Captain America was introduced to the Marvel universe in 1941 as a young man who gets injected with a super serum that changes him from a frail kid to human perfection. The idea of an ordinary person suddenly finding themselves with super powers has consistently appealed to audiences and comic book fans, but Captain America became one of Marvel’s most popular superheroes during the 1940s thanks to it’s patriotic message, something that was much needed while America was in the throes of World War II.
But most notably, out of all the superheroes populating the Marvel universe, Captain America was the first character to get his own movie serial, the self-titled, Captain America. (The next Marvel superhero to hit the screen would be The Punisher forty-two years later!)
The serial (and Dick Purcell) brought Captain America to life, but Purcell’s version was slightly different from the version in the comics. Purcell’s alter ego was that of District Attorney Grant Gardner while the alter ego in the comics was the formerly frail Steve Rogers. However the patriotic message and feeling of the comics remained constant on the screen thanks to music from composer Mort Glickman.
The serial begins with Glickman’s rousing music as each character is introduced and a feeling of pride and excitement vibrates off the screen thanks to the triumphant brass. Glickman’s music keeps the serial moving and maintains the feeling of anticipation as you watch to see if Captain America can defeat the villainous Scarab. Watching this serial could be slightly comical in the age of huge effects and seamless CGI, but the heroic feeling is constantly present in a timeless fashion due to Glickman’s music.
In 2011, Chris Evans took on the role of Captain America in Captain America: The First Avenger (a title that pretty much guaranteed we would be seeing Captain America in the Avengers movie). Captain America: The First Avenger may have come out in 2011, but the film is set in the 1940s and returns to the origin story from the comics that had a frail Steve Rogers (portrayed by a CGI “de-hanced” Evans) becoming Captain America.
Composer Alan Silvestri created the score for Captain America: The First Avenger and while his score is certainly bigger and more complex than the one Glickman created for the Captain America serial, it still has the patriotic and action elements that made Glickman’s music so great. Evan’s Captain America is certainly edgier than Purcell’s, but he is still rooted in the original feeling created by the comic books and brought to life by the 1944 serial. Silvestri’s track “Captain America March” is nearly a direct homage to the opening music Glickman created and works as a great nod to the “original” while “Star Spangled Man” reminds audiences that Captain America: The First Avenger still takes place in the ‘40s, a time humming with USO jitterbugs.
After his time spent with The Avengers in The Avengers, Evan’s Captain America is well aware he’s now in the 21st century and Henry Jackman’s score for Captain America: The Winter Solider takes Captain America’s classic, patriotic instrumentation and infuses it with some more modern day electronic elements. Jackman’s score is also a bit darker with tracks like the ominous and foreboding “Captain America” hinting at the fact that this Captain America is no longer the squeaky clean, optimistic hero. This Captain America has seen things and in his quest to avenge, has turned himself into an unwitting fugitive, and he is out to right those wrongs.
With beloved characters (especially ones that come from long-running comic book series) having a few constants you can depend on is necessary to keep that feeling of loyalty alive whether it be through Captain America’s star emblazoned shield or the patriotic music you know will always accompany him no matter what battle or struggle he may face.