Blu-Ray Review: ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’

"This impressive set only confirms what I already knew: that Captain America is one of the best comic book movies around."

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

It’s weird reviewing movies that you only just reviewed a few months before. After rewatching Captain America: The First Avenger on the glorious new Blu-Ray release (out October 25th), I went back and re-read my initial review. You can find it right here. I stand by all of those statements except one. I am now forced to admit that the green screen looks great… in 2D. In 3D the separation between foreground and background did the otherwise impressive special effects no favors, making the already technically flat green screen images feel extra flat. Their physical plane felt further away, but I recall seeing little depth within that actual plane. But in 2D the look beautiful. Apart from that improvement, this impressive set only confirms what I already knew: that Captain America is one of the best comic book movies around.

I’m not sure how you could have missed Captain America in theaters, but I have to assume you did so bear with me for a brief plot synopsis. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a frail, diminutive Brooklyn boy during World War II whose repeated efforts to volunteer for the Army have been turned down. Expatriate German scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine recognizes his strength of character, however, and enlists him in a top-secret government program to genetically engineer the ideal super soldier. (The irony of using eugenics to fight Nazis dates back to the characters’ creation in the 1940’s, and is barely addressed.) Rogers becomes the ideal physical specimen without losing his good nature, and although tragedy prevents any other super soldiers from ever being created, a series of interesting events finally sends him to the front lines in a star-spangled uniform with a multi-racial elite fighting force by his side, where he fights a Nazi splinter group called Hydra, led by the villainous Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), the original test subject for the formula that made Rogers so powerful.

My original review of Captain America: The First Avenger had nothing but praise for the writing efforts of Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely (and an uncredited polish by Avengers director Joss Whedon), and my appreciation for their efforts has only increased with multiple viewings. They have deftly adapted decades of disparate Captain America stories into a single, cohesive film that thoroughly justifies all of the more unusual aspects of the character without losing sight of his humanity. They also manage to rewrite American history without invalidating the efforts of the real-life heroes who won the war by separating The Red Skull from the Nazis, allowing our hero to thoroughly save the world without actually defeating Hitler himself. And if that doesn’t feel satisfying to you, he does manage to sock the mustachioed menace on the jaw anyway in a series of USO shows which cleverly establish Captain America’s celebrity and even that outlandish costume of his. It won’t win, but I maintain that if their efforts aren’t recognized with a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination, at the very least, then there’s something wrong with the Academy.

And of course credit goes to Joe Johnston, doing what he does best, telling exciting but character-driven adventure stories a la The Rocketeer. The pacing is exceptional, conveying a long enough span of time to feel epic without losing its focus on the protagonist’s individual journey. The action sequences are all entertaining and easy to follow, and the characters are all distinct creations with clear through-lines for the duration the narrative. Memorable supporting performances from the likes of Tucci, Weaving, Hayley Atwell as Rogers’ powerful love interest, Toby Jones as super-scientist Arnim Zola and Tommy Lee Jones as a dryly funny Colonel make the world of Captain America feel populated by real, albeit larger than life characters. And of course the special effects are all impressive as hell, particularly in the early scenes that seamlessly depict our hunky hero as a puny weakling.

Captain America: The First Avenger ricochets onto Blu-Ray with a stunning, detailed, colorful transfer and a surround sound presentation that will give your speakers a workout. The film is accompanied by a group of impressive extras, including a too-short preview of the upcoming Avengers movie, a small group of deleted scenes (none of them particularly illuminating) and yet another short film starring SHIELD Agent Coulson, called A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer. This particular installment has nothing whatsoever to do with Marvel Studios’ continuity, instead revealing a hilarious anecdote that befell the popular supporting character en route to the events of last summer’s other exceptional Marvel blockbuster.

A few demerits are due, however, for an underwhelming commentary track featuring director Joe Johnston, director of photography Shelly Johnson and editor Jeffrey Ford. It’s a jovial track, but it’s dominated by compliments to the visual effects crew. Not that compliments aren’t due, but at more than two hours there was plenty of room for deeper examination into the production process. That Kenneth Branagh’s solo commentary track for Thor was one of the best such features in ages didn’t do them any favors by contrast. One last quibble: Captain America’s post-credits sequence is pillar-boxed, despite obviously being filmed in widescreen. Not sure how that happened. It’s distracting and unfortunate.

But regardless, Captain America: The First Avenger manages to improve upon multiple viewings and proves itself worthy of a purchase thanks to an exceptional presentation and a few particularly strong special features. Pledge allegiance today.