- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
Captain America first appeared in the Marvel Universe in March 1941, and quickly became a symbol of America’s fight for freedom, enjoying his heyday as America and her allies fought the Nazi’s and the Japanese empire during World War II. Created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, the Captain America comics told the story of a scrawny New York kid, Steve Rogers, who was inducted into a special program to create a so-called super soldier. The gaunt, feisty and brave Rogers would become a brawny superhero, but with no more powers than that of an enhanced man. Two less-than-stellar TV-movie adaptations aside, Captain America has been ripe for the big screen treatment – never more so than the last decades surge in Superhero movies. This big-budget adaptation has avoided overdoing the patriotism and aligned itself nicely with the carefully woven Marvel universe now in full swing. It’s action packed, fun, and a solid accomplishment in almost every way.
Captain America: The First Avenger
3DBlu-ray + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy
Studio: Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios
US Rating: PG-13 For Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence and Action.
Film Length: 124 Minutes
Video: AVC MPEG-4 1080P High Definition 16X9
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
- Blu-Ray English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French/Spanish/Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
- 3D Blu-Ray: English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French/Spanish/Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
- DVD: English 5.1 Dolby Digital, French/Spanish/Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese
Release Date: October 25, 2011
Review Date: October 23, 2011
Johann Schmidt: What makes you so special?
Steve Rogers: Nothing. I'm just a kid from Brooklyn.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is an eager young man whose desire to overcome his weakling stature and scrawny physique to be accepted in to the United States Army has him falsifying his background so that his previous denials don’t preclude him from even trying again. It is a commendable spirit. His best friend, James ‘Bucky’ Barns (Sebastian Stan) is preparing for deployment to Europe’s front lines and, one to never back down from a fight, Rogers gives joining the army one more try. His tenaciousness despite his falling short of the more typical U.S. soldier is noticed by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanly Tucci) who sees in him the potential to be a candidate for a secret program for which he is the chief architect. That program, into which Rogers is inducted (as the first of a planned many candidates), is designed to turn him into a super solider. Overseen by a skeptical (and sour) Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), with support from Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), the program might just be the allies best hope in defeating the nefarious Adolf Hitler – and the new threat of Hydra, led by the enigmatic Johann Schmidt – AKA Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), which threatens to become a third front in the larger conflict. Quite the tall order.
The super soldier procedure – painful as it was – is successful, but the program suffers a set back and Rogers, the only soldier to undergo the procedure, is relegated to a secondary role propaganda performer, touring the country enthralling citizens with a song and dance routine designed to encourage folks across all 50 states to buy war bonds and do ‘their part’ to support the “boys fighting overseas”. Needless to say this isn’t what Rogers – now comfortable with the costume and moniker of Captain America – had in mind. However, a twist of fate and a dash of rogue heroism propel Captain America to the front lines in the battle to destroy the growing threat of Hydra and as a symbol of hope and freedom for the tough American forces.
Captain America is the quintessential underdog story, albeit with a Super Soldier Serum twist that turns the underdog into the symbol for freedom. During World War II, the Captain America comics were a legitimate arm of ally propaganda, with the heroic superhero, adorned with an American Flag inspired costume, routinely giving Adolf and his Nazi’s a good what-for. Today, such overt propaganda doesn’t really have a place, but exploring the origins of this Captain America as it was created back in 1941 gave this film suitable ground to tell the true and original beginnings of the First Avenger without having to overcome the modern-day cynicism that would arise to any red, white and blue outfitted man fighting for freedom. The origins are respected and, as best seen in the treatment of the famed costume, updated just enough to fit our modern sensibilities.
Chris Evans played the cock-sure Johnny Storm in Fox’s Fantastic Four films – another Marvel property. I was expecting some of the ‘attitude’, confidence and charisma that The Human Torch character from that franchise is known for to bleed into his Steve Rogers performance. But it doesn’t – and that’s a good thing. Evans is a terrific Captain America and his performance, most notably in the first 30 minutes or so of the feature where computer generated imagery seamlessly weld his face on a thin, weaker body (ala Brad Pitt’s transformation in Benjamin Button). He imbues the weak bodied but warrior spirit of Rogers with far more nuance than one would expect. His humble, earnest willingness to stand up for what is right and how dutifully he sees his involvement in the fight against Germany is delivered without a hint of nationalism or sentimentality.
As the Joker is to Batman, Red Skull was well chosen to play the primary antagonist here. Molded in the form of the ruthless Nazi regime, but far better equipped with weapons powered by relics from ‘The Gods”, Red Skull views Adolf’s army as equally inferior as those fighting against him. That makes him more intriguing and compelling than merely a lieutenant of Hitler – a madman ultimately serving another human madman. Red Skulls fascination with the mysterious and mythical (something Hitler has long been reported to have pursued). Hugo Weaving is solid as Red Skull. He delivers the lines of the unrelenting evil with trademark sincerity and, a few slip-ups in his German accent aside, is believable as the intellectual and physical match to Captain America.
The overall cast is quite large, with seriously strong talent filling the roles. Tommy Lee Jones as grumpy and sarcastic Colonel Phillips stands out. Neal McDonough (see my interview here) has quite the presence onscreen as Dum Dum Dugan, the very talented Derek Luke stars as Gabe Jones, Kenneth Choi stars as Jim Morita and JJ Field plays the ‘pip-pip’ British character of James Montgomery Falsworth with a suitably stiff upper lip. One complaint regarding the peripheral set of characters here is how little they are given to do in the grand scheme of things. McDonough is a fine talented actor, as is Luke, but neither is given enough meat in the film as presented to give true justice to their characters (or the actor’s abilities). I am hoping that, through the miracle of superhero films, the Howling Commando’s show up in any sequel with considerably more involvement in the plot.
Additionally, Toby Jones (Capote) also stars as Red Skull’s lead scientist, Dr. Arnim Zola, Samual L. Jackson has a brief appearance as Nick Fury, and Dominic Cooper does well as a young Howard Stark (father to Tony Stark).
Joe Johnston demonstrates a cheeky flair and deliberateness with his direction that I haven’t seen from him since his terrific turn helming The Rocketeer. The screenplay, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (and helped along a little by Avengers director and co-scribe Joss Whedon) is excellent – a genuine treat with sufficient exposition without being bogged down, and enough levity to keep the mood cheerful. The humor comes in the form not of slapstick, but of verbal jabs and sparring, delivered perfectly by the fine talents of Tommy Lee Jones, Stanly Tucci and others, giving the film a lighter tone just when it is needed. The action sequences are well orchestrated and riddled with fine visual effects work as well as practical pyrotechnics. The sequence inside Red Skull’s prison camp and weapons foundry (where Dum Dum and the others enter the story) is particularly good and, as massive explosions rock the facility, reminds of the finale sequence in Johnston’s The Rocketeer (atop the exploding Zeppelin) and that’s a good throwback to have.
I will say that occasionally the narrative and emotional impact of the proceedings feel truncated awkwardly – and no moment demonstrates this than the very last line of the film (which I won’t spoil for you here). It is a shame that a little more care in the editing room – whether at the direction of the editors, producers or director himself – was not taken to give some moments more of their due. But that note aside, Captain America is a rollicking good time with some of the finer performances and action seen at the movies this past summer. A genuine success.
Presented in 1080p High Definition, Paramount Pictures delivers Captain America with a fine Blu-ray release. Set almost entirely during the Second World War, colors are quite muted, with a feint brown/sepia hue over most sets (with the exception of the New York World’s Fair sequences, which is literally riddled with dashes of bold and bright colors). Skin tones therefore take on that same hue but feel appropriate for the era. Red Skull’s red skull is deep and bold and is always the most striking element of the frame when within it – even the blue of Captain America’s costume is slightly muted from its brighter appearances in the comic books (though images of his revised costume from The Avengers film appears to brighten it up).
Explosions are on the yellower end of the spectrum and blacks are deep and strong. Detail is also strong, with textures nicely produced and unnecessary digital tinkering absent.
Captain America: The First Avenger was not at first intended to be a 3D feature. Converted post-production, it fares surprisingly well given its 2D origins. Johnston appears to have foreseen the need to provide elements within the frame the demonstrate depths (a cup on a near table during a medium shot of characters talking, low-perspective shots with plenty near and far-field objects) – but that doesn’t mean this is prime material for a 3D viewing experience. What save this feature from the complaints I had for its companion film this summer, Thor, is the brighter sets, minimal reliance on dark and shadow filled sets, and better staging of scenes for perspective. Despite the 4 out of 5 rating, I would advise that the film is mostly absent of protrusions into the audience (save for a good moment when Cap’s shield is thrown directly our way). I would have rated this 3.5 out of 5 for the 3D implementation if it were not for the surprisingly constant dimensional and depth of field achieved. Rarely did I forget that I was experiencing the film in 3D – the way that I did when watching and rating Thor. I do caution that your experience (and your 3D expectations) may vary.
Captain America’s 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio option is a house crumbler. But beyond the naturally bombastic nature of the audio for a film like this, there is solid attention to detail in the surrounds and an issue-free and clear focus on dialogue in the center channel. The growls of Cap’s motor cycle, the boom and crackle of tank explosions, the pierce of punches and the ricochet of bullets and other projectiles from Captain America’s symbolic shield are each given care through the audio. This is a superbly enveloping audio track that is every bit crisp and throaty as you would expect. I can think of no issues here.
3D Feature Film
Blu-Ray Feature film
Feature film with commentary by director Joe Johnston, director of photography Shelly Johnson and editor Jeff Ford: While the commentary associated with the deleted scenes adds little, this commentary track is particularly revealing as the team discuss the creation of shots, set up decisions and creative choices. Anecdotes, appreciation and technical points permeate the commentary track making it a worthwhile listen.
Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer (4:03): And entertaining and funny short film featuring Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) showing off more than just a firm grasp of the situation.
- Outfitting a Hero (10:52): A look at the source for Cap’s outfit – balancing the patriotic origins and the practical design required to meet the look and tone of the film. A good set of interviews cover the evolution of the outfit in the design stages to the evolution we witness on screen.
- Howling Commandos (6:07): A nice look at the cast of characters known as the Howling Commando’s, rescued by Captain America in the film, shows further how their roles in the final film was not as full as it should have been.
- Heightened Technology (5:42): This look at the enhanced technology we find in this alternate version of the World War II era, harkening back to designs found in the 40s that we know about, but twisting it just enough to make it ‘cool’ for this superhero universe.
- The Transformation (8:50): The ‘pre’ Captain American Steve Rogers is superbly realized on screen. Through interviews, the producers and Director talk about how important it was that the audience fall in love with Rogers before he becomes muscular. The visual effects to make him skinnier and smaller – merging CGI, body double and green screen – are brilliant and perhaps the most impressive of all of the many effects found throughout the film.
- Behind the Skull (10:23): The Red Skull super villain is one of the oldest in superhero lore and Hugo Weaving does very well with him. This featurette peers behind the curtain on this character. I suspect we haven’t seen the last of him.
- Captain America Origins (3:55): Co-Creator of Captain American, Joe Simon, talks about the inspiration for bringing the character to the comic book world – this is an interesting history lesson for Captain America and the historical context in which he was born.
- The Assembly Begins (1:46): A very brief snippet peak into next year’s highly anticipated Avengers film.
Deleted Scenes with commentary by director Joe Johnston, director of photography Shelly Johnson and editor Jeff Ford (5:32): Four deleted scenes that are really quite brief but both the footage of the characters that become the Howling Commandos and Nick Fury’s additional exposition that would have appeared at the end of the film really should have been included. The commentary is so slight as to be unnecessary.
Trailers: Two theatrical trailers for Captain America, the Sega game trailer and the Avengers Animated trailer are included.
DVD Feature film
Captain America is a very good film. Solid direction, brisk script, fine performances and strong direction from Joe Johnston conspire to create a jolly good summer action superhero film. The plot is aptly uncomplicated, the link to the rest of the Marvel universe of characters (and their uniting in The Avengers film) is well thought out, and as with all good origin stories, it is interesting and its finer moments come before the superhero becomes the superhero. Chris Evans provides both the weak and the enhanced Steve Rogers with vulnerability and strength – making him more interesting than just muscle and more complex than just heroic. The score by Alan Silvestri is also a highlight – with full-orchestra pulsating action cues and a fine patriotic main theme to tie it all together.
This is a fine formula for Marvel to follow for any future origin stories – good writing, good direction, good actors, and the perfect blend of action and fun. Recommended.
Overall (Not an average)