If you asked me which Marvel movie was my favorite, I’d say Iron Man. In fact, because I’m contrary, I’d say the Iron Man trilogy. Aside from the glorious combination of Robert Downey Jr and two directors sensible enough to give him his head, the story arc across those three movies is hugely ambitious. They aren’t just the story of Tony Stark becoming everything he ever wanted to be and frantically trying to deal with it, they’re also about what happens when the Singularity accelerates itself into being and everything changes. That story spreads out across all the Marvel movies and, from what I’ve heard, looks set to be picked up in Agents of SHIELD too. This isn’t how the world ends, it’s how the world changes.
If you ask me which Marvel movie is the smartest though, the answer’s different; Captain America every time. It’s the Marvel Phase I movie with the hardest task; introduce the character and his entire world then snatch everything away from him in the last ten minutes and it absolutely nails it. It never cheapens the historical events it plays out against but manages to create a convincing, and hyper-real ‘war within a war’. It’s also arguably the most stacked cast Marvel have put together to date with Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones, Neal Mcdonough and Toby Jones all doing sterling work.
The music is what really puts it over the top for me, though.
That’s so minimalist it’s almost not there but so much of the movie is perfectly encoded into it. The low, sinister, martial drums are the war itself, the huge events against which the movie plays out. They’re also a call to duty, the constant background noise that Steve Rogers can only run towards, regardless of the consequences.
Then there’s the theme, which at first listen is mournful and sad. What becomes clear in the movie is that it’s mortal rather than mournful. It embodies that moment that lies at the heart of the movie version of Cap; the absolute acknowledgement of fear and the absolute refusal to give in to it. It’s music with its chin up, daring the universe to take another shot, knowing it will and not backing down.
That’s why Captain America is such a clever film. It would have been all too easy to make a standard issue cookie cutter chest thumping patrio-gasm movie. Instead, they take the harder route of showing Steve Rogers as someone whose never less than completely aware of his responsibilities and how mortal he is. More importantly, they show how he never lets that stop him. That’s heroism of a stripe far subtler than we get in most mainstream movies and here we get it wrapped up in just under a minute. This is one of the smartest movie soundtracks out there.