Marvel Studios seems to know what they're doing. In order to make the ultimate superhero film, they've spent years upon years making numerous films, gradually building up momentum for the upcoming 'The Avengers,' a film that would be utterly impossible to make without establishing its stars, its roster, in their own origin stories, building fan anticipation in the process. In this lengthy build-up, we've seen an improvement on the formula in 'The Incredible Hulk,' a game changer in 'Iron Man,' and, most amazingly, a 'Thor' film that was not only relatable but damned entertaining. We met Hawkeye and the Black Widow in recent adventures, as well, and many a time now Samuel L. Jackson has popped in with a signature eyepatch as the leader of the bunch, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. But, one piece has been missing, perhaps the most crucial to the team. Ironically, one of the very first Marvel superheroes proved to be the last introduced in this new series of comic adaptations.
In 1941, a mere two years after the official debut of Marvel Comics and its first two heroes, the Human Torch and Namor the Sub-Mariner, a third hero would step into the spotlight, a national hero, an embodiment of the American culture amidst the backdrop of a world in crisis, with an amazing statement from the get go, his first cover being a picture of the hero punching Adolf Hitler square in the face. Leading American troops into battle against Axis foes, the fictional character proved to be an amazing piece of propaganda, but when the war ended, so too did the popularity of the character. Cue the Silver Age of comic books, and suddenly ol' Stars and Stripes had a place in the comic world yet again, and has been in print ever since (with a few minor hiccups due to the change in series from time to time), closing in on fifty consecutive years, including a recent spike in public attention due to...you guessed it, the "death" of the character.
The American soldier with the unbreakable vibranium shield has been adapted to film before, as early as 1944 in serial form, in a Turkish bootleg film that has to be seen to be believed, again in 1990 in a version considered buried, and a few times in full length animated features, but it took until 2011 for ol' Steve Rogers to finally get the film he deserves, a movie that acts as a tribute to an American icon's place in history, glorifying and praising the bravery of soldiers in an era where such actions seem almost politically incorrect, as perverse as that may seem. With 'Captain America: The First Avenger,' directed by Joe Johnston ('The Rocketeer,' 'Jumanji'), we're taken in a time portal to another age, thrust in the middle of World War II, and imbued with a sense of patriotism long seemed forgotten.
This film is an interesting one, as it crams what could be two entire features into one cohesive unit, as we not only get the origin story of the character, but also a testament to his WWII heroics, in full. We meet Rogers (Chris Evans, who has now played two of the three oldest Marvel superheroes) when the man is nothing more than a ninety point asthmatic trying time and again to be accepted into the service, so that he can serve his country any way possible. The wimp, compared to a gerbil, is hardly soldier material, but his heart and selflessness catch the attention of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who has been working on a serum to create the ultimate fighter. Though thrown against a number of superior soldiers, none show the bravery or humanity that the runt does, and soon he's the first, and tragically last, American changed into the ultimate soldier.
After being forced into the public spotlight selling war bonds in a silly (and recognizable) suit, Rogers finds himself in a show in Italy, playing to an audience who recently lost a large number of men to HYDRA, the Nazi deep science program, led by the villainous Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving). Rather than standing back and letting others take on all the risk, Rogers leads a daring rescue of the captured soldiers, and finds himself instantly a hero to all enlisted men. With his amazing strength, speed, and intelligence, Rogers proudly wears the monicker of Captain America, rallying the troops to victory after victory against the powerful HYDRA forces, but Schmidt's ultimate plan, and secret history, prove he's the ultimate match to Rogers' bravery.
'Captain America: The First Avenger' is, easily, the best Marvel film since 'Iron Man,' often times coming close to being on par with that big change in tone from the often pulpy company. There's damn near everything here that a comic and movie fan could ask for. The origin story is given the perfect amount of time to develop, as we come to love the scrawny wimp with a heart bigger than his body, and come to understand the characters and world we're seeing. After the fastest thirty minutes of film you'll ever see, we then get to meet the super soldier, and time flies by. The script seems inspired by the recent HBO war mini-series, as we see an attention to detail often left to montage, where the other aspects of war and heroism are shown, and we see the selfless side of the man doing his part in the effort, despite wanting to be on the front lines. There's no whining, no griping, this man embodies American pride and dignity, and it's an act that doesn't grow old. It's rather intoxicating, honestly.
Once the real action of the film begins, as cliche as it sounds, the film is an non-stop action packed thrill ride, showing the heroics of the man and his trusty shield in a number of ways, as an inspiration to those around him, and as the super soldier he was meant to be, and then some. We get a great mixture of montage and drawn out, elaborate battles, which endear the character, and draw his quest closer to heart, before going for the big finish, as the icons for America and Nazi Germany have their final battle, and the suspense doesn't let up. This film grabs you and doesn't let go, with a great blend of humanity and country pushing the time right on along.
Of course, the film does have areas it could have improved upon. With the false opening in modern times, even non-comic fans know of the man's fate, taking away some of the suspense, especially with the final battle. The other issue is the lack of time developing the relationship between the boy no woman wanted, who now could have any woman he desires, and the woman who is enamored with him for more than his physique, Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell). Since we know any love story will be ultimately tragic, as predictable as it could have been, the emotion that could have been in their final moments would have been really something had it been given more fleshing out.
'Captain America: The First Avenger' has a Bond-like villain in the Red Skull, even if Weaving sounds like nothing more than Hugo Weaving doing a bad German accent, and the evil he embodies almost makes up for the way he pulls you out of the film. His lackey, played by Toby Jones, is a great bit of casting, while Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Phillips gets all the best lines, and damn if they aren't delivered expertly. The other godsend of this film is Dominic Cooper, playing Howard Stark (yep, Tony's dad), and we get to see a man who shows the future is doomed to repeat itself, with his mixture of genius and excessive pride and showmanship. It's really rather fun, but then again, almost every element of 'Captain America' is fun. This is a great film, not just a great comic book movie. It's a great human story, and perhaps the best action film of 2011, taking a page out of 'Hellboy's book with the new twist on the Nazi obsession with the occult. Marvel, take a bow.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Released day and date with the 2D edition to stores nationwide (no exclusives here!), 'Captain America: The First Avenger' is the newest Blu-ray 3D release! This set includes a BD50 3D disc, a BD50 2D disc, and the same DVD/Digital Copy combo disc, housed in a standard thickness case, held under a slightly too short (Paramount, go figure...), embossed slipcover.
The 3D disc has no pre-menu junk, features the same menu as the 2D (including navigation, save for the lack of a supplements tab), and sports the exact same audio and subtitle options. Both discs in this set are reportedly Region A/B/C, but I have no way of verifying the 3D disc yet.
Paramount's newest 2D conversion Blu-ray 3D title fares much better than the previous. The added effect to 'Captain America' readily outdoes anything found in the 3D release of 'Thor,' so much so that it's not even funny. While this release has some issues, it is one of the more aggressive conversions, and has plenty for 3D fans to ooh and ahh about.
This disc shows from the start that it's going to try to make the film look as much like a native 3D film as possible, as even the opening shots, seen through a snowstorm, have that little added bit oomph, with what little is visible, setting it back into a deeper window, just to stay busy and keep viewers from lifting their glasses to make sure there's some kind of 3D somewhere in there. As the film rolls on, we see how almost every shot has borderline excessive pop out or added depth, like it were some kind of game. Needless to say, no one can call this one of those flat, do-nothing conversions.
The amount of added depth is quite often incredibly limited, as this is nowhere near the deepest, most infinite looking disc out there. While backgrounds maintain great clarity and distinction, they never really fade out into the distance, never really going that extra mile, making this particular 3D presentation more about front and middle layers than anything else. It's hard not to notice this, like in the alley fight sequence, once you can see to the street, the supposedly deep alley suddenly looks all of five trash cans long, despite the opposite being the case. Another issue in this sequence sees the wooden fence behind the one sided fight having no texture at all, as it looks really bizarre, whereas in the 2D edition of the film, it was pretty natural.
Ghosting is a borderline non-issue here. Yes, there are some very, very odd but rare instances with this issue, but they're infrequent, they're also on odd spots that are often problematic to other films. For example, lights hanging overhead, like in the war bunker/war room sequences. Characters themselves do not have this issue, at all. Effects don't, either. Just odd, stupid little items in otherwise crowded rooms every so often. So...mission accomplished in that respect! Heck, there's only a couple of shots that are so dark that any information gets lost (amongst them the shot of Schmidt exiting his ride in his first scene), making 'Thor' look that much more problematic. There are some moments where a light shimmer or hint of aliasing comes into the picture, particularly in the training sequence, when the huts appear, their entire sides look like a damn moving mess.
Now, misuse of 3D is the only other real problem in this disc. On top of the lack of extreme depth, there are moments where the 3D effect just doesn't gel in a scene. The moment that struck me the most was a pretty mundane shot in the secret laboratory/test room where the serum is to be administered. As the white coated scientists look up at the men and women entering the room, getting their first glimpse at the test subject, there's one scientist who stands out above all the other scientists, because he literally stands out. The way the 3D is employed, the guy is quite literally floating in place, hovering in a layer that doesn't exist. The other people in the room all fit naturally, but this one guy, we'll call him Floaty McScientist Guy, draws the eye in a negative way, distracting you from the rest of the scene, the entire room, due to the way he slightly comes forward in a way that defies damn near every law of physics. Who knew there were two future superheroes in the room?!? This issue pops up only a few times, but it's one of the first times I've seen this issue on a Blu-ray 3D disc, so it intrigued me.
Anyways, after those lengthy little explanations about the issues on this disc, I bet you're wondering why the (relatively) high score for 'Captain America' in 3D? Well, quite simply, this disc has its issues, but in the grand scheme of the entire film, they're nothing. For over two hours, this disc is a stunner. Detail levels are on par with the 2D edition of the film. Edges? Stray hair pop? Fantastic. Clarity and textures are amazing. The constant 3D effect, windowing in the picture, works really well, and the amount of time put into the conversion shows. This is a very active disc, that constantly engages and entices the viewer.
What's really bizarre and, honestly, superb, is the way this film uses effects that go towards the camera, and the viewers. Despite this not being a native 3D title, the way these moments are utilized, you wouldn't be the wiser watching them in action. They're seamless, and they stay in focus, unlike many of the early discs in the format attempting this trick. The flagpole that takes a fall, the random debris in explosions, some moving vehicles, thrown shields, more thrown shields, they all come towards the camera beyond naturally. The real treat has to be the moments after the assassination and the serum application, with Agent Carter aiming her gun, as the camera moves towards her, and her gun inches closer to your face. What's really worthy of praise is this effect is done yet again in the scene, and it's equally as impressive and flawless.
After 'Thor' and its failed 3D conversion, I'll admit I was hesitant about this one, expecting the worst. That was not the case, though. This is a solid disc, and is possibly the best live action conversion that I've had the pleasure of seeing. S2D (standard 2D) films often get the short end of the stick and frustrate potential owners, but this disc really was a pleasure to watch. It needs some more depth, and sometimes is a little floaty, but few films on this format move towards the camera more. Few films are as constantly engaged. This really is a superb conversion, and, not having seen it in theaters, should really appeal to Blu-ray 3D owners for the minimal price difference between the 2D and 3D versions.
The audio for this flick is presented by way of a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track that comes up a bit short compared to some of the other Marvel flicks (particularly 'The Incredible Hulk'), but it still has plenty to offer.
Dialogue doesn't get buried for a single word in the entire film, while range will frequently catch your attention with the blistering highs. This disc sports some solid volume spikes, and some good thumps and bumps, as well as gunfire pops, while rear speakers get more than their fair share of activity, particularly in action sequences, which throw you in the middle of a WWII battle like few other discs do, with gunfire coming from all angles nicely. Ambience is appropriate in every scene, while directionality is also spot on. The only place this track is lacking is in thunder, as the bass levels just don't match the carnage we see on screen. With the massive explosions filling this film, you'd expect a lot of rumble and roar, but it just doesn't happen anywhere near as much as it should. If you listen to this disc through your television's speakers, you just lost half of the experience, as this track is exactly that: an experience.
The supplement package for this set is found exclusively on the 2D Blu-ray disc. There are no extras on the 3D disc.
It's a shame the bonus DVD/Digital Copy disc may very well be the highlight of this supplement package
'Captain America' wowed me the first time I viewed it. The second time, which just so happened to be the very next day, did the same. This is a fun, action filled romp, and has colorful characters, a good story, and plenty of great callbacks. It's patriotism done right, not just propaganda and anger-inducing thoughts and images. This Blu-ray 3D combo release of the film from Paramount isn't demo material, but is more than certainly solid, with a great conversion making this 2D to 3D experience almost indistinguishable. It's in your face, at the very least. With the same awesome audio and average pile of extras, the Captain again belongs in one's home video library. The cost between the 2D and 3D versions is minimal, while the end result is anything but. Get ready to be shot at, exploded at, and have shields thrown at you!
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.