Marvel Cinematic Universe guide: part 5 – Captain America: The First Avenger

Posted on 22 February 2016
By Alex Green
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One of the most popular Avengers entered the MCU in this explosive and unique debut, which remains one of the strongest and popular films in the Marvel universe.

Captain America, much like Thor, is a film that exists outside of the usual superhero paradigm in that it’s set in a different time zone and location to most other films in that genre.

At the present moment, Marvel have completely redefined the superhero genre so that these off the track, unique films are almost the norm now and it all started with these early MCU films like Thor and this Captain America film.

Like Thor gave us the Cosmic side to the MCU, CATFA gives us a history story, which is unique in that it is the only film in the universe which is set in the past (if you exclude the Agent Carter series.)

The formula that Marvel has established for their films though remains for Captain America: The First Avenger (released 2011) in some elements however.

Similar to Iron Man, Hulk and Thor before it, we’re introduced to our hero, a young New Yorker called Steve Rogers, who feels lost because of his inability to join the U.S. Army to fight in World War Two.

At the start of the film we are introduced to Johann Schmidt, a Nazi Officer. Schmidt is in Norway to collect an ancient relic called the Tesseract.

After another unsuccessful attempt to enlist in the army ensues, Steve is offered the chance to enrol in a Super Solider programme by a German Scientist called Dr Abraham Erskine. Steve trains under Colonel Chester Phillips and British Agent Peggy Carter, who later serves as Steve’s main love interest. Before his experiment, Erskine reveals to Steve that Schmidt also underwent the same experiment but with negative effects, creating The Red Skull.

Meanwhile, Schmidt and his scientific advisor, Dr Arnim Zola are trying to harness the power of the Tesseract for their own means. When Erskine is killed by a HYDRA spy, the super soldier formula is lost and Colonel Phillips sends Steve on a nationwide tour to promote the war effort and use him as a propaganda piece.

When Steve arrives in Italy to support the troops, he learns that childhood friend Bucky Barnes has been captured by HYDRA, along with his team. After successfully extracting Bucky and his team, Steve comes face to face with Schmidt as the Red Skull for the first time. After Schmidt escapes, Steve leads the freed soldiers back to camp and then starts to lead this team on various missions to destroy known HYDRA bases around Europe.

These missions lead the team straight to Dr Zola, who is travelling on a train through Europe. Steve and his team stage a mission to capture Zola and are successful in doing so. However, Bucky falls off the train to his death.

Using Zola, the team extract the location of the final HYDRA base and Cap and his team mount a mission to stop the Red Skull using the Tesseract to destroy American Cities and eventually the world. Steve lands on Schmidt’s plane just as it’s about to take off, and the following fight sees the Red Skull touch the Tesseract with his bare hands and subsequently dissolve in bright light.

Steve tries to land the plane but realises there’s no way to do so without causing the explosives to go off. He lands the plane in the Arctic, thus saving the world from the Tesseract’s destruction. Howard Stark recovers the Tesseract but cannot find Cap, and presumes him dead.

Cap wakes up in a 1940s style hospital room but after his suspicions he escapes, and runs out into modern day New York City, where he is eventually surrounded by S.H.I.E.L.D in Times Square where Nick Fury tells him that he’s been asleep for almost seventy years. The post credit sequence sees Nick Fury approach Steve in the gym to tell him off a mission with a global threat, hinting at the Avengers, the next film in the MCU.

Captain America: The First Avenger does follow the usual Marvel formula of downtrodden nobody becoming the hero but throughout the film there are certain themes which perfectly capture what Captain America embodies. Before becoming the Captain, Steve is a small and weak person but no matter how much he gets picked on, always wants to do the right thing and it’s evident that he will never ever give up when he’s trying to achieve that.

At the centre of the film is also a love story. A love story that isn’t a huge struggle or against all the odds, just two people who found each other amidst the chaos of war. Unlike most of the Marvel stories that have followed though, this love story does not have a happy ending but has a very emotional and very upsetting end with Peggy presuming Steve dead and Steve, waking up in the twenty first century, not being able to do anything about that.

The story is in use right until the very last words of the film and is a refreshing, if not a sad take on the gigantic, cool, sign off ends Superhero films have. Steve is more fazed that he won’t get to have his dance with Peggy than the fact he’s slept for seventy years and is still alive.

Apart from the touching sub-plot at its centre, the film delivers on a explosive action front and brilliant performances from the cast, delivering the comic book accuracy and great film details expected from Marvel.

Chris Evans shines as the leading man whilst Hugo Weaving gives a performance of such menace as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull. The Supporting cast also deserve their own plaudits, with special praise to Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter, Toby Jones as Arnim Zola and Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes.

The two Captain America films are particular highlights in the MCU and there is high hopes for the third instalment of Civil War to be just as good and with the same writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley on board, there is hope it will do just as well, if not better.

Some of the geekier spots and easter eggs in the film include Howard Stark, Tony’s father helping Cap assemble his suit and providing him with his famous shield. In Captain America Issue one back in the 1940s, Cap is seen punching Hitler which Steve does in the film to an actor as part of his propaganda tour.

Stan Lee makes a cameo as U.S. army officer and in the future expo Steve and Bucky visit near the start of the film we see a glimpse of a red figure in a glass case which looks very much like the first Human Torch (not of the Fantastic Four) who appeared in Marvel Comics #1.

You can go back and read part 4 of our guide where we discuss Thor here:

Next time we’re looking at the culmination of Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with 2012s The Avengers.