I really liked Captain America: The First Avenger (my review here), but I have to be the first to admit that the ending sucks. It isn’t that the scenes are bad on their own; I like the idea of SHIELD trying to keep a newly unfrozen Cap calm by pretending it’s the 1940s (although how dumb are they to broadcast a baseball game from about FOUR YEARS before he froze?), and I liked the last line in a conceptual way. I just hate it as the ending of this movie.
I hate it because this movie had a great ending - the kids playing in the street with the homemade Captain America shield. It was a perfect final image, showing that Cap lived up to his greatest role, being a symbol of hope. It’s a great image. And then it cuts to the modern day stuff, which undermines that wonderful shot.
What’s worse, there’s not a single moment in the film explaining what the hell the ending is about. There’s the opening scene, where the Skull’s crashed bomber is found, but no comparable scene where we understand that Steve Rogers survived the crash and was frozen in ice. Hell, if I didn’t know the story I might have assumed Nick Fury had Steve Rogers cloned or something. It’s really poorly handled, and it doesn’t feel like it belongs at the end of this movie at all.
That’s because it doesn’t! I’ve heard multiple rumors - none that I can confirm* - that the Times Square stuff was intended to go either after the credits or during them, after the first round of animated credits. It makes more sense there; structurally anything placed after the credits roll is an extra or a teaser, and isn’t impacting the main film itself. But when placed in the main body of the film the scene is suddenly jarring and weird and obviously doesn’t fit.
It’s ironic that the worst part of the movie is the Avengers wanking bit, as that has been what sank Thor and Iron Man 2. Captain America was, like Iron Man, a movie allowed to live on its own terms, without bowing to restrictive continuity demands. Even the presence of Howard Stark feels organic and unforced. But it’s that last scene which gives us a kick in the nuts as we leave the theater.
I wish that Marvel had kept that coda in the credits, where it belongs. Next time I watch Captain America, which will probably be on Blu, I’ll be sure to stop the film right when those kids are playing in the street.
* Joe Johnston has said that he didn’t direct the post-credits Nick Fury/Steve Rogers scene, but what he means is that he didn’t direct the Steve-in-the-boxing-ring scene at the beginning of The Avengers teaser.