NOTE: The following contains major spoilers for Captain America – which is awesome and which you should totally go see before reading this.
Like all the Marvel Studios movies before it, Captain America peppers its story, character roster and background details with sly allusions to the unified “Marvel Universe” leading in to the Avengers movie. Did you spot them all? Well, here are the big ones – how many did you catch?
This needs no explanation at this point, but for completion’s sake, yes, the young inventor Howard Stark – who helps build most of Cap’s equipment and the experiment that creates him – is the father of Iron Man‘s Tony Stark, thus explaining why a prototype Captain America shield was found among the junk pile in Iron Man 2.
Yggdrasil, Odin, Etc.
Johan Schmidt, “The Red Skull,” is tearing up Europe looking for magical Viking artifacts. He’s obsessed with the idea that the Norse Gods were real superpowered interlopers, and that their magic totems can be harnessed as super-science. He is, of course, entirely correct – audiences found that out earlier this year in Thor, which even included the title character explaining Yggdrasil, “The World Tree” that Schmidt monologues about in his first appearance.
To make it more explicit, when The Skull finally releases too much of one object’s power in the film’s climax, it briefly rips open what looks like a dimensional portal … and the “cosmic” space seen within is the nebula-like “true” Yggdrasil wherein Asgard hovered in Thor.
The Cosmic Cube
Referred to as “The Tesseract” in the movies, this is the magical macguffin lost from Odin’s treasure vault that Red Skull is after. In the comics, The Cosmic Cube is the all-powerful super-weapon of the Marvel Universe. In the movies, it was seen having been recently rediscovered and held in a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility after the end credits of Thor. Damn near every Marvel heavy worth their salt is tied to or wants to possess The Cube, so look for it to figure prominently in The Avengers.
For the film, “HYDRA” is serving the vital purpose of allowing Marvel to have Nazis as the villains of a Captain America without having to make action figures with Swastikas on their uniforms. But in the broader sense they’re Marvel’s version of “SPECTRE” – and I really, really hope they turn up again as heavies in later Marvel movies. They’d make great enemies for a tech-based hero like Iron Man, for example.
The Howling Commandos
A non-segregated team of WWII bad asses, in the comics they were the Inglorious Basterds-esque group that served under the original Sgt. Nick Fury. Here, they appear as Cap’s handpicked backup, liberated from a HYDRA prison camp – plus one extra British member, who bears the name of the UK-based hero Union Jack.
Super Soldier Serum
Recognize that blue chemical that turns little Steve Rogers into Captain America? You may have seen it before, in The Incredible Hulk where a less successful variation of it was used to give super-strength to Emil Blonsky… and eventually transform him into The Abomination. In that film, General Ross described it as an attempt to replicate a defunct “super soldier” program – well, now you know what they were talking about.
Toby Jones has a great turn in the film as Zola, a kind of Waylon Smithers to The Red Skull’s Mr. Burns. In general Marvel continuity, Zola is among the surprisingly large number of WWII-era Nazi mad scientists who’ve found a way to still be among the living. It’s actually kind of a rampant problem there.
In Zola’s case, his “essence” is bound inside a robotic body that has a camera for a head (and wears an overcoat for no discernible reason) while a giant blowup of Zola’s face is projected on a video screen built into its chest. The film makes reference to this eventual fate by having our first look at his face be through a huge, distorted magnifying glass.
The Human Torch
This might be the most obscure and bizarre cameo in the entire Marvel movie canon up to this point: At the beginning of the film, Steve Rogers and friends visit a technology expo in New York. The showy cameo in this scene is a young Howard Stark but the “Whoa!” cameo for hardcore comic fans was this bad boy: a huge glass cylinder containing a robotic looking humanoid figure that the sign calls “Professor Phineas Horton’s Synthetic Man!”
This, believe it or not, is Marvel Comics’ first superhero, Jim Hammond – a sentient android created by Horton whose otherwise miraculous existence came with a grim side effect: His body bursts into self-sustaining flames when exposed to oxygen. Originally sealed away because, y’know … he’s made of fire, Hammond escaped and joined the Allied war effort as “The Human Torch.” Thusly, this is a dual-reference, as Hammond’s name was later adopted by a second Torch, Johnny Storm, who was played by Chris “Captain America” Evans in the Fantastic Four movies.
The only thing that made me happier than seeing this was that I was not the only person in the theater who gasped when it appeared.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.