“Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”

A scrappy kid from Brooklyn becomes the country’s best hope against Germany in World War II after getting injected with a super soldier serum.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Directed by Joe Johnston
Screenplay by Cristopher Markus & Stephen McFeely

While SUPERMAN has always been my favorite comic book character, but growing up, I also had a soft spot for Captain America. Maybe I just liked the red and blue outfits. Though Captain America and Superman share a lot of similar traits. They’re both the product of a different American age and they both can tend to be considered a bit out-of-touch for modern sensibilities.

When these two are written well, though, when they are handled with care, what you get are characters who embody the spirit of a generation that just wanted someone who could stand up for the little guy and represent the best of what this country – of what people, in general – could be.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER is a love letter to an idealized country that spent years during World War II fighting to save the world. And Steve Rogers is a great allegory for the country, too: much like America went from a small collection of farmers and landowners fighting for an identity all its own to be the most powerful country in the world, Rogers went from being a small, sickly kid who just wanted to enlist and became the country’s greatest hero.

Chris Evans was a surprising choice to play Rogers, back when casting was announced. He had already had two turns as Johnny Storm in the woefully underwhelming FANTASTIC FOUR movies. But from the moment Steve Rogers emerges from the test that increases his physical strength and development, Evans just completely embodies the character and it elevates the movie into something great.

The movie was the final solo film that introduced a member of the team that would become THE AVENGERS, and it sticks to the formula that ensured that moviegoers would care about IRON MAN and THOR. Phase 1 of Marvel’s plans to build a cinematic universe was well underway by the time CAPTAIN AMERICA was released, and it was building to a great success. But if this movie fell flat, if Chris Evans somehow didn’t manage to come across as a great Steve Rogers, THE AVENGERS would have felt hollow.

Instead, Marvel followed their successful formula. THE FIRST AVENGER wasn’t a superhero movie. It was a war movie about a kid who no one wanted in the war effort, overcoming his shortcomings and saving his best friend. The hero’s journey here just happened to be about a guy in a colorful costume who carried a red, white and blue shield. And the Marvel Cinematic Universe was given its emotional and spiritual leader for the next seven years.

Is CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER a perfect movie? Absolutely not, and it’s probably the worst of the three CAPTAIN AMERICA movies. But it’s still very good.