Captain America: The First Avenger Beat Sheet
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Based on the comics by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Opening Image: Headlights of approaching vehicles pierce through the fog. In the ice, soldiers find the remains of a plane, as well as the shield of the legendary Captain America.
Set-Up: In 1942 Norway, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), head of the Nazi science division known as Hydra, locates and steals the Tesseract, the jewel of Odin’s treasure. The object contains vast power that Schmidt plans to use to conquer more than just Europe.
In New York, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) fails for a fourth time to enlist in the army. Later, while watching a newsreel before a movie, Rogers shouts down a heckler, who fights him in an alley. In a Save the Cat! moment, Rogers refuses to give up and run away from the bigger man, willing to be pummeled as he stands up to the bully. His friend James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) comes along and saves him before revealing that he has received his orders and will soon go overseas. Bucky and Steve go to the World’s Fair. While Bucky and his dates watch a demonstration by Howard Stark, Steve goes to the recruitment booth, still wishing to enlist. As we learn the things that need fixing in his life, we witness his stasis=death situation.
Theme Stated: Bucky comes along and tries to dissuade Steve, telling him that he just doesn’t know when to give up. Steve replies that there are men laying down their lives, that he has no right to do any less than them, and that his desire isn’t about himself. This is the theme: what does it mean to do the right thing and to be selfless? Steve’s commitment to this ideal will be tested in the course of the story.
Set-Up (continued): As Bucky reminds Steve that it illegal to lie while enlisting, Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) of the Strategic Scientific Reserve overhears the dilemma. At the enlistment center, Erskine tells Steve that he believes the war effort needs something different if the Allies are to be victorious. In Steve’s thesis world, he is the honorable yet weak Steve Rogers. But this is about to change.
Catalyst: Dr. Erskine passes Steve, allowing him to be enlisted. Meanwhile, Schmidt works with Dr. Zola (Toby Jones) to harness the Tesseract’s power in Hydra’s weapons, resulting in a success that could have serious repercussions for the world and the war.
Debate: Now that Steve is in basic training, will he be able to survive the challenge? He meets tough-as-nails Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). Phillips tells the recruits that the SSR will create a super soldier, the candidate being chosen from Steve’s squad. Unfortunately, Steve struggles during the training. However, he proves his ingenuity when he completes a challenge none have succeeded at in 17 years, using his brains rather than his brawn to retrieve a flag atop a pole. Dr. Erskine tells Phillips he is looking for qualities beyond physical prowess for the super soldier candidate. Phillips tests this by tossing a grenade at the squad, and though all scatter, Steve throws himself on top of it, shielding everyone. At night, Erskine counsels Steve about the journey he is about to undertake. He admits that he was forced to use the serum on Johann Schmidt, resulting in the villain he is today. The serum amplifies everything inside, which is why Steve was chosen; a weak man knows the value of strength and compassion. Erskine makes Steve promise he will stay who he is, not a perfect soldier, but a good man. In a secret location in Brooklyn, Steve Rogers is injected with the serum.
Break into Two: The serum works, and Steve emerges as the first super soldier. As he enters his antithesis world, he will now have special power as Captain America. Though he exits the Vita-Ray machine a different man, he still must pass through the transformation machine.
B Story: Steve’s developing relationship with Peggy Carter will help to shape who he becomes.
Fun and Games: After the test, a Hydra agent detonates a bomb and steals a vial of the serum, killing Erskine in the process. As Steve comforts Erskine, the dying man points to Steve’s heart in a final reminder. Steve pursues the Hydra agent as his abilities are put to the test. He succeeds, but the agent commits suicide. The SSR is re-tasked to fight Hydra, and though Steve wants to help, Colonel Phillips tells him that he is not enough.
However, Senator Brandt sees potential and makes Steve a symbol for American patriotism through the USO, sending him on tours to sell defense bonds. His new persona, Captain America, is the star of stage and screen, the “star-spangled man with a plan.” But this new identity fails to gain support when he visits troops near the front, and he falls into despair. Peggy tells him that he was meant for more, and when he learns that the division he is entertaining is Bucky’s, he wants to help the men who were captured in battle. Defying orders, he infiltrates the Hydra camp, rescuing the men and stealing the new weapons before memorizing a tactical map with Hydra base locations.
He finds Bucky and comes face to face with his nemesis Schmidt, who reveals his identity as the Red Skull. Schmidt tells Steve that he needs to accept that the two of them are different than the rest of humanity.
Midpoint: The Red Skull escapes, but Steve arrives back at the base of 107th with nearly 400 men. Steve has his public party as the hero. The stakes are raised and a time clock appears as Steve must stop Schmidt before he conquers the world with the Tesseract-powered weapons.
Bad Guys Close In: Steve tells Phillips and Peggy the locations of the Hydra bases and recruits the Howling Commandos and Bucky to help him. Still fresh from his false victory at the Midpoint, he sees Peggy at the bar, who says she wants to dance with him someday.
While Steve struggles with the internal bad guys that come with his popularity, Peggy catches another woman kissing him and feels spurned. When Steve is introduced to his vibranium shield, a jealous Peggy fires at him to “test it out.”
Steve and the Howling Commandos begin storming Hydra strongholds, taking them out one by one. In the Alps, they try to catch Dr. Zola in his personal train. There is a firefight, and Steve is unable to save Bucky, who falls to his death. Afterwards, Colonel Phillips interrogates Zola, who declares that Schmidt will stop at nothing until the world is his.
All Is Lost: Steve has lost his best friend, and the whiff of death reminds him of how he had failed to save Bucky. Meanwhile, Schmidt rallies his troops, ready to conquer the world.
Dark Night of the Soul: As Steve reflects in a bombed-out bar, he realizes the curse inherent in Schmidt’s words, that he is different from the rest of humanity.
Break into Three: Peggy tells Steve to stop blaming himself for Bucky’s death, and as A and B Stories meet, Steve decides to go after Schmidt and all of Hydra.
Finale: In his synthesis world, Steve Rogers must use the courage he’s always possessed plus his new strength as Captain America to mount an assault on Hydra. He is captured and brought before Red Skull, but the Howling Commandos arrive. In a high tower surprise, Red Skull boards the Valkyrie to destroy the world. Steve gets on board, where he sees bombs labeled for American cities. During a fight with the Red Skull, the Tesseract is disrupted. As the villain picks it up, the universe is opened and seemingly transports him. The Tesseract burns through the Valkyrie’s floor and falls to the ocean below. Steve digs, deep down, telling Peggy he will take a rain check on the dance before crashing the Valkyrie down in the water, saving millions of innocent lives.
Final Image: After waking in a 1940’s hospital, Steve realizes it’s fake and runs outside to find himself in modern-day New York. Nick Fury tells him he’s been asleep for almost 70 years, but Steve’s only concern is that he had a date, his honor still at the forefront of his mind.
Great Movie. First in the line of the successful Avenger movie franchise which all have well defined heroes.
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Great beat sheet of a great film. Coincidentally, I just saw this movie again LAST NIGHT! I was channel surfing after the Miami vs. Toronto game and stopped on this. It passed the “click test”: that is, I couldn’t click away. It was so good! Moment by moment, scene by scene, sequence by sequence, it was simply masterful. The Fun & Games sequence was especially noteworthy. It epitomized the way that section can and should work in a movie: not just as a wonderfully entertaining “dance” all its own (a fabulous USO tour montage filled with cleverness and aplomb) but it also worked as a powerful point of contrast for the hero’s triumphs and losses in the story’s final third. It was perfect foreshadowing. Great work, Cory. And great work, Joe Johnston and Company!