Captain America

Captain America: The First Avenger on Blu-ray

Another Marvel-ous stable entry, Captain America is also a paean to America's military in a way not seen very much from Hollywood these days.

It's also a period piece, perhaps surprisingly, set at the height of the Second World War, when the U.S. and the other Allied forces were locked in a fight to the death (of freedom) against the Axis powers. It was a good time to be an American soldier – other than the always-present threat of death or injury – fighting a battle where the enemy was known clearly in a war that was supported vocally by most of the citizens back home.

Into this setting comes an unlikely superhero – a man-created one, not one who got his powers via spider bite, a yellow sun, or via technological gimmickry or mutation. It's an interesting concept, with hints of eugenics and a healthy dose of sci-fi added to the mix, and with a proudly and unashamedly pro-America hero.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, who we also saw as Marvel's "Human Torch" in the Fantastic Four movies) is little more than a ninety pound weakling at the movie's opening. He has about every ailment possible that would disqualify him from serving in the U.S. military, though he wants desperately to do his duty anyway. He tries enlisting multiple times, but is turned away until his pluck is noticed by a Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a German expatriate who has created a serum that, supposedly, will turn an ordinary human being into, well, a super hero.

What we don't know is that this isn't the first such attempt. Some Nazi named Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) has also become a bit of a superhuman due to such procedures, and now he's created his own science program called HYDRA, with his own army – and he means to use it to take over the world on his own behalf. This makes the inevitable battle between him and Captain America more a case of the U.S.A. versus a megalomaniac who isn't Hitler, ironically.

But before we get there, we get to witness the genesis of Captain America, whose lowly beginning comes via his appearances as a red, white and blue-clad war bond salesman on a tour to raise funds for the war effort. In Italy, he's doing his shtick in front of an audience of soldiers who have recently fought and lost to HYDRA. They have no time for Captain America's "simulated soldiering" and let him know that in no uncertain terms.

So, sensing that this is not only his opportunity to serve in reality instead of merely as an entertainer but is also the right thing to do, Rogers mounts an exciting and daring rescue of the soldiers HYDRA captured and upon its successful conclusion finds himself transformed from a perceived joke to a legitimate hero. Captain America has gone suddenly from being merely a symbol to a true super hero boasting amazing strength, speed, agility and smarts.

Despite the fact that his red, white and blue costume (and famous shield) makes him stick out like a sore thumb, Captain America then manages to lead the troops under his command, leading to the ultimate battle between him and Schmidt.

Captain America: The First Avenger is an entertaining and uplifting film, without ever losing its sense of comic book fun. It isn't the best of the Marvel outings, but it's certainly up there with the better outings. We love origin stories, which of course is what this is, finding that they seem to work better than the many sequels where we already know the character and so there's no particular need to develop him/her/it.

And here, it's neat to see Steve Rogers develop from being the kind of guy who always got sand kicked in his face by bigger guys to the biggest guy around - capable of kicking sand in anyone's face but far too classy to succumb to such mundane bullying.  

There's plenty of action, great special effects and neat technology on hand as well – and there's even a budding romance that doesn't suck.  

We're a bit unsure about the ending, which is a bit of a throwback to the very opening of the film. It moves the story forward to present day, where Captain America needs to be for the upcoming Avengers movie, but we're not sure  how logically it does that. Perhaps they could have done this at the beginning of The Avengers rather than here, and left this film rooted firmly in the past where it spends the lion's (or is it eagle's) share of the time. This is a minor quibble, however.

Evans is likeable as Steve Rogers/Captain America, and the rest of the cast supports him well. Hugo Weaving makes a pretty good villain, too. Tommy Lee Jones has some great lines and Hayley Atwell is appropriately sexy and strong as the agent who just could be much more if only she and Rogers could get some quality time alone together.

It's also cool seeing Howard Stark (Tony, "Iron Man's" father) on hand to lay the foundation for that other super hero.

Paramount's Blu-ray of Captain America: The First Avenger is a pretty good one. We received it via a combo pack that includes Blu-ray (2D in this case, though a 3D version is available) and a DVD plus digital copy. Presented in 1080/24p, the picture quality is as good as you could want, very clear and colorful, with fine detail and very good depth.

Audio features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track that's nearly as good, but not quite. Dialogue is very clear and clean, and the dynamic range is also very enjoyable. The low frequency effects channel gets a good workout – as you'd expect from a film with plenty of gunfire and explosions, though we don't think it's quite up to the standards of some films so far as the "rumble quotient is concerned. On the plus side, the rear speakers are used plentifully and the channel separation is first rate.  

Extras include an audio commentary with director Joe Johnston, abetted by cinematographer Shelly Johnson, and editor Jeffrey Ford. It isn't a great track, but there's some interesting stuff in it.

A series of seven featurettes cover such topics as "Outfitting a Hero," "Howling Commandos," "Captain America's Origin" and the like, though they're also not the greatest examples of the species. There is also a quartet of deleted scenes, with optional commentary that are more interesting.

Also included are four trailers, two for the movie itself, one for a video game and one for a cartoon version of the Avengers.    

Captain America: the First Avenger, from Paramount Home Entertainment
124 min. 1080p widescreen (2.40:1) , DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
Starring Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell
Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, directed by Joe Johnston

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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