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Captain America: The First Avenger
Director: Joe Johnston
Screenplay: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (based on the comic book series created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby)
Stars: Chris Evans (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Sebastian Stan (James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes), Tommy Lee Jones (Col. Chester Phillips), Hugo Weaving (Johann Schmidt / Red Skull), Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark), Richard Armitage (Heinz Kruger), Stanley Tucci (Dr. Abraham Erskine), Toby Jones (Dr. Arnim Zola), Neal McDonough (Timothy “Dum Dum” Dugan), Derek Luke (Gabe Jones), Kenneth Choi (Jim Morita), JJ Feild (James Montgomery Falsworth), Bruno Ricci (Jacques Dernier), Lex Shrapnel (Gilmore Hodge), Michael Brandon (Senator Brandt)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2011
Country: U.S.
Captain America: The First Avenger Blu-Ray
Captain America: The First Avenger Following Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger was the summer of 2011’s second big-budget action juggernaut based on a second-tier Marvel superhero, with both playing as necessary precursors to next summer’s superhero mash-up The Avengers (they might as well precede the title with “Introducing …”). And, as far as movies about second-tier superheroes go, Captain America is about as good as we could expect it to be, if not more so given that its hero is certainly one of the blandest and least psychologically complex in the Marvel universe. In fact, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), the 98-pound asthmatic who becomes the fabled Captain America via a top-secret military experiment to create “super soldiers,” is so one-dimensionally heroic and square that his comic book was put to rest during the Eisenhower era.

Director Joe Johnston (The Wolf Man) and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who previously collaborated on all three Chronicles of Narnia movies) have their work cut out for them in updating the good Captain to something more accessible and acceptable in a more cynical, post-9/11 era. Interestingly, they change virtually nothing about the character or his origins, sticking with the same basic scenario first cooked up at Timely Comics (Marvel’s predecessor) back in 1941 where, presciently anticipating eventual U.S. involvement in World War II, they wanted to create a blatantly political, jingoistic superhero. Instead of dialing down or somehow complicating Captain America’s fervid patriotism, Johnston and company actually accentuate the character’s old-fashioned decency and resilience while also amping up the nostalgia factor via the film’s sepia tones and digital Brooklyn backdrops that effectively evoke Golden Age movie memories (the cinematography is by Shelly Johnson, who previously worked with Johnston on The Wolf Man, Hidalgo, and Jurassic Park III). Of course, costume designer Anna B. Sheppard (who recently dressed Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds) knows enough to avoid directly recreating the Captain America costume, with its blue tights, red pirate boots, U.S. flag torso, and silly headpiece with the little wings on the temples. The only time that get-up makes an appearance is during an amusing mid-film development in which Rogers assumes the propagandistic mantle of U.S. Bond spokeshero in a series of gaudy USO song-and-dance shows. When he finally goes into real battle, he dons a modified blue U.S. Army helmet and leather-and-canvas duds that are visually reminiscent of the original costume, but are more organically connected to the rest of the military gear around him.

The villain is Johann Schmidt, also known as Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), who, like Captain America, is a product of scientific experimentation resulting in superhuman power, albeit in his case with the bad side effect of a crimson, skull-like visage--a visual literalization of his moral rottenness. Schmidt, who conducts scientific research for the Nazis before breaking free of the Third Reich and creating his own army known as Hydra, is obsessed with an ancient artifact that gives him and his weapons frightening levels of power that he plans to aim at all the major capitals of the world. Thus, it is up to Captain America and his renegade team of rescued soldiers (including his childhood friend “Bucky” Barnes, played by James Buchanan) to stop him in appropriately spectacular fashion. Johnston stages some effective action sequences, including an aerial battle and an assault on a high-speed train tearing through the snowy Alps, and he also throws in a little color via an impressive line-up of actors not normally seen in superhero movies, including Tommy Lee Jones as a gruff colonel (is there any other kind?), Toby Jones as Red Skull’s bespectacled righthand man, Stanley Tucci as the German scientist who transforms Rogers from a weakling into a heroic slab of beef, and Dominic Cooper as the brilliant industrialist Howard Stark, who comic book fans know is the father of he-who-will-become-Iron Man.

There is a requisite love interest in Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), a perfectly lip-sticked British officer who appreciates Steve’s fundamental human decency, and their attraction actually carries some poignancy due to Steve’s continued awkwardness in the romance department despite his new Charles Atlas body. In this regard, one must note the effectiveness of the Benjamin Button digital wizardry that reduces actor Chris Evans (who previously played the egotistic Human Torch in the two Fantastic Four movies) by more than 100 pounds and a foot in height during the film’s opening sequences; seeing the same boyish face on both scrawny and bulky bodies reminds us that, despite his transformation, Steve is still the same heartfelt, determined nerd who wants to fight against bullies of any stripe (in this respect, Evans performance is quite good, even though he’s essentially playing the world’s strongest Boy Scout). It’s all very upstanding and moral, but one wishes that Captain America had some kind of flaw, some kind of weakness or challenge or at least an inkling of self-doubt, to make him feel a little bit more like he’s one of us.

Captain America: The First Avenger Blu-Ray 3D + Blu-Ray + DVD

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish, Portuguese
  • Audio commentary by director Joe Johnston, director of photography Shelly Johnson and editor Jeff Ford
  • Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer short
  • “Outfitting a Hero” featurette
  • “Howling Commandos” featurette
  • “Heightened Technology” featurette
  • “The Transformation” featurette
  • “Behind the Skull” featurette
  • “Captain America Origins” featurette
  • “The Assembly Begins” featurette
  • Deleted scenes with optional commentary
  • Trailers
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    Release DateOctober 25, 2011, 2011

    This three-disc set includes the film on two separate Blu-Ray discs, one in 2-D and one in 3-D. The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfers are first-rate, ably reproducing what I remember from the theatrical experience. This means that colors are generally subdued, as the film was shot with an intentionally desaturated palette that emphasizes the historical period. Even the bold reds and blues of Captain America’s various costumes are held in check, although his shield does tend to pop, as does Red Skull’s skull. Detail is excellent throughout, with great crispness and clarity that never looks overly enhanced despite the heavy digital presence (the film was shot entirely with the Arri Alexa Digital Cinema camera). The 3-D image is nicely rendered with consistent depth, although it sometimes betrays its postproduction origins and also tends to make some of the darker scenes feel a little too dark, although to my eye it looked better than the recent Thor 3-D Blu-Ray, albeit with less pop-out effects. Not surprisingly, the 7.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio surround soundtrack is plenty robust, with lots of action in the surround speakers to immerse us in the mayhem. The battle sequences are particularly impressive, with a plethora of sonic detail and directionality as well as a heavy low end.
    There is a plentiful array of supplements, although nothing overwhelming or unexpected. The screen-specific audio commentary is a group affair with director Joe Johnston, director of photography Shelly Johnson, and editor Jeff Ford discussing various aspects of the production; while it has some informative value, it is a little meandering and light, especially since it involves three participants. There are also seven featurettes, mostly in the 7- to 10-minute range, that focus on different elements of the production and feature interviews with various members of the cast and crew: “Outfitting a Hero” looks at the design work that went into updating Captain America’s costume and ensuring that it was period-realistic and cool-looking while also maintaining ties to the original comic book art; “Howling Commandos” focuses on how the film incorporates a separate Marvel comic book series to provide Captain America with his own platoon of diverse support soldiers; “Heightened Technology” explores the various weapons, gizmos, and modes of transportation designed specifically for the film; “The Transformation” gives us a behind-the-scenes look at how Chris Evans was shrunk into a 98-pound weakling through a variety of digital tricks; “Behind the Skull” focuses on the design and character of Hugo Weaving’s villain; and “Captain America Origins” provides historical background of the character, including an interview with co-creator Joe Simon. “The Assembly Begins” is a brief look at the upcoming Avengers movie, and Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer is another short film that is meant to tie the various Marvel superhero films together. There are also three deleted scenes with optional commentary by Johnston, Johnson, and Ford, as well as several theatrical trailers.

    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment

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