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REVIEW: THE AVENGERS - SHIELD LAUNCHER CAPTAIN AMERICA
By Thomas Wheeler

By the end of its debut weekend, the AVENGERS movie had stomped box office records more than the Hulk stomping on alien invaders, and within its first week, the movie had pulled in over $700 million, and within two weeks had made over a billion. Earth's Mightiest Heroes had become Earth's Mightiest Movie Stars, and any previous top players might as well have boarded the Titanic and gone looking for an iceberg -- maybe the one Captain America was frozen in.

Admittedly, Marvel Studios had a distinctive, multi-movie plan in place that was sheer genius. They created what has become known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and started it off with the first Iron Man movie, which ironically enough wasn't necessarily expected to be a blockbuster, but certainly was. Four additional movies later, including the Iron Man sequel, the Captain America and Thor movies, and even the not-quite-up-there-with-the-others but still better than its predecessor Hulk movie, the stage had gradually been set for the Avengers movie through a series of scenes taking place during or after the end credits of these films, or through understated references during them. Even the additional Avengers, Black Widow and Hawkeye, were brought on board during the Iron Man sequel and the Thor movie.

Need it be said that everybody except the Hulk is slated for sequels, with an Avengers sequel green-lighted within a week of the first movie's debut. The Marvel Cinematic Universe shows no sign of slowing down.

I've been picking up some of the Avengers figures here and there. This review will take a look at SHIELD LAUNCHER CAPTAIN AMERICA. But first, let's have a little comic and cinematic history of the Avengers, and of Captain America in particular.

The Avengers made its debut in The Avengers #1 (Sept. 1963), and was created by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist/co-plotter Jack Kirby, following the trend of super-hero teams after the success of DC Comics' Justice League of America.

Labeled "Earth's Mightiest Heroes", the Avengers originally consisted of Iron Man, Ant-Man (Dr. Henry Pym), Wasp (Janet Van Dyne), Thor, and the Hulk. The original Captain America was discovered by the team in issue #4, trapped in ice, and he joined the group when they revived him. The rotating roster has become a hallmark of the team, although one theme remains consistent: the Avengers fight "the foes no single superhero can withstand". The team, famous for its battle cry of "Avengers Assemble!", has featured humans, mutants, robots, gods, aliens, supernatural beings, and even former villains.

The first adventure features the Asgardian god Loki seeking revenge against his brother Thor. Using an illusion, Loki tricks the Hulk into destroying a railroad track. He then diverts a radio call by Rick Jones for help to Thor, whom Loki hopes will battle the Hulk. Unknown to Loki, the radio call is also answered by Ant-Man, the Wasp, and Iron Man. After an initial misunderstanding, the heroes unite and defeat Loki after Thor is lured away by an illusion of the Hulk and suspects Loki when he realizes it is an illusion. Ant-Man states the five work well together and suggests they form a combined team; the Wasp names the group "the Avengers" because it sounded "dramatic".

The roster changes almost immediately; by the beginning of the second issue, Ant-Man has become Giant-Man and, at the end of the issue, the Hulk leaves once he realizes how much the others fear his unstable personality. Feeling responsible, the Avengers try to locate and contain the Hulk, which subsequently leads them into combat with Namor the Sub-Mariner. This would result in the first major milestone in the Avengers' history: the revival and return of Captain America. Captain America joins the team and he is also given "founding member" status in the Hulk's place. The Avengers go on to fight foes such as Captain America's wartime enemy Baron Zemo, who forms the Masters of Evil, Kang the Conqueror, and Count Nefaria.

In the 1970s, the adventures increased in scope as the team cross into an alternate dimension to battle the Squadron Supreme and fight in the Kree-Skrull War, an epic battle between the alien Kree and Skrull races and guest-starring the Kree hero Captain Marvel.

As to the movie, officially known as "Marvel's The Avengers" it was produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, and is the sixth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is written and directed by Joss Whedon and features an ensemble cast that includes Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård and Samuel L. Jackson. In The Avengers, Nick Fury, director of the peacekeeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D., recruits Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk and Thor to form a team that must stop Thor's brother Loki from enslaving the human race.

Development of The Avengers began after the success of the film Iron Man in May 2008, when Marvel announced that The Avengers would be released in July 2011. With the signing of Johansson in March 2009, the film was pushed back for a 2012 release. Whedon was brought on board in April 2010 and rewrote the screenplay originally written by Zak Penn. Production began in April 2011 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, before moving to Cleveland, Ohio, in August and New York City in September.

The Avengers premiered on April 11, 2012, at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California. The film, released everywhere else May 4, has received positive reviews from most film critics and set numerous box office records, including the biggest opening weekend ever in North America.

As to the storyline, and you may consider this your SPOILER WARNING: After his fall from Asgard into space at the end of the Thor movie, the Asgardian Loki meets the Other, the leader of a warmongering alien race known as the Chitauri. In exchange for retrieving the tesseract, a powerful energy source of unknown potential, the Other promises Loki a Chitauri army with which he can subjugate the Earth. Nick Fury, director of the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D., arrives at a remote research facility during an evacuation. Physicist Dr. Erik Selvig is leading a research team experimenting on the tesseract, and Agent Maria Hill explains that the object has begun radiating an unusual form of energy. The tesseract suddenly activates and opens a portal, allowing Loki to reach Earth. Loki takes the tesseract and uses his staff to enslave Selvig and several agents, including Clint Barton (Hawkeye), to aid him in his getaway.

In response to the attack, Fury reactivates the "Avengers Initiative". Agent Natasha Romanoff is sent to India to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner; agent Phil Coulson visits Tony Stark to have him review Selvig's research; and Fury approaches Steve Rogers with an assignment to retrieve the tesseract. While Barton steals iridium needed to stabilize the tesseract's power, Loki causes a distraction in Stuttgart, Germany, leading to a confrontation with Rogers, Stark, and Romanoff that ends with Loki's surrender. While being escorted back to S.H.I.E.L.D., Thor, Loki's adoptive brother, arrives and frees Loki hoping to convince him to abandon his plan and return him to Asgard. After a confrontation with Stark and Rogers, Thor agrees to take Loki to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s flying aircraft carrier, the Helicarrier, and imprison him until the tesseract can be acquired.

The Avengers become divided, both over how to approach Loki and the revelation that S.H.I.E.L.D. plans to harness the tesseract to develop weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent against hostile extra-terrestrials. As the group argues, Barton, and Loki's other possessed agents, attack the Helicarrier, disabling its engines in flight and causing Banner to transform into the Hulk. Stark and Rogers try to restart the damaged engines, and Thor attempts to stop the Hulk's rampage. Romanoff fights Barton, and knocks him unconscious, breaking Loki's mind control. Loki escapes after killing Coulson, and Thor and the Hulk are each ejected from the ship. Fury uses Coulson's death to motivate the Avengers into working as a team. Stark and Rogers realize that simply defeating them will not be enough for Loki; he needs to overpower them publicly to validate himself as ruler of Earth. Loki uses the tesseract, in conjunction with a device Selvig built, to open a portal above Stark Tower to the Chitauri fleet in space, launching his invasion.

The Avengers rally in defense of New York City, but quickly realize they will be overwhelmed as wave after wave of Chitauri descend upon Earth. With help from Barton, Rogers, Stark, and Thor evacuate civilians, while Banner transforms into the Hulk again and goes after Loki, eventually beating him into submission. Romanoff makes her way to the portal, where Selvig, freed of Loki's control, reveals that Loki's staff can be used to close the portal. Meanwhile, Fury's superiors attempt to end the invasion by launching a nuclear missile at Manhattan. Stark intercepts the missile and takes it through the portal toward the Chitauri fleet. The missile detonates, destroying the invaders' lead ship, thereby disabling their forces on Earth. Stark's suit runs out of power and he falls back through the portal, but the Hulk saves him from crashing to the ground. Romanoff deactivates the portal to prevent further invasion. In the aftermath, Thor returns Loki and the tesseract to Asgard. Fury notes that the Avengers will return when they are needed.

In the first of two post-credits scenes, the Other confers with his master - who turns out to be none other than Thanos - about the attack on Earth.

As for Captain America, he first appeared in Captain America Comics #1 cover-dated March 1941, from Marvel Comics' 1940s predecessor, Timely Comics, and was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

Steve Rogers was born in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York City, to Sarah and Joseph Rogers. Joseph Rogers died when Steve was only a child and his mother, Sarah, died of pneumonia while Steve was a teen. By early 1940, before America's entry into World War II, Rogers is a tall but scrawny fine arts student specializing in illustration, and a comic book writer and artist, a career he willingly set aside upon his transformation into Captain America.

Disturbed by the rise of the Third Reich, Rogers attempts to enlist, only to be rejected due to his physically frail body. His resolution however allows him to be noticed by U.S. Army General Chester Phillips and "Project: Rebirth." Rogers is used as a test subject for the Super-Soldier project, receiving a special serum made by "Dr. Josef Reinstein", later retroactively changed to a code name for the scientist Abraham Erskine.

The serum, coupled with the stabilizing "Vita-Rays," is a success, and transforms the frail Steve Rogers into a perfect specimen--a nearly perfect human being with peak strength, agility, stamina, and intelligence. The success of the program leaves Erskine wondering about replicating the experiment on other human beings. The process itself however has been inconsistently detailed: while in the original material Steve Rogers is shown receiving injections of the Super-Serum, when the origin was retold in the sixties, the Comic Code Authority had already put a veto over graphic description of drug intake and abuse, and thus the Super-Serum was retconned into an oral formula. Later accounts hints at a combination of oral and intravenous treatments, culminating in the Vita-Ray exposure and a strenuous training regimen.

Erskine refused to write down every crucial element of the treatment, leaving behind a flawed, imperfect knowledge of the needed steps. Thus, when the Nazi spy Heinz Kruger killed him, Erskine's method of creating new Super-Soldiers died as well. Captain America, in his first act after his transformation, avenges Erskine. In the 1941 origin story and in Tales of Suspense #63, Kruger dies when running into machinery but is not killed by Rogers; in the Captain America #109 and #255 revision, however, Rogers causes the spy's death by punching him into machinery.

Unable to create new Super-Soldiers, and willing to hide the Project Rebirth fiasco, the U.S.A. Government casts the now-powerful Rogers as a patriotic superhero, able to counter the menace of the Red Skull as a counter-intelligence agent. As such, he's supplied with a patriotic uniform (designed by Rogers himself), a bulletproof shield, a personal side arm, and the codename Captain America, while Steve Rogers himself poses as a clumsy infantry private at Camp Lehigh in Virginia. He forms a friendship with the camp's teenage mascot, James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes.

Eventually Barnes learns of Rogers' dual identity and offers to keep the secret if he can become Captain America's sidekick, being trained himself to act as the perfect partner. During their adventures, Franklin D. Roosevelt presents Captain America with a new shield, forged from an alloy of steel and vibranium, fused by an unknown catalyst, so effective that it replaces his own firearm. Throughout World War II, Captain America and Bucky fight the Nazi menace both on their own and as members of the superhero team the Invaders (as seen in the 1970s comic of the same name). Captain America also battles a number of criminal menaces on American soil, including a wide variety of costumed villains.

In late April 1945, during the closing days of World War II, Captain America and Bucky try to stop the villainous Baron Zemo from destroying an experimental drone plane. Zemo launches the plane with an armed explosive on it, Rogers and Barnes in hot pursuit. The pair reach the plane just before take off. When Bucky tries to defuse the bomb, it explodes in mid-air. The young man is believed killed. Rogers is hurled into the freezing waters of the North Atlantic. Neither is found, and both are presumed dead. It is later revealed that neither character actually died.

Years later, the newly-formed superhero team the Avengers discovers Steve Rogers' body in the North Atlantic, the Captain's uniform under his soldier's fatigues and still carrying his shield. After he revives, they piece together that Rogers had been preserved in a block of ice since 1945, surviving in such a state only because of his enhancements from Operation: Rebirth. The block had begun to melt after the Sub-Mariner, enraged that an Arctic Inuit tribe is worshiping the frozen figure, throws it into the ocean. Rogers accepts membership in the Avengers, and although long out of his time, his considerable combat experience makes him a valuable asset to the team. He quickly assumes leadership, and has typically returned to that position throughout the team's history.

In the Captain America movie, in the present day, scientists in the Arctic uncover a circular object with a red, white and blue motif.

In March 1942, Nazi officer Johann Schmidt, also known as the Red Skull, and his men invade Tønsberg, Norway, to steal a mysterious tesseract -- the movies' name for the Cosmic Cube -- possessing untold powers. Meanwhile, in New York City, Steve Rogers is rejected for World War II military duty because of various health and physical issues. While attending an exhibition of future technologies with his friend Bucky Barnes, Rogers again attempts to enlist. Overhearing Rogers' conversation with Barnes about wanting to help in the war, Dr. Abraham Erskine allows Rogers to enlist. He is recruited as part of a "super-soldier" experiment under Erskine, Colonel Chester Phillips, and British agent Peggy Carter. Phillips is unconvinced by Erskine's claims that Rogers is the right person for the procedure, but relents after seeing Rogers commit an act of self-sacrificing bravery. The night before the treatment, Erskine reveals to Rogers that Schmidt underwent an imperfect version of the procedure and suffered side-effects, resulting in his red, skull-like countenance

Back in Europe, Schmidt and Dr. Arnim Zola successfully harness the energies of the tesseract, intending to use the power to fuel Zola's inventions. Schmidt, having discovered Erskine's location, dispatches an assassin to kill him. In America, Erskine, with help from Howard Stark, subjects Rogers to the super-soldier treatment, injecting him with a special serum and dosing him with "vita-rays". After Rogers emerges from the experiment taller and more muscular, one of the attendees kills Erskine, revealing himself to be Schmidt's assassin. Rogers pursues and captures the assassin, but the man commits suicide by cyanide capsule before he can be interrogated.

With Erskine dead and the super-soldier formula lost, U.S. Senator Brandt has Rogers tour the nation in a colorful costume as "Captain America" to promote war bonds. In 1943, while on tour in Italy performing for active servicemen, Rogers learns that Barnes' unit was lost in a battle against Schmidt's forces. Refusing to believe that Barnes is dead, Rogers has Carter and Howard Stark fly him behind enemy lines to mount a solo rescue attempt. Rogers infiltrates the fortress of Schmidt's HYDRA organization, freeing Barnes and the other captured soldiers. Rogers confronts Schmidt, who reveals his face to be a mask, removing it to display the red, skull-like face that earned him the sobriquet "the Red Skull." Schmidt escapes and Rogers returns to base with the freed soldiers.

Rogers recruits Barnes and other former captives to attack the other known HYDRA bases. Stark outfits Rogers with advanced equipment, in particular a circular shield made of vibranium, a rare, nigh-indestructible metal. Rogers and his team successfully sabotage various HYDRA operations. The team later assaults a train carrying Zola. Zola is captured, but Barnes falls from the train to his apparent death. Using information extracted from Zola, the final HYDRA stronghold is located and Rogers leads an attack to stop Schmidt from using weapons of mass destruction on American cities. Rogers clambers aboard Schmidt's aircraft as it takes off. During the subsequent fight, the tesseract's container is damaged. Schmidt physically handles the tesseract, causing him to dissolve in a bright light. The tesseract falls to the floor, burning through the plane and falling to Earth. Seeing no way to land the plane without the risk of detonating its weapons, Rogers crashes it in the Arctic. Stark later recovers the tesseract from the ocean floor, but is unable to locate Rogers or the aircraft.

Rogers awakens in a 1940s-style hospital room. Deducing from an anachronistic radio broadcast that something is wrong, he flees outside into what is revealed to be present-day Times Square, where Nick Fury tells him he has been "asleep" for nearly 70 years.

So, how's the figure? Exceptionally impressive. Here's the thing about Captain America, and the Captain America movie. The movie had to manage a very delicate balance in presenting some things in a high-tech manner, without losing sight of the fact that except for a couple of scenes at the very beginning and very ending of the movie, the film took place almost entirely in the 1940's. There was a limit as to just how advanced the characters, machinery, and such, could look.

It is to the immense credit of the movie-makers that they got away with it as well as they did. Nevertheless, I have to say that I wasn't entirely impressed with Captain America's costume from the original movie. Although certainly advanced from a 1940's perspective, it was in some respects just a little too far removed from a super-hero costume, and a little too soldier-like in some aspects to suit me. I can understand why the costume was designed the way it was, and within the setting and time period of the movie, it worked extremely well. I just wasn't of a mind to pick up any of the action figures based on its specific likeness (although I did collect a few of the Comic Series Captain America figures released at the time).

Captain America's costume for THE AVENGERS, clearly set in the present day, is another matter entirely. Although none of Marvel's heroes are dressing in "just" spandex tights anymore, the modern-day Captain America costume manages to reflect both the advanced technology of the present-day Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as respect Captain America's iconic look, arguably just a bit better than his own individual movie. Again, I can understand the decisions made, and it wouldn't surprise me if a modern-day costume was well along the design procedure even while the Captain America movie was being made. Cap's 1940's costume simply couldn't look too advanced. His 21st century costume is another matter entirely.

Although clearly not armored like Iron Man, Captain America's costume is just as clearly designed to be protective. It has a certain multi-layered look to it, especially on the upper torso and arms, and protective padding visible on the legs. The gloves and boots are also clearly designed to protect the wearer in the sort of extreme combat situations that the Avengers find themselves in.

Captain America is wearing a sort of combination mask and helmet. Although the movie shows it to have a certain amount of flexibility, especially around the face, the top clearly resembles a protective helmet, although not as obvious as a military type of helmet. Typical for Captain America, it leaves the ears exposed, and there is a large letter "A" on the front. The distinctive wings on Captain America's headpiece are modified here to a series of curved white swoops sculpted into the side of the helmet. It works as such.

The helmet-mask merges with the rest of the uniform. The torso is clearly designed to look padded and protective. The stars on the chest and back have distinct sculpted depth to them. The shoulders and part of the sides are a darker blue than the rest of the costume. Cap's usual white upper arms have been reduced to a certain amount of padding on the inside upper arms, but it still looks good with the overall look of the figure. The mid-torso region of alternating red and white stripes is in full effect this time around.

Cap is wearing a blue belt with assorted high-tech equipment pouches on it. His trousers are a little less high-tech-looking than the upper part of his uniform, and are a little more loose fitting. But they still look good and work well, and clearly have some protective padding of their own. The high-tech looks resumes with the fancy red boots, which are a good match for the fancy red gloves.

Captain America also has a holster on his upper right leg, to contain a small pistol that the figure comes with.

For the most part, the paint work is excellent, and some of the detail needed to be very precisely done, including the facial details, especially the eyes, as well as things like the sculpted stars on the chest and back, and the torso stripes. The smallest details are some little silver bits on the gloves and boots.

All of this has been done exceptionally well, but one bit of paint detailing that came up just a little short were these silver stripes at the top of the shoulders. Captain America does have these details in the movie, and on the figure, they look as though they were painted by hand. In fairness, they're not painted too badly, but they do lack the precision of the other painted details.

The figure is very well articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, including a swivel, legs, and knees. Any sort of torso articulation, as well as wrists and ankles, is not present in the Avengers figures. It's not too big of a loss, although the lack of ankle articulation could have been a little problematic if the figure had any trouble standing on his own two feet. Fortunately, he doesn't.

The leg articulation is nicely designed. Sometimes these Marvel movie figures have had rather over-engineered leg articulation that just hasn't worked that well. Fortunately, that's not the case here. It's a good straightforward design that allows for back and forth as well as outward movement.

Of course, Captain America comes with his shield, and it's been superbly rendered. It's a little over 1-1/2" in diameter, and has been painted with a glossy metallic finish, with the outer red stripe, the white, the second red, and the blue center with the star. Detail and paint work is excellent. There are two straps on the back, which readily allow the shield to fit over either of Cap's lower arms. Cap also comes with a small silver pistol that fits into the holster on his right leg/

Now, the figure's full designation is "Shield Launcher Captain America", and since he can't really throw his own shield all that well, there's an additional accessory. It's a second shield, slightly larger than the one intended for Captain America to actually carry. It's just as neatly painted, although the stripes are slightly different in their relative proportions. This is secured to a large, olive drab (interesting color choice) launcher. I wouldn't say it especially resembles a gun or rifle, or any other immediately recognizable technology. Rather, it has a large clip up front that the shield attaches to, and there's a gizmo in the back that you push to launch the shield. It's not even spring-loaded. It works well enough -- if you want to send the shield maybe eight inches out. The detail of the device is cool enough, and it has an Avengers "A" logo on it, but it's ultimately a gadget to add a little extra play value as much as anything.

So, what's my final word? This is easily the most impressive movie-based Captain America figure I've yet seen -- no offense to the toy line from his own movie. I'll be interested to see what "Captain America 2" brings. In the meantime, we have this extremely impressive and well-made figure from the Avengers line, that does an exemplary job of capturing the modern-day (emphasis on that) cinematic likeness of Captain America. If you enjoyed the Avengers movie, then this is certainly the Captain America figure that you want in your Marvel Movie action figure collection!

The AVENGERS figure of SHIELD LAUNCHER CAPTAIN AMERICA definitely has my highest recommendation!