The Captain America Trailer: A Complete Breakdown

A shot-by-shot analysis of the first footage from 'The First Avenger'

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

The Captain America Trailer: A Complete Breakdown

If you were watching the Super Bowl yesterday – and statistically speaking, you probably were – you must have seen the first look at Captain America: The First Avenger. Joe Johnston’s upcoming Marvel superhero movie comes out July 22nd, and this is all we have to show for it so far? :30 seconds? That’s not much to go on, is it?

Actually, yes it is. Let CRAVE Online guide you shot-by-shot through the Captain America Super Bowl trailer to show you just what we can expect from the eagerly anticipated Avengers prequel, from the good to the bad to the puny.

Let’s start with the puny: Chris Evans makes his first appearance looking like a ‘Before’ picture from a Soloflex commercial. Actually, he looks more like that kid from the old Charles Atlas ads in our Captain America comic books. I’m not even a musclebound jerk and Istill want to kick sand in his face. With the help of what looks like a judicious amount of CGI, Chris Evans has been turned into a 98 lb. weakling. Note the height difference between Evans and his co-star, Hayley Atwell, playing Cap’s 1940’s love interest Peggy Carter. Steve Rogers was deemed physically unfit to serve in World War II, leading him to volunteer for the ‘top secret’ super soldier program. In one shot we immediately understand why.

And in these two shots we definitely understand why. Here we see puny Steve Rogers’ bare, pathetic chest, and then we watch him struggling to complete an army training exercise. His grim determination isn’t matched by his physical prowess, making Captain America: The First Avenger look like a superhero version of Rudy. I guess if America wanted him to fight in World War II they would have miracled his ass into a new body. Oh wait…


“Whatever happens, stay who you are: not just a soldier, but a good man.” A little hero worshippy perhaps, but this line from scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) seems to serve two purposes: first, it establishes Steve Rogers as an all-American ideal at the start of the trailer, and second, it places Erskine into the role of a father figure as opposed to merely the scientist who invented the Super Soldier process. Erskine is not destined to end well, so it would appear that Captain America has been given a variation on the old “superhero loses a parent in the first act” theme that’s so very prevalent in comic book movies (see: DaredevilBatman BeginsSpider-Man, etc.). That’s good drama, but we’re still a little discouraged by the Street Fighter: The Movie logo on Rogers’ t-shirt. 

It would also appear that Johnston & Co. aren’t going with our favorite variation on the Captain America origin story. In the acclaimed Earth X trilogy, it was revealed (out of continuity) that Erskine was in fact a Nazi scientist working undercover to trick the United States into funding the Third Reich’s greatest experiment in eugenics. Did it ever strike you as a bit ironic that Hitler’s greatest enemy physically embodied his every ideal?

In this shot, Steve Rogers has been entombed in a scientific device designed to turn him into Captain America. It also appears that something’s going very wrong, since showers of bright sparks are rarely an intended scientific side effect. We like the coffin-like design of the device – the death of Steve Rogers, the birth of a hero – and surmise that the explosions are more than a mere fireworks display (how patriotic!) and probably a big part of why they can’t just make more super-soldiers after this guinea pig. 

Tommy Lee Jones appears as Colonel Chester Phillips, who first invited Steve Rogers into “Project: Rebirth,” aka the Super Soldier program. A minor character in the comics who appears to have been retconned a bit, since minor characters aren’t usually played by Academy Award-winners like Tommy Lee Jones. This shot is an interesting spin on the old “He’s So Badass He Doesn’t Even Look at the Explosion” cliché: Phillips is so damned serious that he’s the only one who doesn’t avert his gaze. Damn… that’s serious. He’s probably going to need some eye drops after this.

Captain America, reborn. Johnston apparently has no qualms in utilizing the old Frankenstein visual motif, even if it has been sullied a bit by Revenge of the Sith. We’ve also got a decent parallel here with Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie, which had a similar “before and after” look at its hero’s paltry, then manly chest muscles. Note also the new height discrepancy between Rogers and Carter. We hope they established some kind of bond between our two love interests before this scene, because otherwise she’s going to appear pretty shallow if she only falls for Steve post-instant jazzercize machine.



Our first proper shot of Captain America is a familiar one: a hero entering through big doors (see: The Lord of the Rings movies). The contrast between the gaudy super soldier and his traditionally dressed squad in this shot is a little distracting. Rogers looks like he’s at the head of the pack to attract enemy gunfire, although given the fact that he’s the only one with a bulletproof shield and metahuman reflexes that would kind of make sense.

BIG ACTION!!! That’s what this crazy shot of warehouse-based brouhaha implies. Soldiers run around in the background while Captain America does some crazy gymnastics. There’s no context for this scene, so Cap’s apparent grandstanding may have a decent purpose. Maybe he’s about to fight The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) on a catwalk. It’s a large enough action shot but it’s a little discouraging that Johnston was given the epic canvas of World War II, yet the biggest set piece we see in the first trailer is just a bunch of guys fighting in a warehouse: a low-budget genre trope in what’s supposed to be an epic summer spectacle.

The most discouraging shot of all: Captain America on a motorcycle with his shield mounted on the front. Alas, it just brings to mind unpleasant memories of the 1979 Captain America TV movie starring Reb Brown.

Let’s not dwell on this. Cap drove motorcycles in the comics too, after all, but it would probably be best of Johnston didn’t reference the other failed experiments in live-action Captain America movies at all, intentionally or otherwise.

There’s no Nick Fury in Captain America: The First Avenger, so we’re pretty sure these are Dum Dum Dugan’s Howling Commandos instead. Dugan is played by Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li’s Neil McDonough (uh-oh, more Street Fighter…). McDonough grew out the trademark moustache and is apparently enough of a badass that the army allows him to wear a not-exactly-standard-issue bowler hat into the field. Seemingly anachronistic but still interesting, this also appears to be a shot of actor Kenneth Choi (Sons of Anarchy) on the front lines. (World War II was a very tolerant time in American history, apparently…) Still, Evans looks a hell of a lot better in this Ultimate Universe-style of apparel than the bulky patriotic garb.

These shots depict a daring underwater rescue. We never get a good look at the occupant of the jet, but it’s clearly not Abraham Erskine and, given the suit, probably not Bucky (Sebastian Stan) either. We’re guessing this is Howard Stark, Tony “Iron Man” Starks father (played by An Education’s Dominic Cooper), in full on “Howard Hughes” mode. Johnston has a history with Hughes, having cast Lost’s Terry O’Quinn as the famed industrialist/inventor/aviator in his last World War II superhero movie, The Rocketeer. It’s important to remember that while not every shot in this Captain America trailer is a slam dunk, The Rocketeer was great, is great, and will always be great… so Johnston’s got a lot of  good will built up around him for this production.

Captain America takes on some flamethrowing power-armored ruffians in this particular shot from the trailer. At first glance it made us excited for a potential Golden Age-Human Torch cameo (or at least one for Toro), but closer inspection reveals that these are just normal guys in suits. Cap may be in for a challenge here: that shield can deflect bullets but presumably it can still get warm enough for him to have to drop the thing. We thoroughly expect these flamethrowers to be annoying mid-level bosses in the inevitable(-y crappy) videogame tie-in.

Well, here’s that catwalk fight with The Red Skull we were going on about. It’s a standard action movie trope, not exactly encouraging (see: The One, Gone in Sixty Seconds, etc.). Naturally the building’s blowing up around them. Catwalks are confined areas in an open space, which is just interesting enough to make them a go-to fight location, and their omnipresence in warehouses has made them a standard low-budget staple in particular. We’re sure it’s going to be a cool fight, but this isn’t exactly the trailer’s money shot.

If anything, this is Captain America‘s money shot. It’s just a bit of a shame Captain America isn’t involved. We love this shot of The Red Skull. First, it’s nice to see that he actually has a red skull. (The extremely bad 1990 movie version sort of neglected that fact.) The makeup is excellent and the fact that he’s pulling off his Hugo Weaving face gives the shot a pleasing reverse-Scooby Doo quality. “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you meddling Americans and your Captain!” 

The last scene in the trailer introduces Captain America’s indestructible shield and ends the Super Bowl spot on a light note. Clearly taking place early in the film, Rogers is still a bit of a coward, hiding behind his shield out of awkwardness as much as his (legitimate) fear of bullets. But of course, he also proves himself instinctively capable of heroic deeds as his heightened reflexes save his life in one of the more dangerous movie flirtations we’ve seen in quite a while. Evans has a lovable quality in the last shot, peering over the edge of the shield at the attractive woman who clearly thinks little of him.

Our Verdict: Mostly favorable. We like the storytelling choices and the overall look of the film is an impressive one, but we’re worried that the big blockbuster moments are going to be lacking. We would have loved to see some Saving Private Ryan-styled war footage, but perhaps Cap’s mission is so classified that such grand action sequences aren’t really possible. On the other hand, it’s just a :30 second spot. Here’s hoping the full trailer comes out soon and kicks our respective asses.