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Blu-ray Review: Captain America – The First Avenger

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In a nearly unprecedented feat Marvel Studios had big plans for a series of movies that would lead to next year’s big screen Avengers movie. We have previously seen The Hulk, Iron Man and Thor but the real linchpin to The Avengers is Captain America. This summer they released Captain America: The First Avenger, a fun World War II period piece action adventure that has now arrived on Blu-ray in a very nice package.

The Film

click to view larger imageLike Batman and Superman, Captain America is a timeless comic book superhero. Even people who don’t know comic books know the basics of Captain America. He was a scrawny kid who couldn’t join the Army during World War II, was recruited for a super-soldier program, became an ultimate soldier and joined the fight. The challenge for director Joe Johnston was to put this on the big screen in an interesting and dynamic way, with the help of the perfectly cast Chris Evans as Captain America he did just that.

Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, an unhealthy tiny man with a huge heart, courage, and determination enough for ten men. He wants to fight for the rights of all people who cannot stand up for themselves because he hates bullies and views Hitler and his Nazis as the ultimate bullies. After being refused from over half a dozen recruitment stations and watching his best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) head off to war, Rogers is recruited by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). Rogers is to be part of a Super Soldier program because they need people with wits, courage, and determination, the fact that he is physically weak is unimportant.

click to view larger imageDuring his initial training, it was clear he was at the bottom of the pack physically, but he never gave up and despite his challenges still managed to impress the hardnosed Colonel Chester Philips (Tommy Lee Jones) and British liaison Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Chosen first for the Super Soldier program Rogers is strapped into an apparatus and with Howard Starks (Dominic Cooper) help Dr. Erskine transforms Rogers into a man at the peak of physical perfection. Just as the program is deemed a success a Nazi saboteur reveals himself, steals the last vial of the serum and escapes killing Dr. Erskine in the process. Rogers gives chase and finds he is able to perform near superhuman feats as he chases down and stops the spy, rather then face capture the spy commits suicide.

With the program dying with Dr. Erskine, Rogers is basically abandoned by the army despite his prowess and recruited as a USO representative. Traveling around the country and given a colorful costume (funnily it looks almost exactly like the original comic version of his costume) and dubbed “Captain America” he inspires people to donate and join, but he is far from the action. During a trip to the front to inspire troops, Rogers’ Captain America persona fails to impress because many troops were recently captured or killed. Discovering that his best friend Bucky is on the missing list, Rogers enlists Carter and Stark’s help and drops into enemy territory.

click to view larger imageUsing all of his newfound strength and skill coupled with his tenacity and courage, Rogers rescues all the living soldiers and truly becomes Captain America. Seeing the value in this inspiring and very capable soldier, Colonel Philips lets Rogers form his own team, made up from key survivors from his rescue, and sends him on high priority and dangerous missions. They quickly catch wind of a mysterious Nazi scientist called Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) who is amassing power using nefarious means and forming his offshoot society called Hydra. Schmidt is an early recipient of Erskine’s formula and the side effects scarred his body and left his skull exposed and red earning himself the name The Red Skull. Captain America and his team must locate and stop The Red Skull before his plans can be completed ending with the planet under Hydra domination.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a terrific film that hits the right notes in all the important ways. Steve Rogers transformation is amazing to watch as CGI wizardry was used to turn the very muscular and tall Chris Evans into a tiny frail man. Watching him walk around as this scrawny man but definitely be Chris Evans was amazing. Once he becomes Captain America, Evans continues to shine, his demeanor, physique, and all-American looks are perfect for the role. I was nervous at first because of his other Marvel role as the Human Torch but he was nearly born to play this character.

click to view larger imageThe remaining cast is equally stellar, especially Tommy Lee Jones’ Colonel Philip and Hugo Weavings Red Skull. Does anyone play a gruff authority figure as well as Jones? Does anyone play a menacing villain as well as Weaving? I dare no to both questions. They both chew scenery every time they are on screen with Weavings Red Skull being pitch perfect from mannerisms, look and costumes, it could not have been cast better. The rest of the cast do a great job of breathing life into their characters and adding depth to the story surrounding Captain America’s origin story.

The movie is a terrific segue into the upcoming Avengers film plus it is a really well-done period war movie that just so happens to be about a superhero. The action is fast and furious and the story actually has heart and depth leaving us with a character we truly like and want to see more of. I would rank Captain America: The First Avenger right up there with Iron Man and I am looking forward to The Avengers and the eventual sequels featuring this iconic hero.

The Video

click to view larger imageFeaturing an MPEG-4 AVC 1080p codec with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Captain America: The First Avenger looks phenomenal on Blu-ray. The film has a subdued, almost muted look that works perfectly with the subject matter. The image is always crisp and clear with a nice film grain but the colors are deliberately toned down, but always be design. At times the colors pop for effect, but at all times black levels are perfect and there are never any muddy textures. In fact the textures are astounding and are often touchable on screen, tears in cloth, scuffs on Captain Americas shield and skin tones stand out. My only (minor) quibble is that at times some of the effects scenes look, I don’t know, different. It is as if the digital effects could not match the physical ones, it is rare, but something I noticed, particularly in 3D. That being said this is a stellar transfer that does the movie proud.

The Audio

Consistency is always a good thing and to match the great movie and amazing video transfer Captain America: The First Avenger also has a superb DTS-HD MA 7.1 lossless soundtrack to please your aural senses. The soundtrack is subdued and subtle in the first act of the film but filled with ambient noise, always clear dialog, and a great period soundtrack. The second and third acts bring us into action-filled scenes, and the soundtrack performs excellently here as well. Fire wooshes around you, punches have weight and bass, and cries of soldiers echo all around you. This soundtrack has heft, clarity and most importantly does not overwhelm, instead audio cues are properly timed and executed very well.

The Extras

click to view larger imageMarvel Studios and Paramount know what needs to be done when offering a superhero film and that is to give us geeks a ton of great extras. From a capable commentary track to many behind-the-scenes features this is a satisfying pool of extras.

  • Audio Commentary: Director Joe Johnston, director of photography Shelly Johnson, and editor Jeffrey Ford provide a very technical and at times light commentary on the film. It provides some really interesting insight, but is not the most engaging track out there. Not bad certainly, but not great either.
  • Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer (1080p, 4:03): Best extra ever! A short film about Agent Coulsons more heroic side. We need many more of these.
  • Outfitting a Hero (1080p, 10:52): I really enjoyed this look at the daunting task of making an outfit (and shield) that matches the iconic look but is also functional.
  • Howling Commandos (1080p, 6:07): Fun Fact, the Howling Commandos were part of Nick Fury’s WWII team, but here they join Captain America. Regardless of the change, this is a look at the team from the movie.
  • Heightened Technology (1080p, 5:43): Some of the tech in the movie was very interesting, this feature looks at the designs and inspiration used to create them.
  • The Transformation (1080p, 8:50): A great look at the process used to digitally shrink Chris Evans for his pre-transformation look.
  • Behind the Skull (1080p, 10:24): A look at the comic book and movie iterations of the Red Skull from costumes to his look.
  • Captain America’s Origin (1080p, 3:55): Co-creator Joe Simon talks about creating Captain America.
  • The Assembly Begins (1080p, 1:46): A look at the Avengers that is already overshadowed by the true trailers already released.
  • Deleted Scenes (1080p, 5:32): Attack in Norway, The Battle at Azzano, Steve Rogers Gets his Medal, and Steve Rogers Meets Nick Fury. Available with optional director, d.p., and editor commentary, except for Steve Rogers Meets Nick Fury.
  • Trailers (1080p): Theatrical Trailer 1 (2:35), Theatrical Trailer 2 (2:35), Sega Game Trailer (2:18), and The Avengers Animated Trailer (1:19).
  • Digital Copy
  • DVD Copy

The Final Word

Captain America: The First Avenger is a terrific superhero film. The director, crew and cast, in particular Chris Evans and Hugo Weaving, give us a great look at this iconic hero in a way that is believable yet true to the source material. The Blu-ray is also superb in nearly every way, great picture and sound as well as a solid, and substantial, list of extras. This a terrific package and a movie every superhero fan needs to add to their collection!

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About Michael Prince

Looking at all things Geek - news, rants and updates from the worlds of gaming, tech, blu-ray, novels, and music.