Much like he did with The Rocketeer, director Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park 3, October Sky, Hidalgo, The Wolfman) delivers a little slice of heroic Americana circa the 1940’s at the helm of Captain America: The First Avenger. Approach this film without an attitude. It will surprise you. Yes, it is a bit of a throwback to a by-gone era of filmmaking and, yes, it is a different world than the cynical one we now reside in, but Captain America is a staggering glimpse at what makes America and its heroes work. The film is unashamed of its old-fashioned appeal and – much like Richard Donner’s Superman and Kevin Conran’s Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow – fully embraces its old-fashioned tale of pulpy adventure.
More than just a lead-in to next year’s The Avengers movie, Captain America is the story of one little guy’s multiple attempts to serve his country against Nazi forces. He’s wiry; he’s prone to illnesses; he’s an asthmatic; he also gets beat up quite a bit. His name? Steve Rogers, but soon – thanks to a serum developed by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) and the technical prowess of famed inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) – scrawny Rogers becomes the muscle-strapped pure hearted Captain America (Chris Evans).
Immediately, things go wrong. Assassin Heinz Kruger (Richard Armitage) kills Erskine and Nazi officer Johann Schmidt/Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) attempts to harness the power of Loki by using the cube-shaped tesseract and use that energy as the power behind Schmidt’s own HYDRA forces.
Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) wants nothing to do with the super soldier and refuses to put him in his army. Misunderstood, Captain America finds his calling in advertising and sells war bonds by appearing in USO shows and films all across America. Eventually, he is snubbed by the troops in an overseas show. Encouraged to live up to his true potential by SSR officer Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Stark, Captain America suits up and rescues 400 men in a daredevil mission that eventually leads to his full time job as America’s First Avenger.
Based on the comic created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the key to understanding and appreciating what Johnston has done with the material is to never read too deeply into the material. This isn’t the real world cynical approach to heroes like Iron Man; nor is Steve Rogers at all similar to the tortured anguish of Bruce Wayne. Steve Rogers is just a runt from Brooklyn. He’s good. Pure. Sure, he tries to darken his own image but with a metabolism as high as his, well, there’s simply no point in drinking; Captain America can’t get drunk. He can fight.
And fight he does. In the snow. On a train. In a castle. On the streets of Brooklyn. Even on a Harley. Captain America is battling enemies everwhere.
Assembling a team of multi-national Americans, Captain finds himself an unnaturally made leader of an inspiring group of wartime lads. Longtime friend Sgt. James "Bucky" Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Timothy "Dum Dum" Dugan (Neal McDonough), Gabe Jones (Derek Luke), Jim Morita (Kenneth Choi), James Montgomery Falsworth (J. J. Feild), and Jacques Dernier (Bruno Ricci) all breathlessly follow the fearless Captain into battle against HYDRA and Nazi forces. While their heroics are presented in an era-inspired montage, the point is driven home: Captain America, as a hero, is a success.
Evans in the titular role is insanely likable and proves to have the chops, build, and innocence to pull of the icon. His fists swing with purpose and his handling of the famous shield – designed by Stark – is magnificently displayed. He doesn’t brood heroics, he exudes them. Evans is Rogers through and through. Weaving as Red Skull is a stronger force; more comfortable as a super soldier than Cap; his lines are villainous and full of pulpy spite. Yet, Weaving – in his red rubber mask - delivers a performance that is as pulpy and menacing as Evans’ is pulpy and pure.
With the majority of the film taking place between 1942 and 1945, Cap doesn’t have long to leave a lasting impression on the American consciousness, yet he does exactly that; in comics; in the imagination of kids everywhere. Everyone, it seems, wants to be Captain America. The film is pure Americana, with only the briefest of glimpses of the real world in its prologue and epilogue. The contrast between the two realities is unsettling and, certainly, should prove to be interesting for Captain America once The Avengers rolls onto screens next year.
Director Johnston’s meticulous eye for all things vintage and tough certainly delivers the goods. Moments of Cap verses Nazi soldiers certainly hearken back to Raiders of the Lost Ark and there’s a romantic appeal to the look and feel of longtime collaborator Shelley Johnson’s warm cinematography and production designer Rick Heinrichs detailed flair. It’s, at once, witty and direct with its tongue-in-cheek moments and thoughtfully consistent in mood, appeal, and appearance. Heck, even the design of the weapons ache with gothic beauty verses Howard Stark sleekness.
Without pause, the film is a fun-spirited vintage success. Some folks don’t “get” the mythology of Captain America and don’t understand the patriotic character. I suppose it’s the same story with the incorruptible Superman; you either get it or you don’t. What matters here is that you only get once chance to pull off the iconic Captain America; one chance. And, from the costume, to the mood, down to the unapologetically patriotic mythology and even beyond, Johnston and his team of conspirators did it. They. Did. It.
Captain America: The First Avenger is the first modern feel-good action film of yesteryear.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action.
Director: Joe Johnston
Writer: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Cast: Chris Evans; Hayley Atwell; Sebastian Stan; Tommy Lee Jones; Hugo Weaving; Dominic Cooper
Memorable Movie Quote: "Why someone weak? Because a weak man knows the value of strength, the value of power..."
Tagline: Discover the origin of the first avenger..
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Official Site: captainamerica.marvel.com
Release Date: July 22, 2011
Blu-ray Release Date: October 25, 2011
Plot Synopsis: Steve Rogers volunteers to participate in an experimental program that turns him into the Super Soldier known as Captain America. As Captain America, Rogers joins forces with Bucky Barnes and Peggy Carter to wage war on the evil HYDRA organization, led by the villainous Red Skull.
Available on Blu-ray - October 25, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); Digital copy (on disc); DVD copy
Playback: Region Free
Shield-slinging his way onto blu-ray, Captain America is a wonderfully treated 1080p transfer. Coolly crisp and sparkling with HD brilliance, Paramount has handled the film with the utmost of respect. Colors and contrast are sharp and, achieving a great clarity of depth, is the level of detail the transfer reveals about the production design of the film. And the faces! Oh, the faces. Great details are caught in the skin tones which are a bit contextualized to fit into the style of the time period. Shadows are rich, but sometimes struggle to maintain a sort of even playing field with the rest of the saturated stylistically drained colors of the picture. The superb DTS-HD MA 7.1 lossless soundtrack is another marvelous stroke of HD brilliance from Paramount who, self-admittedly, were a little late to the Blu-ray community.
- Presented by Director Joe Johnston, Director of Photography Shelly Johnson, and Editor Jeffrey Ford, the feature-length commentary is a vivacious affair (albeit a bit too frothy at times). The three filmmakers work together to create an informative track the reveals all the secret comic nods, the behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and the special effects that went into making the film work as well as it does.
Full of behind-the-scenes look at Captain America’s costume construction, a convenience store robbery, and the characters who come to Captain America’s side to help fight the good fight, the supplemental material is quite good. There are several looks at Captain America’s origin and how it has been tweaked over the years. One interesting featurette focuses on the history behind Red Skull while another provides five deleted scenes with optional introductions from the movie’s director. There are also a couple of nods to the upcoming Avengers movie and some featurettes that detail the making of the movie.
The blu-ray release also includes DVD & Digital copies of the movie as well as the film’s original trailers and TV spots.
- Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer (4 min)
- Outfitting a Hero (11 min)
- Howling Commandos (6 min)
- Heightened Technology (6 min)
- The Transformation (9 min)
- Behind the Skull (11 min)
- Captain America's Origin (4 min)
- The Assembly Begins (2 min)
- Five Deleted Scenes (6 min)