Marvel Comics has become a juggernaut in the movie industry thanks to the runaway success of their film franchises, specifically Iron Man and The Avengers. But, that wasn’t always the case. While Marvel triumphed in translating their characters to the world of animation, live-action always seemed to escape them. Long before Blade, X-Men, and Spider-Man made Marvel movies a staple of the summer blockbuster season, the House of Ideas couldn’t produce a flick that was worth the celluloid it was shot on. There was an awful Spider-Man television show from the late-70’s as well as a made-for-TV movie based on Dr. Strange.
Then, there was the awful 1989 version of The Punisher, starring Dolph Lundgren as the titular vigilante sans his trademark skull emblem. At least The Punisher, was released straight to video whereas Roger Corman’s low-budget Fantastic Four movie never saw the light of day, except through bootlegs sold at comic book conventions. In between those forgettable outings came an adaptation of Captain America which was shot in 1990, but languished in limbo for two years until its release on VHS and late-night cable. The movie was produced under the auspices of Menahem Golan, founder of The Cannon Group, the prolific purveyor of 1980’s action shlock.
Cannon also produced Masters of the Universe and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which gives you a general idea of how awful this incarnation of the Star Spangled Sentinel was. Golan had split from his old cronies to head up 21st Century Film Corp. and purchased the rights to Cap and Spidey. The theatrical rights to the iconic wall-crawler passed on to Carolco with James Cameron attached to write and direct. Although that project was never realized, Spidey eventually wound up at Sony and into the capable hands of Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire. Unfortunately for Captain America, it would be another two decades before Chris Evans would portray a much more faithful version of the character.
Matt Salinger, the son of Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger, took on the role of Steve Rogers, the scrawny weakling who is transformed into America’s one and only super-soldier. This being 1990, the filmmakers didn’t have the technology necessary to actually make Salinger a 98lbs beanpole. In fact, there was early talk of having Salinger play Rogers while football player Howie Long would don the red, white, and blue tights.
Captain America blows through the character’s origins in the opening act with familiar elements jumbled about. Here, it’s a female scientist named Dr. Maria Vaselli (Carla Cassola) who develops the super-soldier serum. For their first human subject, the Nazis choose child prodigy Tadzio de Santis, abducting him from his home in Italy and executing his family. In response, Dr. Vaselli defects to the U.S. where the military hope to counteract the Axis’ ubermensch with their own army of superhumans. Sickly Steve Rogers is chosen, but the doctor is murdered by a Nazi assassin and takes the serum’s secrets to her grave. As the one and only Captain America, Rogers is dropped into enemy territory to do battle with the Red Skull (Scott Paulin). The Skull quickly defeats his inexperienced nemesis and straps him to a missile bound for the White House. Cap manages to divert the projectile into Alaska where he’s frozen solid.
Decades pass and the Red Skull, who has undergone extensive plastic surgery, leads a clandestine cabal that is responsible for the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King. Their next target is President Tom Kimball (Ronny Cox), whose new environmental laws have upset the military-industrial complex. Luckily, Cap is thawed out in time to foil his dastardly scheme.
Captain America was helmed by Albert Pyun, the prolific director behind such B-movies as Cyborg, Kickboxer 2, Raven Hawk, and Brainsmasher…A Love Story. No one would accuse Pyun of being a master of action, but he was hamstrung by a limited budget that seemed to decrease as production commenced in a similar fate that befell Quest for Peace. At one point, shooting was suspended when they ran out of film. The result is a Cap who spends most of the movie in civilian garb and whose primary strategy is to fake illness to hijack someone’s car. When he does don the iconic outfit, it looks like a cheaply pair of pajamas made all the more ridiculous by rubber ears on the side of his cowl. The wool uniform worn by Evans during his USO tour was far more convincing. The Skull too is hardly recognizable and only bares his crimson visage for a scant few minutes likely due to the expense of the make-up. And making him Italian was a blasphemous alteration in the eyes of comic book fans.
The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Cap was previously only available as a DVD-R from MGM’s manufacture-on-order program. Shout has-released it in high definition with a surprisingly solid transfer. Colors are bold with only a few minor blemishes that aren’t too noticeable.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. This isn’t a robust mix, but it gets the good job with strong effects and dialogue coming in crisp and clear.
A Look Back at Captain America (20:05) features new interviews with Pyun and Salinger as they candidly discuss the movie and its shortcomings.
Film Value: 3
Film value is going to be very subjective here. There’s no doubt that Captain America is an awful movie that should have been buried in a frozen wasteland just like its titular protagonist. However, Cap does have a kitschy quality to it that can be enjoyed with a healthy dose of irony.