Kevin Feige is brilliant; the guy has Marvel’s entire Wikipedia engraved in his brain, which is why he is the best candidate when devising the direction of all these films. This is also why he recruited Joe Johnston for this particular film. Let’s take a brief look at Johnston’s filmography; ‘October Sky’, ‘The Wolfman’, ‘Hidalgo’ and ‘The Rocketeer’ just to name a few. Not war films as such, but they are all films set in erstwhile periods, so Johnston would be a logical choice when it came to directing a film predominantly set in World War II. Johnston used his shots wisely in this film, the color palettes are bleak, grimy and cloudy, which not only sets the tone for the film periodically but also psychologically. The color coordination of these shots makes you bear the plight and trepidation of what the world was caught up in at the time. He ingeniously mirrors parallels between Steve Rodgers going through the procedure of the Super Soldier serum and Johann Schmidt along with Dr. Zola using the Tesseract to devise weapons to fuel their part of the war in the first act. (yes, I don’t go out much).
On the actors’ end of things, Chris Evans’ stern, yet jocular demeanor as Steve Rodgers is consistent throughout the film as well as in the Marvel Universe continuum. His portrayal of “God’s righteous man” is honest, but fell just short of carrying this big budget film on his own. He made do with his material, but his talents could not compensate for the way his character was developed.
Now, what Johnston does with Hayley Atwell is a catalyst feat to say the least. Deviating from the conventional love interest that does nothing but swoon over the protagonist, and instead turns Peggy Carter into a heroine of her own, without relying on our hero. This may sound a little abstract, but bear with me; I think what Johnston does with Peggy ascends the film’s story and also illuminates the world she found herself. Carter acts as a symbol of hope for women in these perilous times, a time where they were only just allowed to join the army, let alone play an integral part of espionage for the United States.
Let’s get to what everyone’s enmity towards these films are; the villains. Hugo Weaving was as menacing as he could possibly be as Red Skull; I mean he is acting the heck out of this role, but just like Evans, he is let down by the script and this poorly developed villain, his limitations were chiseled into the character before he arrived on set. We already have an easily redeemable hero, now we have a not so unstoppable antagonist? Please.
Then, we have Sebastian Stan. His portrayal of James Buchanan Barnes, also known as as “Bucky”, has just enough chemistry with Rodgers to believe why he was left so incongruous with his villainization in the sequels, so incongruous that he had isolated himself along with Bucky from his team of Avengers.
Lastly, let’s get to Tommy Lee Jones, who was a great casting but terribly underused. When we talk about someone of his pedigree, we talk about how seasoned and how much of a veteran he is (no pun intended). Now, back in 2011 it wasn’t as bad as it is now, and by bad I mean how saturated the humor is in these films, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or Thor: Ragnarok to name some (thanks a lot a James Gunn). How someone of his know-how was simply subjected to Marvel’s ceaseless effort to add a comic relief character in their films has to be one of the most egregious castings of the decade.
I’ll hold my tongue and wrap it up by saying that this is a film that has everything you want in a war film; the willingly sacrificial hero, the courageous group of soldiers, galvanizing moments of heroism, and the epic but also impeccably coordinated fight scenes that all the MCU films have. An advisable watch if you want to have a profound amount of knowledge about the cinematic universe as a whole.