Classifying the Marvel cinematic universe as an amalgamation of superhero movies would be misleading. Though the characters are plucked from comic books, their narratives are much deeper than simply heroes vs. villains. Additionally, each film Marvel Studios has produced varies. “Iron Man” featured wisecracking playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), while “Thor” shone with Asgardian regality. In 2011, “Captain America: The First Avenger” dropped, offering the most unique entry and adding a bevy of important lore.
“Captain America” opens in present day with a massive plane under the ice. The rescue team discover a familiar looking patriotic shield, and we timewarp back to 1942. Nazi officer Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), attacks a church in Norway searching for a relic known as the Tesseract. Schmidt obtains the mysterious glowing cube, and we jump to New York City, where Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is once again rejected for deployment in WWII for health reasons. Rogers attends an expo on the future with buddy Sgt. Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), which features inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper). Steve once again applies for military service, and is surprisingly accepted by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci).
Dr. Erskine reveals that he’s chosen Rogers as the test subject for his super soldier serum, much to the skepticism of the seasoned Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). The serum takes hold, and Rogers is transformed from a skinny Brooklyn kid into a jacked soldier prototype. Though he appears physically battle ready, much more so than the surrounding soldiers, he’s kept State side to drum up patriotism and morale at home. While on an overseas performance for the troops, he discovers from Officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), also Rogers’ romantic attraction, that his childhood friend Bucky is missing in action. This prompts an covert drop into enemy territory, where Rogers rescues Bucky and a horde of other Allied soldiers, before tackling the challenge of taking down Hydra, a faction of the Nazi party spearheaded by Schmidt and scientist crony Arnim Zola (Toby Jones).
“Captain America: The First Avenger” stands out in the Marvel canon for several reasons. Primarily, there’s the presentation. “Captain America” is a highly stylized period piece, with lush visuals. Almost cartoonish, it very much mimics the retro comics in appearance and setting. Beneath this sepia-toned veneer is a wealth of crucial lore, which would be significant in future Marvel works. The most obvious of these nuggets is actually found in the tagline, “The First Avenger.” The Avengers initiative had been discussed by S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) previously, but we actually meet the first of the future Avengers, Rogers. More importantly, the notion of super soldiers is introduced, along with an explanation of the Tesseract. Both the Asgardian artifact and the super soldier program evolve as the film series, and eventual TV show progress.
The 2011 introduction to Steve “Captain America” Rogers marked a turning point in the series, after which the development of lore became increasingly rapid and relevant. Additionally, though audiences were given a peek at the Tesseract earlier, its beginnings weren’t divulged. Possibly the most momentous aspect of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” however, was Hydra. Interestingly, mimicking the mysterious cult-like Nazi branch Hydra, that impact would lay dormant, biding its time before an earth-shattering reveal.
Notably, a new spin-off series "Marvel's Agent Carter" is slated to air this Winter on ABC. The show will follow Peggy Carter, and will feature the return of Hayley Atwell to the Marvel universe. Carter debuted in "Captain America," and was a founding S.H.I.E.L.D. member. Although there's no definite word yet on whether it will tie into upcoming films and the current "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." series, the precedent suggests as such.