Pity poor Captain America. While other superheroes from his era have had their stories told multiple times on the silver screen, Cap has been waiting for his proper Hollywood debut since 1941. Think about that. Betty White was 19—dang. Well, this summer it finally happened. Captain America: The First Avenger earned 175 million dollars in the US, making it the 8th highest grossing of the year, right behind his fellow Avenger, Thor. I didn’t catch the film in theaters, so I was anxious to see how the Blu-ray would tell the tale of one of Marvel’s oldest and most iconic heroes, and if it would look better than current-day Betty White.
The story is plucked right out of World War II. The patriotic but super scrawny Brooklynite Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans) wants desperately to jump into the Nazi-fighting fray, but he’s unable to meet the physical demands of the military (damn asthma!). A chance encounter with an exiled German scientist (Stanley Tucci) lands Rogers the role of human guinea pig for the government’s super solider serum. The transformation scene and resulting chase through old New York City may be the movie’s most thrilling moment. Marvel fans will note that Iron Man’s father, Howard Stark (played by Dominic Cooper), is behind much of the transformation of Rogers. This seems to take some liberties with the origins of Captain America, but I enjoyed the cross referencing of Marvel characters. But using the same actor (Evans) to play both the Human Torch in The Fantastic Four and Captain America? Come on, Stan Lee. You’re better than that.
After he’s shoehorned into an awkward role as a pitchman for war bonds (surprisingly, the movie morphs into a musical for a few minutes), Rogers decides to take the fight to the bad guys himself. And as if Hitler and the Nazis weren’t enough, the nasty stakes are raised big time as the movie’s villain, the Red Skull (played almost comically in over-the-top style by Hugo Weaving of The Matrix fame), combines old school Axis evil with futuristic weaponry. Oh, and a red skull!
Some supporting role spunk is provided by the wisecracking Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), but otherwise I found the movie’s script a tad stiff. I realize they didn’t want Captain America to come off like some slang-slinging hipster (“OMG, Red Skull! You are so not gonna be having the last laugh!”), but I still think the dialog could’ve mimicked the 1940s style without sounding like FDR actually wrote the thing.
English secret agent/tepid love interest Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Cap’s best friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan) round out the primary cast, but to no surprise, this movie is at its best when bullets are flying and stuff is blowing up. The hand to hand combat scenes seemed hokey, but there’s fun to be had when Cap’s shield starts slicing through the air like a runaway frisbee. The special effects are solid, but your breath won’t be taken away. A few scenes, like the car chasing the plane at the end, lacked believability, and because I was looking for it, skinny Steve Rogers’ head at times did appear to be digitally attached to a scrawny body—which of course, it is.
If you expect Captain America to deliver anything close to realism or grittiness, you’ve got the wrong film. I can’t really say my heart raced at any point, and the ending almost left me with a feeling that the previous two hours was all just a set up for the forthcoming Avengers movie. Of course, it is in the title now, isn’t it? That said, I think it’s a great piece of entertainment for say, a grandfather to watch with his grandson on a rainy afternoon. The exaggerated characters and themes will be easy for the kid to grasp, and the old timer will enjoy the movie’s emphasis on decency and the straightforward good vs. evil vibe. Captain America doesn’t raise the bar for modern day superhero movies, but like the old Saturday matinee serials it borrows from, you’ll get an action-packed ride with morals you can feel good about.
Movie score: 6.0 out of 10
Captain America brings a solid 1080p transfer to the table. Perhaps it’s the 1940s setting and emphasis on browns and blacks, but I didn’t find many “Whoa!” moments that were worthy of double takes. The splashes of color that do liven things up – the war bonds musical number, for example – look crisp but subdued, probably as intended by director Joe Johnston. The WW II setting means Captain America shares more visual DNA with Band of Brothers than Iron Man. It all looks good; it just won’t pop off the screen at you.
Video score: 7.5 out of 10
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack crackles nicely during a number of points throughout the film. Your surround speakers will get a healthy workout with bullets, lasers and shield clangs peppering your living room. The healthy amount of explosions and lab blasts feature deep, rumbling bass. Alan Silvestri’s soundtrack, though, is pretty forgettable.
Audio score: 7.5 out of 10
Extras, Packaging and Menus
Captain America’s extra features are on the short side, but they’re all in crisp HD and they sound great. The cross promotion continues with the short film “Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer,” in which S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) busts up a pair of gas station robbers. Six featurettes focus on behind the scenes details, such as how Captain America’s suit was created and Cap’s comic book origin. The best of these is “The Transformation,” a look at the hodgepodge of techniques used to make Chris Evans look like Olive Oil’s skinnier brother. A teaser trailer for The Avengers, handful of deleted scenes, and director’s commentary round out the supplements. The menu is nicely animated and fun to look at, with documents and clippings taking the place of the always-frustrating and spoileresque film scenes. Like good ol’ Cap, the slipcase packaging is straightforward and sturdy, with the discs being separated by a plastic leaf. The digital copy code comes on a pictured insert, with some pleasant film art on the other side and the bold proclamation of one Bryan Erdy of CBS-TV that Captain America is “The best superhero movie ever!” Hey Brian, let’s go easy on the decaf next time, k?
Extras score: 6.5 out of 10
Captain America: The First Avenger is clearly an homage to a hero that’s long needed one. The vibe is retro and campy with no ambiguity about right and wrong. The script is a tad dull, and while the action is fun, I don’t think you’ll be remembering any specific scenes a few days after you take the disc out of the tray. With a good heart and above average video and audio, this is a solid but unspectacular tip of the, yes, cap, to Marvel’s 70 year old patriot.
Overall score: 6.5 out of 10