As a person with maybe too many thoughts and feelings about superheroes (cf. all previous Avengers posts) I have no idea what an Avengers viewing experience is like for someone who doesn't know who Steve Rogers is. However, given the fact that Iron Man/Robert Downey Jr is such a big part of the current pop-culture zeitgeist, I assume that he's enough to hold the movie together for the few people in the audience who have no prior experience of Marvel superhero movies. Given the chance to advise one of the aforementioned newbies, though, I'd say that the prequels most likely to improve your Avengers experience are Captain America: The First Avenger, and Thor.
The Thor movie is relevent to The Avengers not as a source of backstory info for Thor, but more as Loki's own origin story. Already an unusually complex and emotionally engaging villain, Loki only becomes more interesting when you know more about his upbringing. As for Captain America, while I don't think that knowledge of Steve's backstory is necessary to understand The Avengers, an appreciation of his character definitely helps. Seeing Steve Rogers before his supersoldier transformation helps us understand the reason why he "is" Captain America rather than just a star-spangled man, and the fact that he's fresh from the '40s has the twofold influence of making him the ultimate fish-out-of-water character (perhaps even moreso than Thor, who has no real need to fit in with human society) and adding a horrendously depressing aspect to every one of his scenes because everyone he ever knew or loved is dead. The fact that Steve Rogers is even remotely functional in day-to-day life is tantamount to a miracle.
|Steve's original 1940s uniform from Captain America.|
|He just poses like that naturally. Because he's CAPTAIN AMERICA!!!|
There's very strong line of continuity between Steve's costumes in Captain America and The Avengers. When we first see him in the gym with Fury, the whole aesthetic is very retro -- the old-fashioned gym; the dusty sepia-tone colour scheme; the fact that Fury gives him an actual paper file. The detail of the paper file prop jumped out at me at once because it's so clearly something that Fury has tailored to Steve's comfort level -- or what he perceives Steve's comfort level to be. It made me think that Fury/SHIELD is making a conscious effort Steve feel more at home, and I'd hazard a guess that those attempts are doing more harm than good. At the end of The First Avenger when Steve wakes up in the 21st century, SHIELD has constructed a special 1940s bedroom for him in an attempt to slowly acclimatise him to the "future" -- which, of course, backfires. Although Fury mentions in the gym scene that Steve has his own apartment, I suspect that it's closely monitored by SHIELD, as is every aspect of Steve's life. And I suspect that Steve knows it. The mysteriously deserted 1940s-friendly gym is the first clue; the subtle weirdness of his casual clues are the next.
Steve's casual clothes are just really old-school. I don't believe for a second that he bought these himself because a) I doubt that SHIELD would allow him out into the chaotic environment of a 21st century shopping mall, and b) finding this type of outfit would actually be quite hard. His main casual clothes (see the first picture in this post) are high-waisted pleat-front suit trousers -- which aren't typically available in anything other than "70-year-old grandfather" dimensions, decidedly not the Adonis-like frame of Steve Rogers -- checked shirts, and an old-fashioned brown leather jacket with epaulettes. That jacket is way too specific in terms of quality, fit, and style for Steve to have been able to find it himself a few weeks after being defrosted. I'm very interested to see how his costumes evolve over the course of the next movie, because continuing to wear 1940s-esque clothing walks a fine line between comforting homesickness, and denial. Once he's truly autonomous from SHIELD and able to do everyday things like go shopping, will he stick with what's familiar or head straight for the future? I actually think it'd be a great characterisation decision if they had him leaping headfirst into 21st-century styles while retaining more retro tastes in things like music and movies.
|Steve Rogers in the 21st Century. (The final scene of Captain America.)|
Captain America kind of falls into this category because his costume is, fundamentally, a 1940s Americana cheerleader uniform with extra pockets around the waist for bubblegum and hair gel (or whatever the hell it is that superheroes keep in their utility belts). That scene where Agent Coulson tells Steve that "the world needs a little old-fashioned" is enough for me, really. The body-armour and boots they've incorporated into the basic blue body-suit are feasibly practical-looking, and although the cowl isn't exactly great I'd like to see how you would go about designing a winged blue helmet that looks serious and manly. Cap is a cultural icon, a guy whose photo appears on trading cards, a symbol of a naiive, nostalgic idealism that never really existed even in the 1940s. He doesn't need to look cool. And the fact that he willingly puts on a stars-and-stripes catsuit and a helmet with a giant "A" on the forehead is proof enough of his beautifully earnest dedication to his job.
|Source: mercmouth @ Tumblr. (Of course from Tumblr.)|
|We know that Black Widow's pockets are full of weapons, but I still say that Cap's are full of bubblegum.|
Next up: Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor, and Loki!
If there's no such thing as a vintage Captain America venereal disease PSA then I'm going to be so disappointed.
The real contents of Batman's utility belt.