Although it is full of computer-generated special effects, they don’t look like they are part of some sort of drug-induced hallucination. They look like things that could happen in the real world if the real world included advanced technology and people with super powers.
(I’m not saying that recent action movies look the way they do because the directors have overindulged in powerful mind-altering chemicals. It’s just…well that would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?)
At the beginning of the movie a mysterious giant aircraft is found entombed in the Arctic ice. A team of soldiers forces their way in. Inside a block of ice they see a red, white and blue shield.
Most of the rest of the movie is an extended flashback to explain what they found. Going back to the early 1940s we meet a megalomaniac Nazi named Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving). He is the head of HYDRA, an organization charged with developing super-weapons for the Third Reich. We see him acquire a glowing blue cube which he thinks once belonged to Odin. Apparently it is just what he needs to power his new toys.
Meanwhile in America, a 90-pound weakling from Brooklyn named Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is trying to enlist in the Army but is turned down because of asthma as well as other physical limitations. He’s weak but determined; this is his fifth try.
We then get a glimpse of the raffish playboy-millionaire-inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) whose latest invention, a levitating car, seems to need a little more work. Stark’s inventions have a nice esthetic, not steampunk, more like vacuum-tube-punk, but they look rather outclassed by the sleek, futuristic, mean-looking stuff that HYDRA is coming up with.
(Howard Stark is supposed to be the father of Tony “Iron Man” Stark. I’m not sure how the numbers add up for this. It probably made more sense when the original Avengers comics appeared in the 1960s than it does now that they are supposed to be operating in the 21st century.)
On his next attempt to enlist Steve is noticed by a scientist named Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who apparently sees something special in the boy. He signs him up and ships him off to a special training camp run by the laconic Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones.)
It seems that Erskine, Phillips and Stark are all involved in a secret project to produce an army of super-soldiers. Erskine insists that Steve should be the first test subject, even though he appears to be the least promising candidate.
Erskine has a good reason though. Before he escaped from Germany he was forced to give his experimental serum to a top Nazi official, the aforementioned Johann Schmidt. Apparently the serum amplifies whatever traits the subject already had. It made Schmidt super-strong, but also super-evil and super-crazy. Erskine is determined that his next subject must above all be brave, kind and pure of heart.
Howard Stark puts Steve in a machine that injects him with the serum while irradiating him with Vita-rays (whatever they are). Steve ends up a foot taller with muscles like Charles Atlas.
But at the moment of his triumph Erskine is assassinated by a Nazi spy, bringing the project to a halt. Steve ends up in the hands of a sleazy Senator (Michael Brandon) who gives him a cheesy costume, names him “Captain America” and puts him in a song-and-dance troupe to sell war bonds. Steve is glad to be making some sort of contribution to the war effort but he really wants to do more.
And he eventually does, saving the world and triumphing over evil, only to come to a tragic end…or does he?