Continuing our look back at the Captain America movies, here’s part 2 of the recap of last year’s Captain America: The First Avenger. As we left off last week, Dr. Erskine’s secret serum had just transformed scrawny Steve into Big Steve. Agent Peggy Carter has to reach out and touch him just to make sure this isn’t like that dream she had that one time.
But the celebration of the super-soldier’s success is short-lived when a Nazi spy sets off an explosion and then shoots Dr. Erskine, giving us our first glimpse of Captain America in action. Unlike the very simple one-two punch of the comics version, the movie gives us a full-blown action sequence.
While everyone else is ducking for cover, Agent Carter draws her pistol and shoots at the spy as he’s escaping with the last vial of serum. She wings him, but doesn’t bring him down. He shoots his way out into the street and jumps in a getaway car, but this is Peggy’s moment to show her true badassery.
She shoots the driver, but the spy steals a cab and gets away. Or not, as Steve has finally gotten over his shock and comes running out barefoot to give chase with his newly-enhanced strength and speed. He catches the car and jumps on the roof, distracting the spy into a car wreck. The spy stumbles out and shoots at Steve, who uses the cab door as another improvised shield (and notice the “Lucky Star Cab Company” logo, wink-wink).
It’s not the best shield in the world; the bullets go right through, and one cuts Steve along the rib cage. The spy runs onto the docks and uses a remote control to summon an awesome Nazi mini-sub for his getaway, but Steve swims after it and catches it before it can get up to full speed. The spy is caught, but the vial of serum is smashed, and the spy crunches on a poison tooth while reciting the Hydra motto: “Cut off one head, two more shall take its place!”
So Erskine is dead and the formula has been lost. And meanwhile, Schmidt is having problems of his own. A group of Nazi officers (and if you look carefully at the one guy’s red armband, you’ll see one of this WWII movie’s only two swastikas) have shown up to tell Schmidt the Fuhrer is displeased with his apparent lack of progress. So Schmidt demonstrates his newest ray gun weapon for… um, actually on them.
That’s right. Schmidt has gone rogue. Hydra is now free of German influence and can give its own goofy salute.
Back in America, Colonel Phillips is upset. The super-soldier program is a washout, because Erskine, like all movie scientists, left no records or something. Meanwhile, his unit, the Strategic Scientific Reserve, is tasked specifically to go after Hydra (and like the O.S.S. became the C.I.A. after the war, the S.S.R. will morph into S.H.I.E.L.D.).
But Phillips wants nothing to do with Steve. Phillips had argued with Erskine over Steve’s selection for the program, and he still doesn’t believe Steve is qualified. So Steve is pressed into service by Senator Brandt to help sell bonds, by wearing a goofy costume and putting on a show.
That’s the classic Simon/Kirby costume, and I’m glad to see it, even if they are just making fun of it. Steve becomes a media sensation, appearing not just in stage extravaganzas, but also in movies and comic books (with the classic Captain America #1 cover now recontextualized into an adaptation of a moment from the stage show when Cap pretends to knock out Hitler).
But when Steve takes his show on the road to entertain the troops overseas, he gets a much less enthusiastic reception. He is reunited with Agent Carter, who tells him the professor meant him for bigger things. And at just that moment, we see the routed soldiers of the 107th (Bucky’s unit) staggering into base. Steve goes to the Colonel to ask about a rescue operation, but the Colonel dismisses him as a “chorus girl.”
So Steve, who has memorized the map in the Colonel’s HQ tent (apparently his biceps weren’t the only thing enlarged by the professor’s serum), decides to mount his own rescue. He plans to steal a jeep, but Carter volunteers Howard Stark’s help. They take Stark’s plane into German airspace and Steve parachutes out, wearing a leather jacket over his Captain America uniform.
He sneaks into the Hydra base with his very inconspicuous red-white-and-blue shield strapped to his back, discovers the weapons that Schmidt is manufacturing, then frees the captured men of the 107th, including these guys.
In the comics, they were Sgt. Fury’s Howlin’ Commandos, who were later drafted into S.H.I.E.L.D. after Nick Fury was tasked to lead the agency. Cap tells them to escape while he goes to search for more survivors.
So the Commandos escape with a half-hearted “Wahoo!” from Neal McDonough’s Dum Dum Dugan, which alerts Schmidt to Steve’s presence. So Schmidt sets the base to self-destruct, sending Zola scurrying off to collect some essential documents like these.
Yes, if you remember the comics rendition of Zola last week, those are plans for Zola’s mechanical body. Zola flees just as Cap arrives to discover Bucky strapped to a chair after having apparently been tortured for information. As Cap and Bucky are making their escape, they are confronted by Schmidt, who taunts Cap before demonstrating his own enhanced strength. And then, just to show off, he pulls off his face!
Yeah, he’s the Red Skull all right. Finally. Zola traps Cap on the other side of a mechanical bridge while he and the Skull escape. The Skull leaves in some kind of rocket gyro, while Zola gets the keys to the Skull’s bitchin’ convertible with the 24 cylinder engine.
Days later, Colonel Phillips is preparing a condolence letter to send to Senator Brandt about Steve’s death in combat, when the men of the 107th, led by Cap, Bucky and the Howlin’ Commandos, return to base. The men all give an embarrassed Steve a cheer while Agent Peggy gives him a look that says, “I’m standing very still right now, because if I move too much, the juices will run down my leg.”
Even Colonel Phillips acknowledges that Steve has the right stuff now, especially since Steve memorized a map in the Hydra base showing the locations of their other bases. In fact, Steve is so busy briefing the Colonel on the map that he misses his own medal ceremony, giving us the obligatory Stan Lee cameo.
Steve and Bucky recruit the Howlin’ Commandos to be Steve’s personal combat squad, and Peggy shows up in a hot red dress to tell Steve she might possibly be willing to date him after he wins the war.
Maybe she might have moved just a little faster, though, because the next day, Stark’s secretary is all over Steve, leading Carter to shoot him.
Okay, he’s holding the prototype shield when she does it, but still. After Stark has done his Q thing, designing Steve a new bullet-and-bayonet resistant outfit and painted everything up to resemble Steve’s USO get-up, it’s time for the real Cap to make his debut.
And with that, we’ll see you next week for the conclusion.