Captain America: The First Avenger

Movie: Directed by Joe Johnston.

Inciting Event: Steve attempts (for the fifth time) to enlist in the Army. He is intercepted by Dr. Erskine of the Strategic Scientific Reserve–who recruits Steve for his super soldier program.

This is a nice example of how the character doesn’t brush with the main conflict until halfway through the First Act, and yet right from the start, he has a pertinent plot goal that is being met by conflict: Steve wants to do his part in World War II and join the Army (goal), but he can’t because of his health problems (conflict).

First Plot Point: Dr. Erskine completes his experimental procedure and turns Steve into a super soldier. This is the Key Event, where Steve leaves behind his Normal World. On the heels of this development, a Hydra operative blows up the lab, steals the last of Erskine’s serum, and kills Erskine. This is the First Plot Point, which irrevocably plunges Steve into the main conflict against Hydra.

First Pinch Point: While on tour in Italy with his musical troupe, a frustrated Steve discovers that his best friend Bucky’s unit has been decimated. Against orders, Steve parachutes into enemy territory to find and rescue his friend.

Note how the pinch (something bad happens to the protagonist that emphasizes the antagonist force) turns the plot because it prompts an action from the character.

Midpoint: Steve rescues Bucky and the other survivors from the 107th. He has a showdown with Hydra leader Johann Schmidt–the Red Skull–which reveals to him the true face of his enemy. Steve then returns to base a hero. Now, he is Captain America. He can leave behind the reaction phase in the first half the story and enter heroic action mode.

Second Pinch Point: And this is where this movie makes a massive structural misstep. There is no discernible Second Pinch Point to be found here. From the Midpoint on, the remainder of the Second Act is basically one long heroic montage. Steve is taking action, but he is meeting almost zero resistance. Indeed, he has Schmidt on the run. There is no doubt whatsoever that Steve is winning and winning big time.

The second half of this movie would have benefited greatly from a stronger emphasis on Schmidt’s true threat to Steve and the Allies’ victory. The plot needs a turning point halfway between the Midpoint and the Third Plot Point, in which that threat is emphasized, the stakes are raised, and the Third Plot Point is foreshadowed.

Third Plot Point: Instead, the movie swings around, right into the tragic Third Plot Point. During a mission to catch Schmidt’s henchman Dr. Zola, Steve and his Howling Commandos walk into a trap. Bucky (seemingly) falls to his death.

In itself, this a good Third Plot Point, since it hits Steve exactly where it hurts by destroying one of the two people he cares about most. But it feels rushed and a little “off” solely because of that missing pinch point previously.

Climax: In the aftermath of Bucky’s death (which, although it hits Steve himself where it hurts, is not a victory for Schmidt and does not put him a place of threatening power for the final confrontation), Steve takes the battle to Schmidt. On the eve of Schmidt’s plan to bomb all the world’s major capitals, Steve and the Commandos infiltrate Schmidt’s base. As Schmidt escapes, Steve boards his plane and they do battle one-on-one.

Climactic Moment: After Schmidt gets pulled into the Cosmos by the tesseract, Steve realizes he can’t safely land the plane without endangering people. He sacrifices himself to crashland in the Arctic.

Resolution: Steve wakes up in New York–only to discover he’s been asleep in the ice for seventy years.

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