stark in Civil War…and it’s what Tony ultimately learns from him by the conclusion of Endgame.