Captain America: The First Avenger is the last Avenger to take a jab at the big screen. As such, it’s the latest one to add to your DVD collection as it hits the home video circuit. But as we’re assembling the team, let’s see if this one truly earns its spot amongst Earth’s mightiest heroes.
From the first sound effect of a laser cutting through ice, Captain America reminds you of good old-fashioned Spielberg Hollywood. But if Super 8 fit in the subgenre of Spielberg Hollywood Discovery, Captain America: The First Avenger is a Spielberg Hollywood Adventure. Given the film’s fictional villains and heroes in a time that revealed true ones, it would bastardize the past to throw in the elements of this comic tale. The decision to commit to this alternate reality that exists in our culture’s entertainment-based consciousness was brilliant. This superhero film is more acceptable because it’s not WWII Actual but WWII Movie. This film exists a world a few dimensions from ours, on the other side of Indiana Jones.
Captain America is a tough character to crack because, to those unfamiliar with the recent run of comics, he could come off as an anthropomorphic American Flag, with his most pronounced power being a bright smile that reminds you to brush your teeth. Recently in the books he’s actually rooted in a darker reality, but to make that the movie would skew away from the universe that Marvel seems to be taking quite some care in creating. The other extreme would to have fun with the character and camp it up in a way similar to The Phantom and the Schumacher Batmen. The tone they decided on is the most challenging by far; they tried to make him earnest.
The film has one of the best first halves I’ve seen in a long time when it comes to introducing a character. It knows exactly what it’s doing and has a good time in the process. The scene in which you learn the character’s powers is handled in a very self-aware way that somehow avoids being obnoxious even with its extremely thick application of "Did ya see what I did there?" I was concerned about these scenes in the trailer but in the film itself they just work. Chris Evans, who plays the titular captain, has impressed me ever since Sunshine, and it’s great to see him in a role that further expands his diversity as an actor. Where he could have easily gotten by continuing to play quick-witted but snarky side characters, Captain America pushes him in the right direction, toward stronger central roles.
Perhaps appropriately, the negative things to say about this adventure film lie with the villains. While Hugo Weaving does a fine job as the Red Skull, it’s a character that will neither shock nor scare you. I don’t think this is Weaving's fault. The Red Skull has a red skull for a head and is a Nazi, he could be the most evil creature in the Marvel Universe, but instead he’s a pretty bad guy who shoots people from a distance with a ray gun stolen off the ship from Mars Attacks! He should be intense and ferocious and terrifying. You get a glimpse of this in a scene in which his portrait is being captured by a petrified painter, but that’s it. And it’s not enough.
This movie is filled with inappropriate montages. When we finally get to see the final iteration of the Captain America uniform it’s in the form of a montage. I want to see a true-blue action scene with the costume! Otherwise how will I know which action figure to buy? This is also a problem because as soon as Cap gets his team of Howling Commandos, we only get to see them in bits and pieces of scenes. There’s a point in the movie where it could have turned into Inglorious Basterds, but instead it kicks the new stuff under the rug with the implication that we might get to see more in a sequel. Only thing is, the sequel takes place in the future, so there’s a problem. In the end, all we love about Dum Dum and Bucky are little more than Easter eggs. I’m glad they’re there, but I would’ve liked less variety and more depth.
This review admittedly seems to have taken a turn for the negative, but that’s the fun of analyzing something you care about. I’m a Captain America fan, and while this is not a perfect movie, it’s a near-perfect Captain America movie. This is arguably one of the more difficult characters to get right on the big screen, and many choices had to be right to even get to the point where these are the worst things I can say about the movie. In terms of a movie about an American Flag-wearing super soldier, these problems are pretty minor. Captain America: The First Avenger, despite having an insultingly drawn-out title akin to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, is a fun adventure romp and a return to form for that age of blockbuster where action was allowed to be good natured and fun. This film makes it clear that the Crystal Skull should have been Red.
The Blu-Ray is sharp and sounds great. The menu is fine and simple but makes you think you’re sitting down to 7th period U.S. History. It includes one of those Agent Coulson shorts called “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer,” and the short is as hackneyed as that title. It’s about four minutes of Coulson being a badass, if the definition of “badass” is "performing needless slow-motion action stunts and then pausing to consider something normal people would consider -- like which donuts to buy." It wants you to say, “What a complicated and fun character!” but all it's likely to generate is a puzzled “What?”
There’s a show-nothing new teaser for The Avengers, and 6 featurettes that are good enough but nothing too in-depth. I’m glad it’s there, but there’s nothing akin to a documentary on the movie. It seems like they got with the subjects and rattled through all the relevant subjects in one sitting for all six. The deleted scenes are mostly inconsequential.
Finally, there is a feature commentary by director Joe Johnston, director of photography Shelly Johnson, and editor Jeffery Ford. This starts off as a dry track with a feel reminiscent of a “making-of” book you’d take out of your elementary school library, but then it picks up. It’s informative and insightful and extremely forthcoming. They even discuss some of the aspects of the film that I didn’t like, and have a sense of humor about some unavoidable problems with the story -- like why the throw-away model of the shield is made out of the rarest metal on the planet. It’s possibly I’m misinterpreting this, but I actually think they reveal that Bucky may come back in a future movie. I don’t want to say too much, but they say it over the scene in which Bucky is strapped to the table in Skull’s compound.
The Blu-ray is made available with a digital copy, DVD, and 3D presentation of the film.