Captain America: The First Avenger is a 2011 film released in the Earth-11584 continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Released on July 22, 2011, the film stars Chris Evans and was directed by Joe Johnston. It is the second theatrical rendition of the character, following the widely panned 1990 film directed by Albert Pyun. It is the 6th film in Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film was a commercial and critical success, earning over $370 million at the worldwide box office.
There had long been plans for a Captain America movie, ever since the low budget 1990 film directed by Albert Pyun had been released on VHS. Development on a script would stall in the mid 1990s, with the property passing through the hands of Universal, 20th Century Fox, and finally landing at Paramount. Pre-Production on a script was delayed by a lawsuit from writer Joe Simon over the copyright to the Captain America character. In 2005, this lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, and work began again. Director Joe Johnston was brought in April 2008, and Captain America was slated to be released as the final film before The Avengers closed off Phase 1.
Chris Evans was cast as Steve Rogers in late 2009, despite the fact that he had previously played the character of Johnny Storm in two Fox Fantastic Four films in 2005 and 2007 respectively (the role in the MCU would eventually go to Logan Lerman). The film was set to be a period piece largely set in the 40s, with Johnston saying that inspiration was drawn from the film Raiders of the Lost Ark to give it a sort of timelessness. Hugo Weaving was cast to play Johann Schmidt, aka the Red Skull, and though he signed a contract to appear in more films, the role would be recast due to creative differences in later films. Filming for The First Avenger began in August of 2010, and despite delays wrapped up by the end of that year.
In modern day Greenland, a Russian submarine uncovers the husk of an aircraft from the World War II era, though far larger than any thought built. SHIELD investigates, sending Special Agent Phil Coulson to oversee the salvage operation. Things are put on hold when they find that there is a man trapped in the cockpit, a soldier thought lost to legend...
Flashback to the early days of World War II and a small town in Norway. An old man is frantically trying to recover some documents from a church, when the ancient door is knocked over by a tank. In steps Johann Schmidt, who claims that the old man knows what he is looking for. After some coercion, the old man reveals the hidden treasure in the wall of the Church, and Schmidt withdraws it, revealing something called the Tesseract...
In America, the War effort has just begun and young Steve Rogers is eager to serve. However he is rejected from military service due to a variety of health difficulties. After trying to stop some bullies from beating up a kid, and failing, Rogers is approached by his good friend, James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes, who tells him to find another way to serve. Barnes himself has enlisted and joined the 107th Infantry Brigade, headed for North Africa.
Rogers though is undeterred, and he falsifies documents to try and get enlisted in other locations. On his fifth try he is caught, and pulled aside by MP's. However instead of being arrested, he is met by Dr. Abraham Erskine, who offers him a chance to join the military through a special division called the Strategic Scientific Reserve. Erskine asks him why he is so eager to go overseas, if he wants to kill Nazis. Rogers replies he simply believes in doing what is right. Erskine enrolls him in Project Rebirth.
At boot camp in Camp Lehigh, New Jersey, Rogers clearly struggles with all the physical requirements of a soldier's life. He is chastised by his comrades, in particular his commanding officer Gen. Chester Phillips. However Rogers earns some of Phillips' respect when, in a demonstration, Rogers automatically jumps on what he thinks is a live grenade, telling everyone else to get back. Erskine convinces Phillips to let him use his serum on Rogers. While at Camp Lehigh, Rogers befriends a female Agent of the SSR by the name of Peggy Carter.
In Germany, Johann Schmidt has become the leader of a deep science division of the SS known as HYDRA. When members of the Fuhrer's inner circle come to examine HYDRA's research on weapons technology, Schmidt turns on them, killing them and telling his confidant Dr. Arnim Zola that HYDRA could grow no more in the shadow of the Nazi's. Schmidt says he not only wishes to destroy America and her allies, but to overthrow Hitler and take command of the Third Reich as well. Zola agrees, and Schmidt dispatches Heinz Kruger to America to kill the "loose end" that is Dr. Erskine.
The night before the procedure, Erskine and Rogers discuss why Rogers was chosen. Erskine admits that Rogers was not his first attempt with the Serum, that Schmidt had taken it himself before the war though there were "unintended side effects." Rogers is told not to lose respect for the power that he might gain in the procedure. The following day, Rogers undergoes the transformation, using Erskine's serum and bombardment from Vita-Rays courtesy of inventor Howard Stark. The procedure is a success, improving Rogers' strength, speed, and agility to superhuman levels. Unfortunately, Erskine is killed by Kruger shortly thereafter. Rogers gives chase, preventing Kruger from escaping with a sample of the Super Soldier Serum, but Kruger kills himself before he can be captured.
With no hope of unlocking Erskine's formula, Phillips orders Carter and Stark to Europe to take the fight to HYDRA, but orders Rogers to Alomogordo to "serve as a lab rat." Senator Stern, however, intercedes and drafts Rogers into the USO. Given a field promotion to the rank of Captain and a new red white and blue outfit, he is called Captain America, and used for propaganda films and selling war bonds. The tour across the country is beneficial to the war effort, but when he goes overseas to Italy he is met with heavy resistance from the troops. There, he reconnects with Agent Carter, and learns that the war against HYDRA is going badly. He also learns that the 107th took heavy casualties. After learning from Gen. Phillips of Bucky's possible capture, Rogers convinces Agent Carter and Stark to flying him behind enemy lines against orders. At the HYDRA base, Rogers frees several of the soldiers at first and finds Bucky in an area where he was experimented on by Dr. Zola. With the base compromised, Schmidt orders its destruction and his evacuation, but en route to a helicopter Schmidt and Rogers confront each other. A brief struggle ensues where Schmidt reveals he is as strong as Captain America, and also removes his face, revealing it as a mask and showing his true visage as the Red Skull.
Rogers brings the soldiers and several HYDRA weapons back to camp in Italy, earning him an official promotion to Captain and a battalion of his own. This battalion consists of himself, Bucky, demolitions expert Dum-Dum Dugan, and several soldiers he rescued from the HYDRA base (including the grandfather of modern day Nick Fury). He and his Howling Commandos begin systematically taking out several HYDRA bases across Europe, their locations provided by Bucky based on a map he saw. Cap is also granted a shield, made from a small amount of Vibranium that Howard Stark had been gifted after "doing some missionary work in Africa." Red Skull, naturally, is annoyed by this, and orders Zola to come up with a way to stop Captain America. Meanwhile, Cap also grows closer to Agent Carter during this time, with both feeling an attraction to one another, including a moment in a small bar where they share a brief dance before being interrupted by Phillips with a new mission. They've found the location of HYDRA's chief scientist, Arnim Zola. Rogers promises Peggy that, when they've finished all the missions, they will finish their dance.
On the mission, the Howling Commandos try to hijack a train heading from Switzerland back to Munich to capture Zola. The plan starts to go off without a hitch, but quickly they are ambushed by HYDRA thugs, with the whole thing having been a setup by Zola. Cap and his team are able to overcome the ambush though and capture Zola, but at the expense of Bucky, who seemingly falls off the back of the train and into a ditch to his death. Later, Rogers mourns his fallen comrade with his teammates, with Gabe Fury in particular offering some words of encouragement to the Captain.
Zola turns against HYDRA to save his own skin, revealing that Schmidt is planning on launching a massive aerial attack against the United States in a bid to take over the world. He also reveals the location of the last HYDRA base near Switzerland. Rogers and his remaining Commandos attack the base outright, while Phillips and his army engage the Germans to distract them. Rogers allows himself to be captured as a decoy, and when the Commandos storm the base, Red Skull launches one of the massive carrier planes set for New York City and the Eastern Seaboard. Rogers manages to stop the smaller bombers from launching from the carrier, and fights the Red Skull in the cockpit. In the course of the fight, the Tesseract powering everything is set free from its housing unit. The Red Skull picks it up, and is suddenly teleported through a portal in space. Unable to disable the autopilot sequence, Rogers forces the plane to crash land in the Arctic, telling Peggy through the radio "We may need to postpone that dance." Though Howard Stark launches a search and rescue operation, and finds the Tesseract on the bottom of the ocean, they never find the plane or Rogers. With Captain America declared MIA, all knowledge of his existence is covered up in subsequent years to conceal the Super Soldier Serum, with the remaining Commandos and Carter herself being sworn to secrecy. Eventually Captain America is thought by the general public to be little more than a publicity stunt to sell war bonds. In addition, the SSR is eventually folded up into a new organization, called SHIELD, and headed by Stark, Carter and Phillips.
Back in the present day, Rogers awakes to find himself in a simulated 1945 New York City. However, an old baseball game that he was at is playing on the radio, cluing him into the ruse. He escapes SHIELD custody and finds himself in Times Square in the modern era, when he is approached by SHIELD director Nick Fury, who tells him its been 70 years since the war ended. Rogers laments that "...he had a date for a dance," as the film ends.
[We fade on a boxing gym, where we see Steve Rogers hitting a punching bag repeatedly with a growing sense of ferocity with each subsequent blow. As time goes by, he eventually knocks the bag off its hook, punching through it and spilling sand all over the place. This cues the entry of Director Nick Fury and Agent Phil Coulson, the former holding a folder of information.]
Fury: You know those things cost a lot of money?
Rogers: Yeah...start me a tab.
[Rogers places another bag on the hook and starts hitting it again.]
Fury: Having trouble sleeping Cap?
Rogers: I've been asleep for 70 years Director, I think I'm due for a few long nights.
Coulson: Be that as it may, we have a problem that requires your help.
[Rogers stops hitting the bag and turns back to look at the two of them. Fury shows him the folder and Rogers begins taking the tape off his fists, looking at the mission briefing.]
Rogers: What am I looking at?
Fury: That's a guy named Loki. Came around a while back and caused a huge fuss. Now he's gotten free with the help of a criminal called Taskmaster, and they've stolen something of value.
[Fury turns the page and Rogers grimaces as he sees a photo of the Tesseract.]
Rogers: Where'd that come from.
Coulson: Howard Stark found it at the bottom of the sea when he was looking for you. We had our people investigating it for use as an energy source but now...
Rogers: Now these two guys have taken it. I understand the mission. I'll get it back.
[Rogers grabs the bag off the hook and hauls it over his shoulder, heading out of the gym before Fury stops him.]
Fury: That's the thing Cap. This mission, it's not the kind you do alone. You're gonna need some help on this one.
Rogers: From who?
[Coulson and Fury look at each other knowingly as the screen cuts to black, the text "CAPTAIN AMERICA WILL RETURN IN THE AVENGERS" appearing on screen.]
Summary of Changes
- The opening scene in Greenland involves a drone going down to explore the inside of the airplane, as opposed to people. Agent Phil Coulson is also present, as opposed to the original film.
- The scene where Steve is beaten up in a back alleyway is because he was stopping some kids from being beaten up by a passing drunkard, rather than being assaulted outside a movie theater by a drunken patron.
- Barnes suggests Rogers joins up as an Air Raid Warden or gets a job in the factory building things, both of which Steve rejects because he thinks there's little chance of a German Air Attack over New York and he's not strong enough to build a thing.
- When Steve tries to enlist for the fifth time, he is actively pulled out of line by MP's and taken to a holding facility for lying on his registration forms, as opposed to just being taken aside by Erskine in the mainline film.
- Schmidt specifically outlines his goals for crushing Hitler in his New World Order to Arnim Zola. It is only implied in the original film.
- Chester Phillips is a General in this Continuity, as opposed to simply a Colonel. He is also explicitly the head of the SSR.
- Senator Bob Stern is a replacement for Senator Brand in the original film, as the Senator who drafts Captain America into selling war bonds and as part of the USO. This Senator Stern is also the grandfather of the Senator Stern who appears in Iron Man 2.
- We actually see some of the experiments that Bucky was subject to based on equipment in the lab room where Cap finds him. It is implied, though not specifically stated, that it was an attempt to recreate Erskine's Super Soldier Serum.
- The Howling Commandos remain mostly the same in this film, however one key change is the mention of Gabriel Fury played by Derek Luke, who is the grandfather to the modern day Nick Fury. This serves as a plot point in Winter Soldier, and is also a nod to mainline Marvel Continuity where Fury is said to have fought in WWII.
- There is no romantic tension between Carter and Rogers over the course of the film, and Howard Stark plays a smaller role in the development of Cap's technology. It's clear from the outset they have a thing for each other, as evidenced by the interrupted date they go on prior to the Arnim Zola mission.
- The mission to retrieve Zola is a deliberate ambush set up by Zola himself.
- It is Gabe Fury that motivates Captain America to continue the fight after Bucky is killed, not Agent Carter.
- As revealed in The Incredible Hulk, all knowledge of Captain America's existence was suppressed after the War, so that no one tried to duplicate Erskine's formula. As the decades went by, Captain America was viewed as nothing more than a propaganda tool at most; a fake patriotic icon like Uncle Sam. Further usage of the character in the Korea and Vietnam campaigns (which is alluded to in other projects, but never explicitly shown) lend credence to this idea.
- The Post-Credits Scene has Phil Coulson present in it, as opposed to just Nick Fury. It is also revealed that Taskmaster is a key component in Loki's plans.
- Chris Evans as Capt. Steve Rogers/Captain America- A US soldier elevated to superhuman physical and mental strength by way of an experimental serum. After defeating Red Skull and HYDRA, he is frozen in ice for 70 years to be revived in the modern day.
- Hayley Atwell as Agent Peggy Carter- A British spy and Agent of the SSR who provides mission support for Captain America and his Howling Commandos.
- Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull- A Nazi general and the head of HYDRA who plots on overthrowing Hitler and taking over the world himself. He underwent a previous version of the Super Soldier treatment, with unintended side effects.
- Sebastian Stan as Sgt. James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes- The best friend of Capt. Rogers and second-in-command of the Howling Commandos platoon that he leads.
- Tommy Lee Jones as General Chester Phillips- The commanding officer of the Strategic Scientific Reserve, a task force charged with defeating the Nazi paramilitary group HYDRA.
- Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark- The founder and owner of Stark Industries, who aides Dr. Erskine in Project Rebirth and serves as scientific advisor to the SSR. Eventual father of Tony Stark.
- Gary Shandling as Senator Bob Stern- A US Senator who wants to use Captain America to sell war bonds to the American people. Also the grandfather of Senator Phillip Stern from Iron Man 2.
- Toby Jones as Dr. Arnim Zola- A HYDRA scientist and aide-de-camp to the Red Skull
- Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine- A German scientist who defected to the Allies just before World War II. The creator of the Super Soldier Serum process that transforms Steve Rogers into Captain America.
- Neal McDonough as Timothy "Dum-Dum" Dugan- A British member of the Howling Commandos Platoon.
- Derek Luke as Gabriel "Gabe" Fury- An American member of the Howling Commandos Platoon. Also the grandfather of modern day SHIELD director Nick Fury.
In addition, Clark Gregg and Samuel L. Jackson reprise their roles as Agent Phil Coulson and SHIELD director Nick Fury respectively. Titus Welliver and Tom Hiddleston also cameo as Taskmaster and Loki respectively in archival footage. Kenneth Choi, JJ Feild and Bruno Ricci play the other members of the Howling Commandos, Jim Morita, James Falsworth and Jacques Dernier respectively. Richard Armitage plays Heinz Kruger, the chief assassin for HYDRA. Lex Shrapnel plays Gilmore Hodge, a bullying soldier at Camp Lehigh who later applauds Steve's heroics. Stan Lee cameos as a General at an aborted medal ceremony for Captain America.
The film received strong reviews upon release, with review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes rating the film at 79% with an average score of 7/10 based on 253 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads ""With plenty of pulpy action, a pleasantly retro vibe, and a handful of fine performances, Captain America is solidly old-fashioned blockbuster entertainment." Critics praised the 1940s setting of the film, as well as Johnston's direction and the performances from the cast, while criticizing the by-the-numbers plotline and the tacked-on set up to The Avengers film.
The film performed well on its opening weekend, earning $65.1 million in North America and becoming the second highest opening weekend for a super hero film in 2011 (just behind Thor). The film would eventually gross $176.6 million at the domestic box office, en route to a worldwide total of $370.6 million.