Captain America: The First Avenger
Ho boy, there are a lot of familiar faces in this movie. Chris Evans (he was recently Ransom Drysdale in Knives Out, we saw him as Johnny Storm the Human Torch in 2005’s Fantastic Four, and was opposite Scarlett Johansson in the rom com The Nanny Diaries) leads the film as Steve Rogers, the titular Captain America. Sebastian Stan (he was in a couple episodes of the first season of Once Upon a Time) is his best friend, James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes. Hayley Atwell (she’s Evelyn Robin, Christopher Robin’s wife in the 2018 Christopher Robin film starring Ewan McGregor, Ella’s mother in the live-action Cinderella, briefly appears in Testament of Youth [I mentioned it, oh gosh, a few years back as a movie I watched because Kit Harington is in it], and was the best friend to Keira Knightley’s character in The Duchess) is the capable Agent Peggy Carter [they proceeded to give her her own show…that I have not finished watching yet].
Tommy Lee Jones was in another superhero film before he played Colonel Phillips, as Harvey Two-Face Dent in Batman Forever. Hugo Weaving (brilliant as Lord Elrond in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, and the villain Smith in Matrix, as well as voicing Megatron in the Transformer films) faces off as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull, aided by Toby Jones (he was in one episode of BBC’s Sherlock, and Dr. Who, as well as The Hunger Games franchise. He voices Dobby in the Harry Potter series and is a stooge of sorts in Ever After [fun note, he’s in Pale Blue Eyes, which stars Christian Bale and was filmed at a university about half an hour from where I live]) as Dr. Zola.
Richard Armitage (Guy Gisbourne in BBC’s Robin Hood, dashing as John Thornton in North and South. He made an appearance in Ocean’s Eight, but most well-known for starring as Thorin in the Hobbit trilogy) makes an early appearance as Heinz Kruger. Stanley Tucci (he was in Devil Wears Prada, The Hunger Games, and Maestro Cadenza in the live-action Beauty and the Beast; all in the last twenty years) is Dr. Abraham Erskine. And Dominic Cooper is a young Howard Stark (he reprises the role in Agent Carter, and also appeared in The Duchess, as Charles Grey. He sings a bit in Mamma Mia with Amanda Seyfried). A few other familiar faces: Natalie Dormer (the sultry Anne Boleyn in The Tudors, a little sweeter as Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones. She also had a role in The Hunger Games franchise) is Lorraine, and the old man in Norway is David Bradley, whom many of us know as Argus Filch in Harry Potter.
The film opens with discovering a crash site in the Artic; a huge plane. And in that plane is a bright red and blue shield (we can guess what this means, even for non-comic-literate viewers). We jump back to 1942 to an attack in Norway (note that this is the same town that was referenced in the beginning of Thor where the Frost Giants attacked). A bit like Last Crusade, Nazis are attempting to uncover a knight’s tomb in search of a relic. Their leader enters and easily knocks the stone cover to the floor and removes a bluish cube, commenting that some superstitions are actually science. He names the cube as the Tesseract, the jewel of Odin’s treasure room [considering the mythos of the MCU, this may tie the two movies together, that Odin sent the Tesseract to Midgard (Earth) for safe keeping and left it where there was an established human presence that worshiped the Asgardians as gods and thus would keep their relics hidden and safe]. Then smashes it, knowing it is not the real Tesseract, but it must be close by. He surmises it is in the carving of Yggdrasil, the Tree of the World; a guardian of wisdom and fate. The actual Tesseract glows blue. While the Fuhrer digs for trinkets in the desert (referencing Indiana Jones a bit, I feel like), this man has uncovered something more. The old man guarding the cube remarks that the other is a fool and cannot control the power that he holds. He will burn. The Nazi leader comments he already has and destroys the village.
Meanwhile, in New York, a scrawny man, Steve Rogers, is attempting to enlist in the Army, but his list of health issues bar him from being a solider. When Steve is watching a film later, he tells off a rude man in the theatre, which leads the rude man to beating Steve up in a back alley. Steve never gives up, quipping “I can do this all day,” but it is a good thing that his friend, James “Bucky” Barnes comes along and helps out. James is in uniform, ready to deploy with the 107th in the morning. However, on his last night, he drags Steve with him on a double date to a science expo. Howard Stark, Tony’s father, is there, showing off his latest design, just like his son will sixty-odd years later. Bucky and Steve argue outside a recruiting station; Bucky doesn’t want Steve to get sent to the war, home will be safer. But Steve feels like he can’t do less than any other man. Steve meets Dr. Erskine, who is part of the Strategic Scientific Reserve and the doctor offers Steve a chance.
Steve reports for basic training and Colonel Phillips is not impressed by this scrawny man, but Steve certainly gives it his all. The point of their program is to create the best Army, by making super soldiers. On a run, their instructor challenges the men to get a flag and simply jumping up the pole doesn’t work. Steve instead uses his noggin and unpins the pole, letting the flag fall over. He gets a ride back to camp. Agent Peggy Carter watches all of this. Erskine argues that he is looking for qualities beyond the physical; then Steve impresses everyone by jumping on a grenade that Phillips throws, while everyone else dives for cover. Luckily, it’s a dud. And Steve is accepted as the candidate for Erskine’s experiment, a formula that enhances a man. Not just physically, but in that good traits become great and bad ones become worst. His first subject was Johann Schmidt, the head of Hitler’s research division (the man that claimed the Tesseract in Norway), code-named Hydra. Like Hitler, Schmidt has a passion for occult power and Teutonic myth, but truly believes that these myths are not fantasy, they’re real. There is a great power in the earth. Which Erskine doesn’t know, but Schmidt found. After seeing the result in Schmidt, Erskine defected and is now searching for a worthy man. For a weak man knows the value of strength and also knows compassion, he comments to Steve, and has him promise “to stay who you are.” A good man, not a perfect soldier.
Back in Europe, a Dr. Zola is experimenting on the Tesseract with Schmidt in order to get energy. Schmidt knows what Erskine is up to and has to stop him. He must take away Erskine’s power from the Allies in order to secure a victory for Hydra.
Peggy leads Steve into the secret lab for the experiment, which is aided by Howard Stark. Military and government brass are on hand to witness the event, which Erskine remarks is the first step on the path to peace. His serum will start the process, then Steve will be hit by Vita-Rays to complete the transformation. Steve steps into the capsule and as a bright light threatens to blind everyone, he shouts. Peggy wants it shut down, thinking there is trouble, but Steve insists he can continue. Stark dials it all the way up, then things start sparking. The capsule opens and an impressively muscled Steve Rogers steps out. Peggy is impressed and a bit taken aback (as are many female viewers). But the State Department representative leaves a device in the viewing room, that he blows up in order to create a distraction to steal the last vial of serum and shoot Erskine. Steve goes to his mentor while Peggy goes after the German. She faces off against a car, and Steve saves her from getting run over, then chases after the car. It’s a neighborhood he knows, so he finds a shortcut, but still ends up facing off against the spy. He uses a car door as a shield for a moment until the spy kidnaps a child. He throws him in the water and the kid happily shouts he can swim, so Steve can dive after the spy in the sub. But once they’re on land, the spy bites down on a cyanide capsule, his last words being “Hail Hydra.” The serum was smashed in the scuffle, so they now must rely on Steve’s blood to unlock the secret.
Schmidt faces off against other Nazi officers, who want to shut Hydra down, reminding the man that he serves at the Fuhrer’s pleasure. The Red Skull has been indulged long enough, they comment. Schmidt states that he has harnessed the power of the gods. That just makes them think he’s mad. And his response is to use one of his new weapons to vaporize all the officers. “Hail Hydra,” he remarks.
Stark has to admit he is impressed by the Hydra technology; he’s nowhere close to them. The SSR has decided to take the fight to Hydra. But Steve is not going. They need him in a lab so they can create more super soldiers. A senator offers Steve another option, being the front man for morale. He goes on tours across the U.S. in a show, boosting war bond sales, as the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan. Comics start appearing about him. That’s fairly fine and dandy until he appears in front of soldiers on the front who are not impressed. Peggy finds him, commenting that he was meant for more; his only options are not lab rat or dancing monkey. Then he finds out that the 107th was badly hit in an attack, most either dead or captured. He asks Colonel Phillips about Bucky and is again told there is nothing he can do.
Well, Steve comes up with a plan, grabbing a helmet and a shield, and Peggy convinces Howard to help fly them into enemy territory. Steve drops in and finds the Hydra facility where hundreds of prisoners are being held. He gathers some evidence and frees the prisoners, then goes after Bucky. He spots Zola, who is escaping with Schmidt, but is more concerned with Bucky at that moment. Bucky is glad for a rescue, but remembers Steve being shorter. Steve faces off against Schmidt, who rigged the facility to blow. Schmidt reveals that he truly has become the Red Skull, pulling the skin off his face. He gladly pronounces that he has left humanity behind and that Steve should do the same and embrace that feeling. Steve would rather not. Zola and Schmidt escape, and Bucky begins to make his way to the other side. Steve has to jump.
Phillips pens a note, declaring Captain Steve Rogers killed in action and reprimanding Peggy Carter. There is a commotion at camp: Captain Rogers leads the prisoners, closely followed by Sergeant Barnes and several other men who fell together while locked up. Steve is willing to hand himself over for military discipline, but Phillips is forced to admit that won’t be necessary. Bucky leads the cheers for Captain America. Now Steve can lead missions. He caught a glimpse of a map of Hydra’s facilities and plans to wipe them out. He puts together a team of those who first followed him (who go on to become the Howling Commandos). Bucky will follow Steve, not Captain America; the little guy who was too dumb to run away from a fight. Peggy enters in a red dress, stopping all commotion. She and Steve carry on a conversation and Bucky remarks that he is turning into Steve; now he’s the invisible one.
Stark continues to investigate the glowing sample Steve brought back and a blonde flirts with Steve, resulting in a kiss, which Peggy sees. When Stark shows Steve some new ideas for a shield, Steve picks up the simple vibranium design. When he holds it up, Peggy shoots at him. Stark is a bit impressed and comes clean to Steve that he is not romantically involved with Peggy.
Next are clips of Steve’s missions, with lots of action and shield-throwing and punching. Schmidt yells “You are failing!” He cannot advance is plan to take over the world if a simpleton with a shield keeps destroying his factories. The Commandos and Steve come to a train mission, intent on capturing Zola. Bucky accompanies Steve to the train and they have to take on a few Hydra soldiers; then a hole is blown in the side of a car and Bucky goes through. Steve tries to grab him, but Bucky falls into a canyon. The mission is ultimately a success, but Peggy finds Steve later, drinking. With his boosted metabolism due to the serum, he cannot get drunk. Phillips interrogates Zola on information on Schmidt and they begin to plan their final assault.
Steve heads in on a souped-up motorcycle first and lets himself get captured at the end, to be brought before Schmidt. The rest of the task force crashes in and Steve heads after Schmidt when the Red Skull runs. He has a plane waiting, ready to bomb major American cities. The plane is just too fast for Steve to run after, but Phillips and Peggy bring a car. Peggy gives Steve a kiss before he jumps onto the plane, Phillips declines. Steve takes out what pilots he can and a few bombers, then faces off against Schmidt in the cockpit. They hit the Tesseract housing and Schmidt picks out the cube, which showcases the swirling universe. Then he evaporates, or disintegrates. Steve is left to finish the mission. He has to put the plane down, now, before it gets too close to New York; it will save the most people. He gets Peggy on the radio and Phillips discreetly leaves. Peggy tries to talk Steve out of it, but Steve Rogers is Captain America for a reason. So they plan a dance date, to keep things light, until the line goes dead.
This is how there is a crash site in the Artic and indeed the shield they found is Captain America’s. Stark is shown to find the Tesseract in the ocean, after it melted through the floor of the plane; he’s searching for Steve and will continue to do so. The Commandos solemnly celebrate V-E Day. Furthermore, Steve wakes up in a hospital room, with the radio playing a ball game. A uniformed woman enters, but Steve picks up on the deception. The ball game on the radio is from 1941; he knows because he was there. He smashes through a wall and runs out into the streets…of modern-day New York City. He stops and is surrounded in Times Square and Nick Fury steps out of a car. He tells the soldier that he has been asleep for almost seventy years.
The credits note that Captain America will return in the Avengers. The after-credits scene is Fury approaching Steve in a gym, after he destroys a punching bag. He has a mission for Steve, to save the world. And there is a trailer mentioning Some Assembly Required.
I’m noticing that as I re-watch these first few movies in the MCU, I’m recalling that hey, I actually like these movies. Because they’re fun, like superhero movies should be. Yes, there should be some sort of danger that they have to overcome and obstacles and such; that all makes a good story. But these are fun movies to watch that you’re not trying to recall details from three movies ago. For instance, I watched Iron Man and remember, yeah, Iron Man is cool and fun and this is a good story. Then I watch Thor and oh yeah, this is definitely cool with the mythology and everything. And now I watch Captain America and yes, again, this is cool, it’s a good superhero for World War II and introduced other characters that I want to read stories about. And gearing up for Avengers…I miss some of that excitement. I’m sure I will go into more detail as we continue through the MCU.
And on a personal note, I have to comment that I felt a bit like Steve Rogers entering Times Square for my first time. And I even said that, since it was after this movie came out. I have been to New York City once, on a college choir trip (we got to premiere a piece at Carnegie Hall, which yes, is very cool) and our first night in the city, my group trouped to Times Square and mind you, this is like nine or ten o’clock at night and Times Square is as bright as day with all the signs. We hit a few stores, including the Disney store because we are millennials. Later, I did get to check out Central Park and later ate at an Irish pub a few blocks from Times Square. Sadly, we were there over a holiday weekend and the New York Public Library was not open for me to peruse its shelves. But yes, I distinctly recall thinking I was a bit like Steve Rogers in Times Square.
Up Next: Avengers