MCU: 35 Things You Missed In Captain America: The First Avenger
The first Captain America movie was packed full of details from the comics, and hints at the MCU's future.
It's a strange time for the MCU, given all the COVID-19 related delays and postponements. Black Widow is apparently holding on to its theatrical release spot of November 6 and not currently, according to Disney COO Bob Chapek, being considered for a digital release--which means, if we're being realistic, that there's a very real chance 2020 could be the first year without a single MCU release since 2009.
Whatever the case may be, it's been over a year since the last MCU movie, Spider-Man: Far From Home, hit theaters last summer. And while it does, admittedly, feel a bit like a much-needed breather from the non-stop action of superheroes punching things and screwing with the timeline, it's also made us a little nostalgic--especially for the earliest days of the MCU when there were fewer planets crashing into other planets and more origin stories. So, with that in mind, we decided to take a look back at some of the beginnings of the MCU that we know and love today, starting with a personal favorite: Captain America: The First Avenger.
Premiering way back in the halcyon days of 2011, The First Avenger was the MCU's first look at Steve Rogers in the flesh, and a total rework of his comic book origins. The movie version has since become so well known and popular that it's actually more widely understood than the character's (admittedly very complicated) publication history. Still, the movie is jam-packed with references, from tiny details that draw ties to real-world WW2 history, to weird and reinvented nods to the comics the characters sprang from.
We've pulled together 35 details you probably didn't notice--or maybe didn't remember, depending on how recently you've given it a rewatch--about The First Avenger. Let's break them down.
1. Steve On Ice
The discovery of Steve's frozen body is completely reconfigured for the MCU. In the comics, he was first discovered by an Inuit tribe and worshiped as a sort of idol. He was then found by Namor, who hurled the ice block containing Steve's body back into the ocean, where it was then uncovered by a submarine full of Avengers, who thawed him out and welcomed him to their team.
2. No credits
Strangely, The First Avenger has absolutely no opening credits, nor does it have a title screen.
3. Ominous implications
The entire cockpit area of the Valkyrie is conveniently free of ice when SHIELD's recovery team breaches the hull. While this is most certainly a moment where you're supposed to suspend some disbelief, it has some ominous implications about Steve's "death"--namely that he wound up freezing in water that was only shoulder-deep. Bleak.
4. Nordic origins
The MCU's tesseract combines elements of two major artifacts from the comics: the cosmic cube and the space infinity stone. The tesseract's Asgardian connections and Red Skull's interest in the mythological side of things was invented for the film. In the comics, Red Skull simply stole the cosmic cube from AIM scientists.
Newsreels actually did play before movies twice a week from 1942 to 1945, and were one of the chief ways the American public was able to stay informed about the war effort.
6. Bucky's new origin
Bucky's MCU origin story has been completely changed for the MCU. In the comics, Bucky was a child born in Shelbyville, Indiana. He was an army brat who lost his parents and became a sort of "mascot" for the base where a post-transformation Captain America came to train. The two became friends during the process, but never knew each other growing up.
MCU Bucky's history actually has more in common with a lesser-known side character in Captain America comics named Arnie Roth, who was introduced in the early 1980s as a friend from Steve's childhood. Arnie stood up for scrawny Steve, served in the Navy during the war, and eventually reconnected with Steve in modern times as an adult. Arnie also has the distinction of being the first overtly queer character in Captain America comics.
7. Stark Expo
Stark Expo has been a hallmark of the MCU, but it was actually only adopted into the comics as recently as 2017.
8. The Human Torch
During an overhead shot of Stark Expo, it's possible to see a mannequin dressed as Jim Hammond, the original human torch who was also an android and part of Steve's World War II fighting team, the Invaders.
9. Flying cars
SHIELD has been using flying cars in the comics since 1965, though they were invented and introduced by Tony rather than Howard. Obviously some reconfiguration had to happen with the MCU's compressed timeline.
10. Dr. Zola's introduction
Dr. Zola's introduction scene is a playful nod to his comic book self, where his body is a headless robot and his face is projected on a screen across its stomach.
11. Peggy Carter
Like Bucky, Peggy got a major update for the MCU. In the comics, she was an American who moved to France to join the French resistance in 1943. She met Steve Rogers long after his transformation into Captain America, and struck up a brief romance with him without knowing his alter-ego (at the time, Steve's identity was not public). Steve kept his identity hidden from her for years, which prompted all sorts of hilarious (and deeply cringe-worthy) sitcom-style moments where Peggy thought she was in love with Captain America but completely ignored plainclothes Steve, or vice versa.
Also like Bucky, MCU Peggy borrows heavily from another, lesser-known character. Her story lifts parts of Lieutenant Cynthia Glass, who was introduced in the 1991 mini-series The Adventures Of Captain America which retold Steve's origin story. The one major difference between Peggy and Glass was that Glass wound up being a German spy.
12. Gilmore Hodge
Throwaway character Gilmore Hodge only has a brief scene in the movie where he makes a fool of himself in front of Peggy, but he actually is based in the comics. The character was introduced back in 1991 as a recruit for Project Rebirth. He eventually defected and became a Nazi when he wasn't chosen. Whoops.
13. Chester Phillips
Tommy Lee Jones' character Chester Phillips is also from the comics--though his comic book counterpart was far less skeptical of Steve than his live-action persona. In the books, Phillips was actually the one who handpicked Steve for Project Rebirth.
14. Howard Stark
Howard's involvement in Steve's origin eventually becomes a major source of tension for both Tony and Steve, layering into the events of Captain America: Civil War. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, it was totally invented for the movie. Neither Howard nor Tony had any hand in Steve's origin or Project Rebirth as a whole in the comics.
15. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Director Joe Johnston was part of the special effects team on the Indiana Jones movie, and peppered a handful of references into The First Avenger. The car chase scene plays with some of the same visuals with Steve as it did with Indy, and at one point Red Skull scoffs at Hitler "digging for trinkets in the desert," implying he's searching for the Ark of the Covenant.
16. Chorus boy Steve
Steve's time in the USO is a play on the more meta parts of the original Captain America comics. Designed to be propagandistic, the pre-Marvel Cap books were about Steve fighting the Nazis and distributed both to civilians at home to sell bonds and drum up support; and to troops overseas to help improve morale. The character himself, however, was never part of a USO effort and was, in fact, always meant for front line duty.
17. No Secret
Steve's identity in the MCU is completely public from day one, beginning with his accidental debut after the Project Rebirth tragedy and continuing through his USO days--this is pretty par for the course for the MCU Avengers who, with the exception of Spider-Man, function completely without secret identities.
In the comics, however, Steve maintained a totally secret identity for decades which afforded all sorts of drama to stories where other men who step in and claim to be the real Captain America. Though there were a handful of completely bizarre fake-out style stories where Steve was outed and then miraculously returned to anonymity through the '60s, '70s, and '80s, it wasn't until 2002 that Steve officially went public permanently.
18. Punching Hitler
Steve knocking out Hitler as part of his USO play is a reference to the iconic cover of Captain America Comics #1, where he's shown doing just that.
19. The Original Shield
Steve's theatrical shield is modeled after his original one from the comics. That particular shield shape only lasted a single issue, and was replaced with the disc in Captain America Comics #2.
20. Steve, The Artist
Steve's artistic talents are peppered throughout the MCU, but most clearly shown here where he draws a cartoon version of himself as a costume-wearing monkey. In the comics, Steve actually held down a day job as a freelance illustrator (who, by virtue of maintaining his secret double life as a hero, constantly missed deadlines.) He even worked drawing comics for a while, but his editors would tell him that his drawings of combat scenes were "too unrealistic."
21. The A Helmet
Steve steals a prop helmet, which just so happens to be emblazoned with an A on the forehead, before his mission to Azzano. This completes a look that is similar (though not completely identical) to the costume he wore in the alternate universe comics series, Ultimates, in 2002.
22. The Howling Commandos
The impromptu team that forms during the Azzano rescue is made up of Gabe Jones, Timothy "Dum Dum" Dugan, Jaquces Dernier, Jim Morita, Monty Falsworth, and Bucky Barnes. In the comics, however, only a handful of these men actually appeared as official Howling Commandos--a team which was led by Nick Fury, rather than Steve Rogers.
23. Bucky's Serial Number
Bucky spends his captivity mumbling his army serial number, 32557038, over and over again, as per army protocol. Historically, the "32" prefix would indicate that he was drafted rather than enlisted from Delaware, New Jersey or New York. Enlisted men from those states would have serial numbers that began with "12."
24. Natalie Dormer
A pre-breakout Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) has a very brief cameo as the flirtatious Private Lorainne. She can be seen reading a copy of The Stars and Stripes, an actual army newspaper distributed to troops throughout the war.
25. The new shield
It's never explained where Howard got the vibrarnium to make Steve's shield, considering Black Panther establishes that the nation of Wakanda has kept it a secret known only to a very select (and corrupt) few. In the comics, the shield was given a new retconned origin story in a 2010 limited series called Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers, which established that the vibranium was a gift from King Azzari, T'Challa's grandfather, who met Steve along with Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos, back in World War II.
26. Bucky the Sniper
When Bucky was reintroduced to modern comics through the Winter Soldier story arc, his origin and background were updated. Rather than a kid who just happened to be allowed to tag along with Captain America as a sidekick and a mascot, he was given a more sinister purpose. Steve himself had to keep the Captain America identity as clean and "family friendly" (within reason for wartime, at least) to maintain the propagandistic side of the persona--he also wore his brightly colored costume and fought with a less-than-stealthy shield most commonly. Bucky, on the other hand, was lesser-known, and more importantly, less obvious as a teenager. He was trained in secret to be a sort of black ops counterpart of Steve's public missions, taking on the missions that required assassinations against more morally gray targets.
27. Bucky's Death
In the comics, Steve and Bucky were both "killed" at the same time, trying to stop a plane full of explosives sent by Baron Zemo. Steve was thrown off into the freezing water and Bucky, who was caught on the wing, supposedly died in the mid-air explosion. The train scene, as well as Steve watching Bucky die, were concepts invented for the MCU.
28. Cap's Bike
Captain America has been riding a motorcycle throughout his publication history, especially in World War II stories, but his most iconic Harley was actually gifted to him in 1981. Since then, motorcycles have become something of a trademark vehicle for Steve.
29. Wilhelm Scream
One of the HYDRA goons Steve takes out on the bike chase lets out an iconic Wilhelm scream as he's thrown face-first into the dirt.
30. Men In Black
Chester Phillips, played by Tommy Lee Jones, activates the nitro in Schmidt's car to catch up to the Valkyrie by pushing a little red button on the dash. This is a nod to Jones' role as Agent K in the Men In Black franchise, where he tells Agent J (Will Smith) to never, ever, ever push the little red button on the dash of his car, which, it turns out, activates a similar boost.
31. The Space Stone
It was revealed in Avengers: Infinity War that contact with the Tesseract activated the Space Stone contained within it, sending Schmidt to the planet Vormir where he was forced to become a sort of gatekeeper for the Soul Stone. It's never clear if the Tesseract-powered weapons had a similar effect on the people "disintegrated" by the blasts, or why the Space Stone's energy looked so similar to the Asgardian bifrost in that specific moment.
32. The crash
Steve's "death" in the 1940s is similar to his death in the comics, but the addition of the radio conversation with Peggy and the conscious choice to put the plane down, were inventions for the MCU. In the comics, Steve was hurled from a plane moments before it exploded with Bucky on board.
The scene in the movie is actually a reference to the classic British wartime fantasy film, A Matter Of Life And Death, where a British airforce pilot named Peter Carter is able to talk to a Radio operator just minutes before hurling himself out of a plane without a parachute.
33. Code 13
Steve's panic at waking up in the modern era prompts Natasha to activate a "Code 13." In the comics, Sharon Carter's codename is Agent 13.
34. Natasha's costuming
For all SHIELD apparently attempted to set up a replica of the 1940s to "ease" Steve back into consciousness, they didn't do a very good job--not only did they pick a baseball game Steve was easily able to clock as a set-up, Natasha's costuming is completely anachronistic for the 40s, from the silhouette of her shirt and skirt to the style of her hair.
The post-credits scene of this movie is actually just a truncated version of a scene from The Avengers, where Steve is found by Fury boxing away his frustrations before the team is officially formed. In The Avengers version, we see Steve experiencing flashbacks to the war as he hits the bag.
In the comics, Steve famously spent years after his awakening in the 1960s mourning Bucky's death, to the point where he considered even the uniform Bucky wore to be a sort of sacred artifact, prompting him to direct an angry outburst at Bruce Banner's kid sidekick, Rick Jones, when he surprised Steve by wearing it.
Disclosure: ViacomCBS is GameSpot's parent company