In the world of Marvel comics Captain America was indeed the first Avenger, and as the full title implies we’re going quite a way into the past to create this hero. But the first shall be last, and it’s certainly true on this long road to the May 2012 release of The Avengers on film. You see, this is the final piece to the puzzle for that great assembly of heroes. We’ve had two chances to witness both The Hulk and Iron Man and a recent film introduction to Thor. Other characters like Black Widow and Hawk Eye came as guests on the other films. But the introductions are now complete.
Steve Rogers (Evans) is a 98-pound weakling. He’s the guy you see in the comics all right. The guy getting sand kicked in his face on those old Charles Atlas ads we used to read on the comic back pages. But he has a heart of solid gold, and he doesn’t like bullies. So when Hitler and his boys begin to goosestep over Europe, he tries desperately to enlist. Each time he’s shot down and denied his chance to contribute to the cause. That is, until he comes under the eye of Professor Abraham Erskin (Tucci). He has been tasked with reproducing a Nazi experiment to create a supersoldier. He admires Steve’s heart and decides to make him the test subject. The experiment works, and Steve receives super strength and agility. But he can’t seem to win the respect of Colonel Phillips (Jones). And when Erskin is killed in a Nazi invasion, not even a brave performance to get the bad guy convinces Phillips to give him a chance. He remarks: “I was promised an Army, and all I got is you”. But the papers noticed his performance, and soon the country was shouting for Captain America.
The military decides to use Steve after all. He gets sent on a song and dance tour to promote war bonds. He’s happy to be doing his part until he finds out that his childhood friend and his unit have been captured by the secret Nazi science organization Hydra. Hydra is headed by the Nazis’ attempt at the same experiment. But it went terribly wrong, and the disfigured Red Skull (Weaving) is now a madman bent on world domination. It’s time for Captain America to save the day. The cost is he is frozen under the Arctic ice for decades only to be awakened by Nick Fury and the boys at Shield. And now the final Avenger is found in the world’s first.
Captain America was one of the earliest of the Marvel creations. He was developed by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby back in the 1940’s when all of this Nazi fighting was contemporary. He was a strong piece of action hero and World War II propaganda. Most of the other famous heroes from the Marvel stable arrived during the company’s golden age guided by Stan Lee in the 1960’s and 1970’s. But Captain America has a tradition that goes back 20 years longer. While he does have increased strength and ability, he is not really a super-powered hero. More Batman than Superman, he was as tough inside as he was outside. The hero was easily brought into the post-World War era with a new collection of bad guys and super villains to fight. But his most famous adversary was always Red Skull, and so he’s a fitting foil here.
I think I’m more impressed with this film than I was with any of the others in this series. I was least familiar with Captain America and honestly never found him to be a very compelling hero. It was not one of my must-reads as a boy. This film had the potential more than the others to turn into unintentional camp. The costume is certainly one of the oddest of the heroes, and the characters were very much caricatures in the comics. If you weren’t careful, you might as well have checked to see if Adam West still had a pulse and put him in some red, white and blue spandex. But these guys did a wonderful job of handling all of those traps. The result is a surprisingly solid and entertaining film.
Give much of the credit for the film’s success to a wonderful cast. Evans is really no surprise. He’s not new to the comic movie world after doing two turns as The Flame in Fox’s Fantastic Four films. Here he shows a maturity beyond the character he played there. It’s a pleasant transformation, and I must admit to not being very sure of the selection when it was originally announced. Hugo Weaving is also no real surprise in a fantastic genre film. He outdoes himself as the evil Red Skull. Even once the makeup takes over you can feel his performance just oozing under all of that bright red licorice face. He has a commanding presence that creates all the jeopardy the film could need. Then there is the unlikely casting of Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Phillips. That was a stroke of genius right there. His character placed this whole thing into a believable enough real world that you forget the fantasy elements enough to really immerse yourself inside.
There are many nods to the many years of the comic itself. The original costume was just plain silly and would have certainly led down that short road to camp if the film were completely faithful. They found a way to work it in with the song and dance routine with a pretty catchy tune. There is also tribute paid to some of the iconic characters that often joined Captain America on his missions. The Howling Commandos includes Bucky (Stan) who was his Robin in the comics but is his friend here. Many of these beloved characters fit in perfectly with the team. Dernier (Ricci) represents the French Resistance and is the team’s explosive expert. Morita (Choi) is the gadget and communications officer. Gabe (Luke) was one of comicdom’s first black heroes and is the big weapons expert of the team. DumDum (McDonough) looks like someone out of a Butch Cassidy film. In the comics he was a circus strong man who joined SHIELD. Falsworth (Field) became the British counterpart to Captain America in the comics as Union Jack. There’s Howard Stark (Cooper) who is, of course Tony’s pop. A lot of homage here for the long-time fans.
Finally, there is the world itself. The technology is advanced but always looks like it could have been created in that time. The battlefield stuff is as good as anything you’ve seen. What is most surprising is that while there are a ton of computer-generated and practical effects, this is not as effects-heavy a movie as the others have been. There’s an organic feel here that works.
The truth is that it all works and you really have to have this one in your arsenal. You’re not going into The Avengers without the Captain, are you?
Captain America is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. This film looks great from top to bottom. What you will notice more than the brilliant colors or sharp detail is that the film has a ton of texture. You can see the weave in the final outfit, and the battle scenes give you every piece of dirt uprooted with each blast. The effects are seamless, and you will just marvel at how they pulled off the skinny Steve. The red of Red Skull is not only bright but shows off the film’s extraordinary contrast. Black levels are rock-solid. It’s a near flawless high-definition image presentation.
The 3D disc is one of the best 3D presentations I’ve seen to date on the format. It’s never gadget or snarky. The field is there merely to strengthen the image. I still don’t like the darker image the glasses provide, but this one was better than I’ve seen.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is a powerful punch to the action. Subs are angry and rock the room without distortion. Separation is flawless and gives you crisp clean dialog alongside the powerful driving score and explosive images.
There is an engaging Audio Commentary with director Joe Johnston, editor Jeffrey Ford and DOP Shelly Johnson. It’s a good technical commentary and they point out a ton of the effects shots.
The version I am reviewing is a three-disc set. One disc contains the 3DBD and another a DVD copy of the film. The Blu-ray comes with the film and the following extras in high definition.
Marvel One-shot – A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Thor’s Hammer: (4:03) This is another Agent Colson interlude.
Outfitting A Hero: (10:52) Focus here is on the evolution of the costume design including the iconic shield. You get cool conceptual art here as well.
Howling Commandos: (6:07) A closer look at Cap’s WWII team.
Heightened Technology: (5:43) A look at the cool tech.
The Transformation: (8:50) Throughout the early part of the film you’ll be asking: How did they make him look like that? Secrets are revealed here.
Behind The Skull: (10:24) A closer look at the design and makeup of Red Skull.
The Assembly Begins: (1:46) Really an Avengers teaser.
Deleted Scenes: (5:32) There are 4 with a handy play-all and optional commentary.
And so the preliminaries are finished. But this is much more than just a prelude to a massive film coming next spring. This is a series of good franchise films that I expect to stand on their own long after that massive film has come and gone. And if this is where the comic book superhero is going, “They’re going to just get better, much better”.