Captain America: The First Avenger is the story of a man who wants to do the right things for the right reasons.
“OK,” I hear you saying. “So, he wants to do the right thing? Sounds good. End of story?” Not a bit.
Wanting to do the right thing and doing it are very different beasts, and it’s not until the good Captain learns how to differentiate between the two that he truly blossoms into the hero that was always inside.
This is the journey in Captain America: The First Avenger.
At the start of the film we’re introduced to Steve Rogers. He’s a slight man with about a million health problems. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if it weren’t for Roger’s goal: to join the army and fight with the allies in World War II.
After getting an F-4 on his physical, his chances seem slim and his discouragement is growing, which isn’t helped by his best friend Bucky Barnes’ impending deployment. “Don’t win the war til I get there,” Rogers tells him, but they both know it will be a long shot. Rogers has no way to be what the army needs. He wants to—taking on bullies in back allies—but it’s not enough.
That changes when Steve meets Abraham Erskine, a doctor with the Strategic Scientific Reserve. Erskine, along with Agent Peggy Carter and Colonel Chester Philips, is working on a serum meant to create super-soliders and Rogers just might fit the bill. With that, Rogers is allowed to enlist and begin training.
Although Steve gives it his all, his performance in basic training leaves something to be desired. “You don’t win wars with niceness, doctor,” the Colonel says. “You win wars with guts.” To prove his point, he lobs a grenade into the ranks. As panic ripples through the yard, Steve Rogers makes a hero’s choice and covers the bomb with his body.
Perhaps guts have less to do with muscles than the Colonel thought.
In the Strategic Scientific Reserve , muscles are easy to make. And, with the aid of Howard Stark, Erskine turns little Steve Rogers into a super solider in a sequence that echoes the best of midcentury sci-fi films. Now Steve’s outsides not only fit the Army’s mold, they surpass it.
Just then, an undercover enemy sets off a bomb, killing Erskine and destroying the super serum. With the creator and the formula lost, Rogers is too valuable to risk. But the army still needs entertainment, and Steve is given his first assignment to promote war bonds as “Captain America” in a USO review.
It’s not what he signed up for, but the guys up top think this is the best way. After all, it can’t take that long to reverse engineer Erskine’s serum, can it?
While performing in Italy, Steve learns that his friend Bucky’s unit is MIA. If he tries to save his friend, he’ll be going against his orders, but isn’t it more important to save lives than risk destroying the serum? His superiors have made it clear which loss is more important to them, but has Steve? Breaking the rules isn’t in his nature, but is the “right thing” the thing you’re told to do or the thing you should do?
Behind enemy lines, Steve finds the missing unit and comes face-to-face with Johann Schmidt. He’s the head of Hydra, an extreme Nazi group, but he’s more than that. He’s a failed experiment with the super-solider serum, which has left him with a horrific disfigurement that gave him the nickname “The Red Skull.” This guy is nuts and dangerous—definitely someone who needs to be stopped.
Steve returns to base with the missing soldiers. Turns out, that letting him call the shots results in saved lives. Choosing to go against his orders was as painful as injecting the serum, but living through both made him the real Captain American inside and out.
But there’s no rest of the weary.
The Captain and his team learn the location of Schmidt’s secret base and it’s off to save the day once and for all. Unfortunately, bravery and selflessness come at a price, and while fighting the Red Skull aboard his plane, the Captain is forced to crash in the Arctic to keep the weapons from detonating. It seems, that Steve Rogers had finally made the ultimate sacrifice he had always been ready to make.
That is, until he wakes up 70 years later.
Captain America: The First Avenger is a story about a man who wants to help save the world. It’s a story about the balance between internal and external strength, and making the tough decisions on how to use that strength. Captain America may be a symbol of heroism, but he’d be nothing without little Steve Rogers, the man who wanted to do the right thing for the right reasons.
Can you believe we’re already nearly through with Phase One of the current MCU? Next time we meet, we’ll tackle the epically magical The Avengers.
Check out Chris Evan’s Captain America costume and shield in MARVEL: Universe of Super Heroes at MoPOP through 2018.