Captain America: The First Avenger DVD REVIEW

Chris Evans has a shield day

Chris Evans once told us that the strangest place he'd had sex was in a restaurant toilet, you know. That isn't strictly relevant to this picture, but who cares?

2011 * 12 * 119 minutes * £19.99 (DVD)/£27.99 (Triple-Play Blu-ray)/£29.99 (Triple-Play Blu-ray 3D)
Distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper

If there’s one thing that Americans know, it’s how to put on a show. A well-choreographed bit of the old razzle dazzle performed with vigour by the shiny of tooth and buffed of muscle can lighten even the darkest of hearts. Yes, the nation that invented showbiz knows more than any other the value of spectacle, and as a result Captain America: The First Avenger is the perfect marriage of classic comic-book caper to explosive Hollywood bombast.

It’s 1942, and the USA is at war. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a Brooklyn native with a heart of gold but the body of a prepubescent girl, is determined to try and sign up for the fight, no matter how many times the US Army rejects him. Chosen to take part in a super-soldier program run by cuddly German ex-pat Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), Rogers is injected with a serum that transforms him into six-and-a-half strapping feet of prime beefcake, and Captain America is born.

Cap’s origins are well known to even the most casual of comic-book fans, and The First Avenger’s opening works beautifully mainly because it subverts many of those expectations. Director Joe Johnston takes his time to get to know Steve Rogers in his scrawny earlier incarnation, hammering home the idea that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the fight in the dog that counts. The CGI alone is enough to make these early scenes fascinating – whichever dark arts were used to shrink Chris Evans’s entire body are uncanny – and when Rogers is transformed, you never completely shake the image of the skinny guy.

Post-super-soldier injection, Cap is sent off on a morale-boosting tour of the States, gaining his gaudy stars and stripes costume in the process. A brilliant period piece complete with high-kicking showgirls, it’s a neat trick that allows Johnston to tie in comics history as Cap bitch-slaps Hitler night after night to delighted fans and has his own comic published. All the fun and games comes to an end when the show winds its way to an actual war zone though, and it’s here that Captain America really lives up to its all-action billing.

From the moment Cap jumps out of Howard Stark’s spectacularly shiny plane to single-handedly rescue half the US Army from a hidden Hydra fortress, setpiece after setpiece is thrown at the screen – with varying levels of success. Some, like that initial exhilirating jail break, pull you into the action completely, but a forest bike chase ends up more Epping than Endor, somehow lacking energy no matter how many bullets Cap deflects. Ultimately the good outweighs the bad though, with the final assault on Hydra and a mid-air scrap with the Red Skull right at the close particular stand-outs.

The Red Skull, playing with relish by Hugo Weaving, is a devilish adversary, utilising the destructive power of Asgardian Macguffin the Tesseract to further his evil schemes. But both the schemes themselves and his Hydra organisation are a little more troubling. From then on, the Hydra henchmen act as Nazi substitutes, faceless black goons with amazing weaponry but the feeble aim of imperial stormtroopers. They must be twice as evil as the Nazis because they use two arms to salute instead of one, but they’re such useless soldiers that they never seem like a real threat. Similarly, the Red Skull’s key aim appears to be “kill everyone in the world”. While it’s good to have ambition, it’s a weirdly formless threat that doesn’t really make sense.

Crucially, for a film stuffed full of computerised effects and outlandish weaponry, Captain America has plenty of heart and is refreshingly free of cynicism. Chris Evans’s Cap is a principled underdog, a dogged scrapper who remains humble even when he’s turned into a running, jumping, bad-guy-busting Adonis. Hayley Atwell kicks ass as Peggy Carter (even though she’s made to do so under roughly four tons of make-up), and her romance with Rogers is sweet rather than sexy, which is totally fitting in a ’40s context.

Full of knowing nods for fans and stunningly designed – the retro-futuristic forties look good enough to eat – with a mouth-watering ending, Captain America might not be perfect but it is an awful lot of fun. The wait for The Avengers just got even tougher for True Believers everywhere.

Extras: There’s a sliding scale of extras available, depending on which combination of discs you decide to splash your cash on. The  DVD release (rated) includes a commentary from Joe Johnston, director of photography Shelly Johnson and editor Jeff Ford; two featurettes, in the form of costume design docu “Outfitting A Hero” (10 minutes) and “The Assembly Begins” (a minute-long tease for next year’s Avengers movie); plus trailers for the Cap videogame and The Avengers Animated. The Blu-ray and 3D editions beef things up a bit with “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Thor’s Hammer” (a minute-long short in which a kick-ass Agent Coulson finds himself caught up in an armed robbery), five more featurettes, seven deleted scenes and trailers.

Rob Power

Read more of our Captain America/The Avengers features.