How do you handle the origin of a World War II era propaganda comic character, make him believable to contemporary audiences, and also set him up for him to appear in the present-day superhero team film coming up? You do what they did in Captain America: The First Avenger, which is out on Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, and DVD next Tuesday, October 25th.
When a terrifying force threatens everyone across the globe, the world’s greatest soldier wages war on the evil HYDRA organization, led by the villainous Red Skull.
[NOTE: The synopsis below and possibly the review itself contains spoilers]
Scrawny little Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Fantastic Four) desperately wants to fight in World War II. The problem is, they won’t let him. Repeatedly declared 4-F (trivia – this does not mean “failure 4 times” or having failed 4 different tests, but it is just a classification, one of many, that means the subject has been declared ineligible, usually for medical reasons), he gets noticed by Dr. Erksine (Stanley Tucci, Julie & Julia), a German expatriate scientist working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve of the U.S. Army, seeking to develop a super soldier, based on earlier “imperfect” experiments he conducted for the Nazis. He is transformed into a bulked-up soldier with incredible strength and agility, but after an assassin sent by Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving, The Matrix) (Dr. Erskine’s previous test subject, also known as Red Skull and head of Hydra, a secret Nazi organization seeking to build highly advanced weapons) kills Dr. Erskine and the super-soldier serum formula is lost making Rogers unique, a senator decides to use him more for propaganda and sell war bonds than fight. But when his best friend “Bucky” Barnes’ unit is declared lost, he undertakes his own rescue mission…
Overall I think the movie was very good. There were some parts that seemed a little flat – some of the action sequences seemed a bit off, like soldiers having the opportunity to shoot that just don’t, and some dialog exchanges seemed a little to forced (“Hey Steve, I think you’ll need this…” when Bucky tosses him the shield).
A couple other issues I had were the lack of introduction of the “Howling Commandos”, Rogers rag tag team, when they appear later as if we should know who they are, as well as the setup for Rogers’ to appear in the upcoming The Avengers, which basically cuts out any possibility of being able to have more WWII-era stories with the character, which is fine if they are going to keep him in the present day [As I was writing this, I found out that they are working on a sequel, and it does involve the present day, according to IFC]. They did actually film a scene with a bit more introduction of the Commandos, and I understand why they cut it (it was the only scene not told from the perspective of Rogers or Schmidt), but they looked to be interesting characters but they ended up underused and underexplained.
What was amazing was how they created “Skinny Steve”, since Chris Evans had actually bulked up a bit for the role. They couldn’t practically have him crash diet or anything, so they filmed for a number of possible ways they could deal with it in post-production, including motion capture, body double, etc. But in the end they used painstaking frame-by-frame digital effects to essentially slim him down – and I can say it definitely did not look like any sort of effects were used – he really did look like a scrawny kid. In fact, when an early cut was shown to some studio people, they were amazed when Rogers emerged from the chamber, wondering how they added all the muscles…
Another interesting win was the prosthetic makeup used for Red Skull, played by Hugo Weaving. The facial appliances looked extensive, and likely would not allow for real facial expressions, but to the contrary, not only did the mark work, but you could actually see Hugo’s own expressions come through…there was no doubt about who the actor was.
Aside from the obvious setup for The Avengers, there were other minor modifications to the Captain America story in general in order to make such a transition make sense. It takes place in a slightly alternate history Earth. There is an exposition in New York that looks remarkably like the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, except it happens in 1942. And in it, Howard Stark, Tony’s father, is demonstrating a hovercar. He also works for the SSR, and develops Rogers’ iconic shield (in the comic mythos, it was developed by someone else). At first, the idea of the World’s Fair being 22 years to early bothered me until I realized it was taking place in an alternate timeline, and at that point the rest didn’t bother me either.
Among the special features included in the release:
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer” (4:03) – S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson shows that he isn’t just a suit that shows up in all the movies…seemed like a better inclusion for Thor, but it was amusing to watch.
“Outfitting A Hero” (10:52) – Creating a practical costume, while giving homage to the original
“Howling Commandos” (6:06) – Captain America’s “sidekicks”, made real.
“Heightened Technology” (5:42) – Making “advanced” weapons that looked realistic for the time.
“The Transformation” (8:39) – How they made “Skinny Steve” believable, when the actor really looks like Captain America.
“Behind the Skull” (10:23) – All about one of the first supervillains and making him come to life.
“Captain America’s Origin” (3:54) – The creation of the icon
“The Assembly Begins” (1:46) – Pulling together The Avengers
Deleted Scenes (5:32) – with or without commentary by director Joe Johnston, director of photography Shelly Johnson and editor Jeffrey Ford. There is a bit more exposition in the deleted scenes, along with more connections to S.H.I.E.L.D. and the upcoming movie.
Trailers, including for the game and animated series.
There is also a full-length commentary with director Joe Johnston, director of photography Shelly Johnson and editor Jeffrey Ford.
The 3D and 3D Blu-ray discs offer the same features: English DTS-HD 7.1 audio, DD5.1 audio in French, Spanish and Portuguese, and descriptive English. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese. The DVD offers only English DD 5.1 audio and subtitles in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. A Digital Copy is included in either Blu-ray release.
As I said, I felt that it was a good film in general, I just wish they could have better fleshed out the story, perhaps leaving The Avengers tie-in until a sequel, but the timing wouldn’t allow for that.