How’s the movie?
Captain America: The First Avenger is simply a high quality, thoroughly enjoyable, surprisingly heartfelt superhero movie. While others in the effects-driven tent pole game are opting for grand spectacle and rip-roaring antics, Joe Johnston’s Captain America is remarkably restrained. It’s not supersaturated with over-the-top patriotism, it’s not buoyed down with typical superhero problems like daddy issues and poorly defined villains. It’s a great character perfectly cast and well-managed within a wholly believable alternate WWII timeline. Most importantly, it’s one of the few action movies of the year where the story is more compelling than the actual action, where the special effects are omnipresent but never distracting (either in their quality or over use), and where the main female lead (Hayley Atwell) is more than just a pretty face.
But what say the numbers?
Rotten Tomatoes: 78% with critics, 77% with Audiences
Metacritic: 66 out of 100, 7.1 with users
Box Office: $ 176 million domestic, $ 366 million worldwide
What are the vital stats on the disc?
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: October 25, 2011
Edition: Limited 3D Edition (There is also a standard, two-disc BD set)
Number of Discs: 3 (1 BD, 1 3D BD, 1 DVD)
Digital Copy: Yes
Runtime: 125 Minutes
Video: 1080p, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
How does it look and sound?
In a word, lovely. One of the most enjoyable things about Captain America is the look of the entire picture, which has a broad yet grounded color palette. It’s not muted or dulled with the same generic patina you often see with films trying to go for a vintage look, nor is it hazy. It’s just a wonderfully balanced picture quality with a heightened, not-quite-our-world look to everything that’s as in service of the story as it is the presentation of the period. And all of that is a long way of saying that there is a very well-thought out design to the production and it translates to a dynamic video transfer that’s never glossy or riddled with the overt sharpness you see in films that have the same scale of digital alterations that this movie does.
And on the sound front, it’s just great. Alan Silvestri’s brass-heavy score is evenly spread throughout all the channels, never overpowering the dialogue or the nuanced surround mix. There’s a very real-world quality to the sound design here, making the streets of WWII Brooklyn seem lived in and a perfect foil to the cold, dead, lab-like nature of Red Skull’s lair. It’s the kind of surround mix where nothing in particular stands out, which means it might not exactly be “demo material,” but it’s never showy and that benefits the film even if it hurts the film’s chances at a Sound Design Oscar.
What about the special features?
It’s proving oddly hard to pinpoint the precise special feature differences between the DVD and Blu-ray, but it should be noted that there is no difference in extras between the 2D Blu-ray set and the 3D Blu-ray set (the 3D set obviously includes the film in 3D, but there are no 3D-exclusive extras).
Featurettes (~45 minutes, HD) – There are a total of seven featurettes on the disc: Outfitting a Hero, Howling Commandos, Heightened Technology, The Transformation, Behind the Skull, Captain America’s Origin and The Assembly Begins. Together they represent a broad look at the design and execution of the film, but they’re fairly press kit in nature and gloss over some of the good stuff. Fortunately, the areas you’re most likely to want to see more of – the design of Captain America and Red Skull and how skinny Chris Evans was created – get fine coverage, but for a movie that has such a strong female lead, there’s an odd lack of focus on Hayley Atwell in the special features: She, along with Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci, never appears.
Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer (4 minutes, HD) – An entertaining short film starring Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. It doesn’t offer too much insight into the broader Marvel film universe, but it’s charming.
Audio Commentary – Director Joe Johnston, DP Shelly Johnson and Editor Jeffrey Ford aren’t the most lively gang to ever talk over a movie, but they do offer a good deal of insight to just how complicated the film was to put together. They don’t necessarily explain a lot of the creative decisions; they mainly focus on how effects were accomplished, how they were conceived in production, how they changed in post and how satisfied they were with the end result (it’s particularly amusing when they’re pointing out flubs like upside down flags and shortcuts like duplicated buildings used in the CGI matte backgrounds or triplicated back-up dancers). There are a few spots of dead air, but after a while they become an affable trio who must have recorded the commentary during that honesty-inducing stage where they were still exhausted from making the movie and had not yet reveled in the fruits of their labor.
Even with a feature set that could have been a bit more robust (it’s not as packed as one would hope, it also doesn’t feel like it’s a place holder for a double dip down the line), this is still a very worth-while Blu-ray mainly because the movie is just surprisingly good. Its HD presentation looks and sounds great and the film itself is just one of the most satisfying Hollywood blockbusters of the year. If you’re skeptical, do give it a rent, but if you’ve been waiting for a superhero movie that’s more than just explosions and super powers, Captain America: The First Avenger is it.
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