As I left off with Thor, I have been a fan so far, enjoying each film so far in the series though with several flaws, namely the lack of a strong or truly memorable villain and lackluster third acts. Does Captain America right the wrongs of the previous four films or does it continue the downward slide of poor third acts?
Opening up in the midst of WWII, Steve Rogers is desperate to join the fight. He is a classic 4F case, short, skinny and of ill-health. His friend Bucky Barnes is already joined the cause, who is shipping out in 24 hours, but that doesn't stop him from going out in style. Steve decides to falsify his enlistment form to get in and is thought to be in trouble, but is instead confronted by a Dr. Abraham Erskine.
Erskine admires Steve's will and honesty and is chosen along with a few recruits to test for the "Super Soldier" program, where he trains under the scrutinous eye of Col. Philips (A very fun Tommy Lee Jones) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Despite not being physically fit, he does impress with his intelligence, gumption and bravery. After being chosen to go through with the procedure, he is transformed into a tall, muscular soldier, who not only has undergone a physical change, but a molecular one as well.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Johann Schmidt (AKA Red Skull played by Hugo Weaving) is planning on surpassing the 3rd Reich and is planning on ruling the world with his advanced weaponry developed under HYDRA. After sabotaging the lab and killing Erskine, Rogers is eager to go after HYDRA but is instead pushed to being a face for the war effort, Captain America, which is a funny montage of a great 40's song, short newsreels and inspiring millions to join the effort. After a demoralizing USO show in Italy and learning of Barnes' team being captured by HYDRA, Rogers decides to solely infiltrate HYDRA's factory, with Howard Stark (Tony's father) and Carter fly him in behind enemy lines.
Successfully capturing their technology and freeing 400 men, Cap doubles down on Schmidt and he goes after HYDRA, but will it be enough to prevent world domination?
If you didn't the tagline of the summary, then you have no idea how much I loved this film. The penultimate film before The Avengers was released, this was simply a great comic book film. Starting off, Chris Evans is Captain America. He exudes the classic American do-gooder, by being brave, strong, moral and not afraid to fight for what's right. Atwell does a great job as Agent Carter, not only just a pretty face, but a smart, confident and strong presence and a role-model for any female fans of comic book films. Jones is fun as the colonel, and Cooper is fun as Stark. Stanley Tucci is probably my favorite performance in the film, making Dr. Erskine a living, breathing character with such a small amount of screen time.
Which brings me to Red Skull. What did I think of him? Well, I loved how totally evil he is, completely consumed by rage and evil but Weaving doesn't do much beyond a few evil glares and snarling with his lines. He's done this before, and it shows, but he still sells it well enough. But how does the story fare?
Actually its quite engaging and gripping, with the story being familiar of a guy gaining powers and saves the world, but with some great lines, plot moving along at a nice clip and some smart, well-written action (C/O Chrostopher Markus & Stephen McFeely), its no wonder its one of my faves. And who can forget Joe Johnston directing? He is an unfortunately overlooked director most of the time, having not only directed several classics like Jumanji and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, but also an Oscar-winning Visual F/X artist, knowing full and well to skillfully blend practical and digital effects, as well as knowing that the effects are nothing without a great story and characters to use with them. His experience with the time period with another 40s inspired comic book film, The Rocketeer, is also greatly appreciated and welcome. Everything else ranging from the 40's-styled cinematography, period set design, sumptuous visual effects and a great score all blend to an awesome popcorn flick.
Of course, how did the ending fare after all the praise? Actually quite well, with the 3rd act sneaking up on me a tad, and the denouement of the Red Skull feeling underwhelming, but the emotion of how Rogers saves the world is well done and ends with a fantastic that I won't spoil here. Overall, my favorite film of the origin films of Phase One and probably the entire MCU.
Moving on to the PQ/AQ, I'll just start by saving this is a demo worthy 2D presentation that does look pasty with the period lighting, the colors are nicely saturated, detailed image (Sourced from a digital shoot with several scenes shot on 35mm film) with an awesome 7.1 DTS-HD track that balances the explosions, pings of the shield bouncing on the enemies, dialogue and music balancing out beautifully. Moving on to the 3D, I was very skeptical of the added dimension, since the Thor 3D wasn't anything special and largely an unneeded experience so I went in with lowered expectations. The opening logo looked amazing of course, but then past the logos, I was greeted with an overall nice 3D picture, that had several scenes of convincing depth, natural spacing of fore, mid and background objects and even several moments of the "comin' right at ya" scenes, but still plagued by several scenes of darkness that flattens to the point of me pulling off the specs just to check if they were okay. Nice enough for a post-conversion, though don't spend $42.99 on this disc for the 3D alone.
Extras wise, this is a nice package starting with an audio commentary with Johnston, cinematographer Shelly Johnson and editor Jeff Ford. For his first commentary, Johnston does quite well, though mainly technically oriented with nice insight to editing, directing, camera work and more, it is just an average track worth at least a listen. Next up is Marvel's 2nd One-Shot, "A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to Thor's Hammer" a 4 minute long piece that is superior to The Consultant and is fun to see Agent Coulson do more than just talk and pulling a Caruso (Dramatically removing his sunglasses). Next up are 6 featurettes that are as follows:
- Outfitting a Hero - a 10-minute look at the costumes
- Howling Commandos - a 6-minute look at Cap's allies he saved from a HYDRA work camp
- Heightened Technology - a 5-minute look at the futuristic weapons used by HYDRA in the film
- The Transformation - an 8-minute look on how they shrunk Evans for the role of Rogers pre-serum
- Behind the Skull - a 10-minute look at the creation of the makeup and casting the role
and last but not least
- Captain America's Origin - a 4-minute look at the creation of the comic book.
Next up is The Assembly begins,, a short look on the last film of Phase One, The Avengers. 5 minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary, trailers for the film and video game complete the solid set of extras. Lastly, there are no 3D specific extras, and there is a DVD and digital copy included. All in all, a nice release with terrific PQ/AQ, decent 3D, and a generous amount of extras for a terrific film and is a must own.
I will return for The Avengers!