I just watched Captain America: The First Avenger and found it interesting to see how they connected it with the themes of aliens visiting ancient Norway in Thor and the idea that super-advanced science/technology is indistinguishable not only from magic and superstition but religion. Red Skull is played effectively by Hugo Weaving (made famous by The Matrix movies as well as V for Vendetta), who seeks godhood and world domination through the use of energy from an artifact supposed to originate with the Norse gods.
The story kept quite close to its comic book roots, focusing on the story of Steve Rogers, a relatively small and less than perfectly healthy individual who nevertheless is brave and courageous, and a serum that has been developed is used to transform him into a taller, stronger, faster version of himself.
The message of the movie is that it is possible to turn just about anyone into a stronger version of themselves, albeit not as easily and effortlessly as the movie depicts. But it is much more difficult to take someone who is strong and fast and turn them into someone courageous and heroic. The inner values are the place to start in fashioning a hero, not the outward strength or physique.
But of course, the movie also plays heavily on the comic book nerd’s dream of using science to instantly place an attractive exterior with rock-hard pecs around their nice guy personality.
The movie had nice tie-ins to other recent superhero films, as well as to Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, which also envisaged Nazis seeking a religious/alien artifact in their quest for power.
The film also offers a good opportunity to reflect on the relationship between religion and patriotism. Paul Tillich warned about the potential of the nation in particular to become an idolatrous substitute for the truly ultimate. In the film, Captain America’s concern clearly transcends anything that involves devotion to one nation over against others. Rogers rather is someone who does not want to kill anyone, but wants to stand up to bullies. And early in the film, any hint of USA vs. Germany is undermined by having the scientist who gives Rogers the opportunity to become Captain America be from Germany, and having him point out that many people forget that the first country the Nazis invaded was their own. And so despite the national identity of the hero of the film, the emphasis is placed on saving the world, and not just one nation or its values.