Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is the tough, competent, and beautiful secret agent who believes in Rogers, even before he becomes a superhero. Inspired by her, Captain America goes behind enemy lines to rescue his best friend and 400 allied soldiers from the ultimate evil: The Red Skull, played to malevolent perfection by Hugo Weaving.
The screenplay wastes no dialogue with tortured introspection and moral debate. Steve Rogers knows what’s right and acts no matter the personal cost because evil must always be confronted and defeated. Bullies are not dealt with through intervention, self-esteem sessions, and navel gazing. Even as a 90-pound weakling, Steve Rogers fought back against thugs as best he could. As Captain America he is the worst nightmare any bully could have and not a moment is wasted on their motivations or feelings.
Howard Stark, Tony (Iron Man) Stark’s father, figures prominently. Tommy Lee Jones is Captain America’s commanding officer, playing the role with understated authority in his wrinkled, squinty, trademarked style. Even Samuel L. Jackson makes a brief appearance as Col. Nick Fury, reminding all that this is Marvel’s universe.
Captain America: The First Avenger is an enormously entertaining movie that allows viewers to willingly suspend disbelief, particularly when technological advances unattainable even today are common in the hands of demonic villains in the Marvel Universe of the 1940s. But the value of the movie is primarily in its depiction of all that makes America unique and indispensable.
The experience reminds us not of what we can be, but what we are, what Americans always have been. The citizens of this nation come to the rescue, they sacrifice themselves for freedom, and they dream the dreams of our founders, dreams for which they were willing to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. The values and simple decency depicted in this movie are hardly fiction. They live on in the hearts of contemporary Americans.
That’s what the audience realized at the end of the movie. Sometimes, being reminded of what we are is all that’s necessary to make all the difference in inspiring us to defend our values. This movie is a step in the right direction.