Captain America: The First Avenger Blu-ray Review
To be honest, this isn't the most vibrant of hi-def images. It doesn't exactly toe-the-line for what many people would expect to see in a tent-pole Marvel blockbuster … but this does not mean that the transfer has cut any corners, or that the picture splashed across the screen is lacking in any way. Despite the comic-book origins of Captain America, the style of photography that Joe Johnson and DOP Shelly Johnson have opted for is one of retro-chic, rather than the bold 'n' vivid, primary engorged dynamics that you would normally associate with the brand.
Grain is clearly in evidence on this 2.35:1 AVC transfer. The image looks like film, and even if the palette is somewhat muted, with the exception of the plentiful explosions (great black-tinged flaming eruptions of dirty orange), laser-bolts (frosty blue-white energy pulses) and the crimson visage of the Red Skull, himself, there is a fair degree of texture, depth and atmosphere that has been well catered-for. With Thor totally embracing the glitzy sheen that many of us kind of expect from a superhero movie that doesn't involve Batman, Captain America goes pleasingly nostalgic which, of course, is the very aesthetic that the story actually requires. We have elements of sepia, but the palette is mainly in love with earthy browns and greys, and dull, smoky blues and greens. All of which are reproduced with accuracy and a fine degree of saturation.
Detail is good throughout and it is largely consistent. But I doubt that you will be wowed by anything that the image yields up. If the 40's is the era that the film is predominantly set within, the filmic range is that of the late 80's to early 90's in terms of image integrity and sharpness. Finite information is certainly there, but the overall visual tone is one that has been compromised by the filmmakers' stylistic choices. Thus, even though we can see the striations in brickwork and woodgrain, see the working parts of weaponry and the toughened padded texture of Cap's costume, the image tends to look a little soft. Occasional peripheral information can appear even softer again, but this is still a fine looking transfer that masks nothing we are meant to see.
Contrast is excellent, and this is aided by terrific black levels that never wavered, never gave in to infiltration from grey and always maintained a solidity that added plenty of shadow play and atmosphere when called for. Scenes set in the Hydra bases have lots of deep dark military grimness, and shots of the Red Skull's legions of goons look suitably mean-spirited and evil, thanks to the stability and depth of the blacks. Although the colours are downplayed, there is still a pleasing display of midnight blues which, again, helps with the overall sense of visual ambience.
Finally, I had no problems with edge enhancements, DNR or aliasing, which was so slight as to be barely worth mentioning, although I did spot some very minimal banding taking place. All in all, this is a great looking film that adheres to a specific style and aesthetic. The transfer gets a very solid and reliable 8 out of 10.
Paramount and Marvel have been generous enough to bestow Captain America with a nice and wide DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix that sounds every bit as rich, full-bodied and dynamic as the audio exhibited at the flicks. In fact, going by my own theatrical experience, the disc is actually much clearer.
This transfer makes sure to utilise all the channels, and it utilises them well without going OTT in an all-out headrush of bombastic overload. The film is action-packed, and the mix takes great delight in a boisterous representation of big time heroics with all the gun-blazing, head-knocking, shrapnel-spinning, explosive ear-candy that this entails. The track is stuffed to the gills with boom-boom-shake-the-room antics and I sincerely doubt that any dyed-in-the-wool ballistic junkie will have any room for complaint with the aural power and devastation that is agreeably wrought around them.
In light of this strenuous approach, bass levels are very satisfyingly deep and packed with floor-dropping embellishments. Tanks and buildings are often blown to smithereens, very big SF-flavoured weaponry roars around the set-up with low-level heft guaranteed, souped-up muscle-bikes thunder across the soundscape with a gut-rumbling dearth of subtlety and the multitude of impacts are charged with undeniable and grin-inducing oomph. The weight of tumbling masonry leaves you in no doubt that you are lucky to have survived the last explosion. The frequent machine-gunfire has detail and solidity and the rounds blasted into Cap's new shield by his jealous lady-love in Stark's lab come through with remarkable clarity and a nice line in twanging reverb. However, all this said, I have certainly heard better and more realistic .LFE, so whilst this may be great, but it doesn't quite reach the level of awesome.
But there is lots more good stuff to savour. Directionality is superb, with action excellently steered all the way around you to provide a wonderfully immersive experience. The set-pieces are picked up by the rears with ease and the bolstering of mayhem is kept-up pretty much all the way through the film. Thus, you won't find the surrounds wanting. Activity from hordes of goons can fill the room, and the movement of effects is smooth and natural.
Well, I mentioned that terrific bu-yoinngg!!! that the shield makes as it whangs off the hide of a tank … and that's okay enough … but the real cool bit that this mix enjoys is the wonderful industrial purring that the Red Skull's bombers make as they churn their way through the sky during the final act. Like some enormous futuristic cat, the rapid whur-whur-whur that they do is an audio delight. Thankfully, with the more-then-decent directionality and steerage of the 7.1 track, this effect is able to traverse the room and whirl around you with stunning finesse and clarity.
Alan Silvestri's score is given ample space in which to breathe, the ballsy brass and percussion relishing the opportunity to rouse and stir. And with dialogue that is never swamped or muffled, and always shining clear in the mix, this is a track that is bravura, detailed and tremendous good fun.
A stout and hearty 9 out of 10.
This US 2-disc release contains BD, DVD and Digital Copies of the film, and a fairly typical bunch of supplements make their way through basic training to adorn it. Marvel and Paramount haven't exactly gone overboard, that's for sure.
We get a very reasonable Commentary Track that recruits director Joe Johnson, DOP Shelly Johnson and editor Jeffrey Ford to discuss how they brought one of Marvel's least cinematic icons to the screen. Sadly, this is very tech-orientated, which would be all well and good if it was then balanced out by having a couple of the stars tell us of their experiences either alongside the trio, or on their own separate track. Personally, I found this to be quite informative in terms of locations, SFX and adaptation of the source material, but I know that many people would prefer it if there was more fun to be had.
We get another Marvel One-Shot. This one is actually great stuff, although completely tangential to the saga of the Avengers. Entitled A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Thor's Hammer, this lets us see how even the most innocuous of S.H.E.I.L.D operatives is more than capable of handling himself in a tight situation, as Agent Coulson uses some quite eye-popping combat skills to defend a highway gas station from a pair of armed robbers.
After this we find a selection of four Deleted Scenes that last for five-and-a-half minutes. All bar one sequence have the option of a commentary track explaining why this segment was cut.
And then we have seven little Featurettes. Nothing at all to get excited about, though. These are all very brief and purely generic … certainly no match for a proper, full-on making of. Why the hell don't Marvel do these? Bite-size nuggets are neither here nor there.
For the record, we have – Outfitting A Hero, Howling Commandos, Heightened Technology, The Transformation, Behind The Skull, Captain America's Origin and, rather typically, but also infuriating lacklustre, The Assembly Begins which seeks to remind us just why we've had Iron Man, Thor and Captain America getting the big screen treatment.
Four Trailers round out the package – two for the film, itself, one for the game and one for the Avengers Animated.
It may look good, but this is really quite a meagre assortment.
Whilst the jury is still out on whether this super soldier can “live off the land … and eat things that'd make a billie-goat puke”, Captain America has more than earned his little wings with this gutsy, high-calibre showing. Joe Johnston has grappled with the behemoth that is Marvel and produced a rousing adventure that is happily nostalgic, gloriously comic-book and, most importantly, true to the spirit of its war-torn source. Old School both in flavour and mood, the movie boasts some wonderful effects and set-pieces and some winning performances. The little commando squad that blazes away in the shadow of the First Avenger are, sadly, an ethnic misstep that smacks horribly of audience demographic pandering, and an utter squandering of the likes of Neal McDonough. The Asgardian taint to the plot also seems a touch too deliberate but, overall, the film does more than enough to compensate. More than enough that is right, that is. The World War II ambience is very nicely presented and the propaganda-cum-heraldic exploits of the big guy are marvellously rousing. It's pure comic-book stuff, and you can't ask for more than that.
I had a ball with it at the flicks, and it kicks all sorts of retro-ass on Blu-ray. The image is charmingly presented and full of detail, yet still retains something of a nostalgic patina that adds to the ambience. The audio mix isn't quite as devastating as some out there, but it is hard to imagine anyone being disappointed with such blazing wraparound super-sonics. The extras are pretty much what you'd expect from a Marvel disc though, and are superficial at best.
I still have problems with the live-action prospect of The Avengers – such massed ensembles work well in the comics and in animated films, but I can imagine all too easily the movie bulging at the seams and simply coming apart with too many super-egos all flung together and jostling for screen-time – but Captain America, which alongside Thor, was one of the more “difficult” ones to pull off convincingly, helps to allay my fears. And the fact that Kenneth Branagh succeeded with the son of Odin and now Johnston has come up smelling of star-spangled roses with Cap's origin story at least shows that things are heading in precisely the right direction.
Now all the preamble is out of the way, it is down to Marvel to prove that they can handle their biggest and most highly anticipated production to date. Everyone's in place … so there's only one thing left to say, isn't there? "Avengers assemble!!!!"
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £27.89
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