Captain America: The First Avenger tells the story of the transformation of Steve Rogers, 98-pound weakling from Brooklyn with the heart of a lion, into Captain America, America's first (and only) super-soldier, his WWII exploits fighting the Nazis and his eventual hibernation and awakening in present-day, ready to take his place in the upcoming Avengers movie.
As you might have guessed, a lot happens in Captain America and the movie feels rushed as a result. To make matters worse, the pacing of the film felt off; rather than seamlessly interweaving the origin story of Captain America with the superhero vs. supervillain story as was done in Batman Begins, Iron Man and Thor, the two stories were clumsily grafted together in a manner which reminded me of Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, in which the origin story (which was well developed) segued rather abruptly into what could have been a script outline (given its underdeveloped state and its brevity) for a second film.
Frankly, I think Captain America: The First Avenger would have been a better film had it ended around where the Captain marches back to Allied lines with Bucky Barnes and everyone else he rescued from HYDRA, perhaps ending with a scene of him donning the final version of his iconic uniform before cutting to a caption declaring that Captain America would return in a second film.
The Captain and the men who will eventually become the Howling Commandos march back to Allied lines – where Captain America: The First Avenger probably should have ended
The second half of Captain America, which was no more than a montage of scenes of the Captain and the Howling Commandos carrying out various missions against HYDRA, could have been the basis for a sequel, which would have allowed the secondary characters (specifically, the Howling Commandos) to be have been better developed and allowed the film-going public to get to better know the Captain before having him frozen at the end of WWII and revived seventy years later.
Of course, this probably wasn't possible given the timeline facing the team that brought us Captain America: The First Avenger. After all, their goal wasn't just to release a Captain America movie. They also had to explain his presence in The Avengers, which is set in present-day and scheduled for a 2012 release. Had Captain America: The First Avenger been released around the time of the first Iron Man movie (2008) or the release of The Avengers delayed a couple of years, using the two movie approach to introduce film-goers to the Captain and explain his eventual presence in The Avengers would have been feasible. However, the first option wasn't possible since they probably didn't have access to time displacement equipment and the fact that the second option wasn't taken may indicate that the raison d'etre of Captain America was to finalize the roundup of superheros for The Avengers, and nothing more, problems in pacing be damned.
In addition to the problems which I've discussed above, Captain America features one of the clumsiest scenes of exposition which I have ever had the displeasure of watching. I'm referring to the cringe-inducing scene where Dr. Abraham Erskine explains to Steve Rogers the origins of Red Skull, the supervillain who is to Captain America what Lex Luthor is to Superman. Frankly, one or two sentences tossed in when Red Skull and HYDRA were the topics of conversation when the good guys got together probably would have done the same job and spared film-goers from having to sit through this incredibly awful scene.
I suppose some of you may be wondering if there was anything at all I liked about the film. Well, I liked its two-fisted pulpy “WWII-as-seen-in-the-movies” look and I particularly liked its references to Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels; when Johann Schmidt aka Red Skull discovers the Tesseract in Tonsberg, Norway in 1942, he sneers something along the lines of “and the Fuhrer digs for trinkets in the desert”, possibly referring to the Nazi expeditions to find the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail depicted in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, respectively. Of course, given that he's going on about two failed Hitler-sponsored expeditions to find occult artifacts seems a bit petty given everything that's happened in the world between the events depicted in Raiders of the Lost Ark (set in 1936) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (set in 1938) and his discovery of the Tesseract in 1942. Of course, there's no rule that says supervillains can't be petty. However, I would hope that a supervillain bent on world domination would be above that sort of thing.
There's another reference to the Indiana Jones films, one which occurs near the climax of Captain America: The First Avenger, when Red Skull lays his hands on the Tesseract. What happens to him may have been a nod to what happened to Major Arnold Ernst Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Ark of the Covenant was opened.
Major Arnold Ernst Toht - the creepy Gestapo agent who meets a rather unforgettable end at the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark
Captain America: The First Avenger ends with Steve Rogers awakening in present-day and being informed by Nick Fury that he's been asleep a la Buck Rogers for almost 70 years. This raises an interesting question about Howard Stark, father of Tony Stark aka Iron Man, who is probably one of the least underdeveloped of the generally underdeveloped secondary characters in Captain America.
In the film, Howard Stark couldn't be younger than thirty. And I would ballpark Tony Stark's age in the Iron Man films to be somewhere between 35 to 40. For the math to work out, this would have to mean that Howard Stark sired his son when he was around 50 to 55.
I'm guessing that while father and son shared some things in common (namely, their aptitudes for science and engineering), one area in which they differed is that Howard Stark, despite the playboy image he seemed to be cultivating in Captain America: The First Avenger, apparently didn't get out of the lab that much.
Howard Stark – brilliant scientist, engineer, industrialist...and total poser
Or else the screenwriters didn't bother to do the math.