4. Captain America: The First Avenger
Here’s an anachronistic propaganda figure from the 1940s, both inside and outside of fiction. Captain America the character shouldn’t work in a post-9/11 world of distrust and paranoia. And yet, director Joe Johnston doesn’t get enough credit for The First Avenger, which had just a difficult task as Thor: set up a different world than the MCU present with its own characters and circumstances and contextualize it as a throwback Indiana Jones-esque pulp adventure. It works like gangbusters. Any worry that Cap would be a sanctimonious or naive idiot hero went away. My favorite bit is when Cap’s initial role as a propaganda tool is shown to be literal.
Chris Evans is phenomenal, completely embodying the role of Steve Rogers before and after his super-soldier transformation. It is because of Evans we see that, powers or no powers, Steve Rogers is a fundamentally good guy, in the tradition of selflessly standing up for others because you can empathize with what it is like to be knocked down. Hayley Atwell took the typical female lead and made the character, and herself, emblematic, earning her own TV series. Hugo Weaving might not want to return as Red Skull (Sad!) but he’s delightful here, hamming it up just right. This is just a fun movie that’s about not a superhero, but a regular guy who does heroic things. It’s the antidote to cynicism.