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Last Tuesday, October 25, 2011, I downloaded from iTunes my pre-ordered HD version of Captain America: First Avenger. I had originally seen this movie when it came out in the theaters. In fact, the movie was originally released on my birthday (July 22) when I was in Hawaii on my 10th anniversary vacation, so naturally I dragged my wife to go see it.

Anyway, Captain America marks the fifth movie release in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The other four being Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2 (reviewed here), and Thor (reviewed here). Unlike their previous movie franchises —  e.g., Spider-Man, X-Men, and Fantastic Four — Marvel Comics is creating a cinematic universe in which each movie is interconnected to the other movies. All of this is culminating for next May’s release of The Avengers, which will feature all four of the main characters — Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America — along with a couple of other supporting characters (Black Widow from Iron Man 2, and Hawkeye from Thor) to form the super-hero team called The Avengers.

Captain America stars Chris Evans (who played Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies) in the lead role as Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America. His main antagonist is Johann Schmidt (a.k.a. The Red Skull) played very ably by Hugo Weaving (of Matrix and Lord of the Rings fame).

The story begins in the present time as some arctic explorers uncover a downed aircraft of WWII vintage. They call the government to investigate and discover Captain America’s shield in the process. The movie next switches to 1942 as Schmidt, the head of Hitler’s Special Weapons department called Hydra, invades the town of Tønsberg, Norway to steal an object called a tesseract — a cube of unspeakable power that was an artifact of Asgaard, home of the Norse gods.

Next we’re taken to New York City where Steve Rogers is rejected for enlistment in the U.S. Army for the fifth time due to being physically unable to serve. A dejected Rogers hooks up with his friend Bucky Barnes to go to the future technologies expo. While there, Rogers sees another Army recruiting center. After a heated exchange with Barnes, which is over heard by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanely Tucci), Rogers tries to enlist for the sixth time. While waiting in the examining room, Rogers is confronted by Dr. Erskine, who asks him if he “wants to kill Nazis.” Rogers replies that he doesn’t want to “kill” anyone, he just doesn’t like bullies. Impressed by his answer, Dr. Erskine recruits Rogers for his “Super Soldier” program.

Rogers is one of several recruits being considered by the program headed by Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and British agent, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Rogers is eventually chosen to undergo the procedure (enthusiastically by Dr. Erskine, reluctantly by Col. Phillips) after the two witness an act of self-sacrificial bravery by Rogers as he dives to shield the other recruits from a dummy hand grenade thrown in by Col. Phillips to prove a point. Prior to the procedure, Dr. Erskine reveals to Rogers that Schmidt also received the “Super Soldier” formula in its more primitive form. Another side effect of the formula is that the serum not only greatly enhances physical attributes, but is also accentuates personality — a good man becomes great, whereas a bad man becomes worse.

The procedure involves being injected by the “Super Soldier” formula and then being bombarded by “vita” rays. The result of the procedure is that 90-lb weakling Steve Rogers is transformed into an amazing physical specimen (by the way, the special effects that made Chris Evans look like he was 5’6″ 90 lbs, is amazing). Unbeknownst to everyone, a Hydra agent was present during the procedure. After witnessing its success, the agent kills Dr. Erskine and steals the last vial of the serum. Rogers, now bigger, faster and stronger than any ten men, chases down the Hydra agent only to watch him commit suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule. Col. Phillips, greatly disappointed that he’s not going to get a whole platoon of Super Soldiers, orders Rogers to stay behind and allow the scientists to try to replicate the serum from his blood. Sen. Brandt, who chairs the Senate oversight committee in charge of the process, has other ideas for Rogers and transforms him into “Captain America,” a costumed “super-hero” to sell war bonds.

While all of this is happening, back in Germany, Schmidt, with the help of Dr. Arnim Zola, manage to harness the power of the tesseract and engineer an arsenal of super-powered weapons with which to conquer the world. When Schmidt’s megalomaniacal plans become known to German high command, Schmidt “demonstrates” his new weapons…on three representatives from the high command. Hydra is now an independent entity concerned with its own plans for world domination.

It’s now 1943, and in Italy, Rogers and his “Captain America” review is performing for the troops, when Rogers learns that his close friend, Bucky Barnes, and most of his unit has been captured behind enemy lines. Rogers, with the help of Agent Carter and Howard Stark (Tony “Iron Man” Stark’s father) makes a daring raid of the Hydra base and rescues Barnes and most of the captured men; much to the chagrin of Col. Phillips. Steve Rogers has truly become Captain America.

Captain America has now become America’s “secret weapon” in the fight against Hydra and the Red Skull. With a new costume and an impervious shield (made of “vibranium”), Captain America, Bucky Barnes and his hand picked squad of men (nicknamed “The Howlin’ Commandos”) systematically raid and destroy all of the Hydra bases; forcing Schmidt and Dr. Zola to retreat to their final base. As Dr. Zola is en route, Captain America and his crew plan to capture the train that is taking him to the last Hydra base. In the attempt, Barnes is killed, but Dr. Zola is captured and he reveals the location of the final base in which the Red Skull is planning his final attack — a mass attack with multiple manned drones on all major world capitals. Cap and his unit attack the final base, and in the process of battle Cap chases the Skull to the massive plane that is carrying the drones. The two fight and the casing carrying the tessaract is damaged. The Red Skull handles the tesseract manually and disolves in a blinding light. The cube dissolves through the interior decks of the plane and through the hull and falls to the sea below. Captain America, realizing that he cannot land the plane, decides the only course of action is to crash land the plane in the arctic.

The last scene of the movie shows Rogers recuperating in what appears to be a hospital bed in 1943, but in reality it is really 2011 and Captain America has been in a suspended animation for nearly 70 years. He is welcomed to the real world by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). The “Easter Egg” at the end of the credits depicts Rogers in a gym working out on a punching bag when Fury informs him there is a new mission for him. We are then treated to a mini-preview of the upcoming Avengers movie.

OK, I absolutely loved this movie. More than Iron Man and Thor, Captain America was one of my favorite heroes growing up, so to see him on the big screen was a real treat. The casting for this movie was near perfect and the story was really well done. One of my fears coming into the movie was whether or not the script writers would water down the pro-America flavor to Captain America out of concern of turning the movie into a war propaganda movie. My fears were unwarranted. The story was very true to the essence of the Captain America comics. Furthermore, the character of Steve Rogers was written perfectly! Rogers is the paladin, the humble, honorable, and courageous hero who puts others before himself and is willing to sacrifice himself to save others. On the other hand, Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull was also perfect casting. Hugo Weaving was made to play sinister characters. There really is very little, if anything, that I would critique about this movie.

As far as continuity within the Marvel Cinematic Universe is concerned, we see the tesseract that was in the teaser scene at the end of Thor. We now learn that the tessaract is one of Odin’s artifacts. We also see the young Howard Stark (mentioned in both Iron Man movies) whose company is the top supplier to the U.S. Military. The “Super Soldier” formula was first introduced in The Incredible Hulk as the serum that was injected into Emil Blonski (who later becomes the Abomination). The stage is now set for The Avengers in May 2012. Can’t wait!

Captain America: First Avenger — 3.5 stars out of 4.