Release Date(s)2011 (February 26, 2019)
Studio(s)Marvel Studios/Paramount Pictures (Walt Disney Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B-
“Jesus, somebody get that kid a sandwich.”
The year is 1942. World War II rages in Europe and Adolf Hitler has tasked his foremost Hydra scientist, Johann Schmidt (aka the Red Skull – Hugo Weaving), with seeking occult artifacts to enhance the Nazi war machine. Schmidt succeeds in this effort, finding the mythical Tesseract that will soon make him invincible, so the Allies’ only hope is a top-secret Super Solider program led by the Strategic Scientific Reserve and Stark Industries. Fortunately, the project’s leader finds the perfect candidate to test his serum in Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a 98-pound weakling who keeps trying to volunteer for service in the Army. Rogers’ transformation goes as planned, imbuing him with tremendous strength and durability, but the program is sabotaged by a Nazi spy. So as the only Super Soldier created, it’s left to Rogers and his hand-picked squad of irregulars to take on Schmidt and wipe Hydra from the map.
When considering the success of Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger, you really have to start with the performance of actor Chris Evans. He embodies the likable everyman so perfectly that you simply can’t help but identify with him. Steve Rogers is a good guy, because he knows the value of it – he’s been on the receiving end of bullies his whole life. A set of remarkable visual effects techniques are employed to make the pre-super solider Rogers convincing, including scaling down Evans in the framed image and using a smaller body double. Evans’ role is also enhanced by skills of actors Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Tommy Lee Jones (Colonel Phillips), Stanley Tucci (Dr. Erskine), and Sebastian Stan (as “Bucky” Barnes), who play off his performance effortlessly. The film’s WWII-era production design feels authentically vintage, yet also fresh, which is a difficult combination to achieve. There can be little doubt that director Joe Johnston’s previous experience – first as a visual effects artist on the original Star Wars films and later as filmmaker himself on such classics as The Rocketeer – helped greatly in this regard.
Captain America was shot in 2.39:1 widescreen in a combination of 35mm photochemical film and digital photography using Arri and Panavision cameras with Panavision Primo lenses. It was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate, which has been upsampled for this 4K release and graded for High Dynamic Range in HDR10. The resulting image offers only a modest improvement in detail and texturing over the previous Blu-ray release, and you can see in a few VFX shots (like the mountain train intercept) that the finish resolution isn’t quite up to current standards. But the film does benefit strongly from HDR. The brightest and darkest areas of the image are stronger (with the highlights especially more naturally eye-reactive), yet both still exhibit greater detail than the standard HD image. In between, all of the colors are more nuanced and vibrant – something that’s particularly impressive in the sepia-tinged WWII settings and flesh tones. Captain America’s uniform and shield benefit from the bolder coloring too.
Audio options on the 4K disc include a new Dolby Atmos mix that offers a bit more precision in its staging over the previous Blu-ray’s 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. Effects movement is also a bit smoother and the height channels add atmospheric immersion and vertical effects cues that kick in during set-piece sequences, the various battles and the flight of Hydra’s Flying Wing chief among them. Additional audio options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital (Quebec dubbing), and 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus in French, Spanish, German, and Japanese. Optional subtitles include English for the Hearing Impaired, French (Quebec subs), French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, and Swedish.
There are no extras on the actual 4K disc, but the package includes the previous Blu-ray Disc (though not the Blu-ray 3D disc). Aside from the film itself in HD, that Blu-ray includes:
- Audio Commentary (by Joe Johnston, DP Shelly Johnson, and editor Jeffrey Ford)
- Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer (4:03)
- Outfitting a Hero (10:52)
- Howling Commandos (6:07)
- Heightened Technology (5:43)
- The Transformation (8:50)
- Behind the Skull (10:24)
- Captain America’s Origin (3:55)
- The Assembly Begins (1:46)
- Deleted Scenes (4 scenes – 5:32 in all – with optional commentary)
- Theatrical Trailer 1 (2:35)
- Theatrical Trailer 2 (2:35)
- Sega Game Trailer (2:18)
- The Avengers Animated Trailer (1:19)
All of the video-based content is in HD. The featurettes deliver a great look back at the comic book legacy and design of the character, including a few insights from co-creator Joe Simon. You’ll see how the various Captain America suits were done, and how the “weakling” version of Steve Rogers was created for the screen using VFX. There are also looks at the production design, including the creation of the Red Skull, and a taste of the first Avengers film (which was then still unseen). And the audio commentary adds some nice insights into the technical aspects of the filmmaking process and the editing. It’s not the most compelling listening experience, but fans of the film should find it worthwhile. You also get a Movies Anywhere Digital Copy code on a paper insert.
For my money, Captain America: The First Avenger remains the freshest of Marvel’s “Phase One” Cinematic Universe films. Fans who’ve made the transition to 4K should find this new Ultra HD Blu-ray a worthy addition to their MCU 4K collections. Don’t expect a tremendous upgrade on the A/V front, but those who keep their expectations reasonable should ultimately be pleased with this release.
- Bill Hunt