Retro Review: Captain America (1990)
This is it: the final “vintage” Captain America movie made before Marvel welcomed the first avenger aboard the MCU in 2011. Since then, Captain America has gone on to become one of my favorite movie super-heroes, despite a life-long affection for the X-Men and Superman. How we got to Chris Evan’s fine portrayal has been a long and rocky road. From a bait-and-switch masked vigilante in the 1940’s, through two television movies in the late 1970’s, and finally to a direct-to-video atrocity in the 1990’s (which was, ironically, supposed to celebrate Captain America’s 50th anniversary!)
This film was the collaborative effort between two shady characters who we’ve had the misfortune to meet several times here on Deluxe Video Online as we’ve taken a look back at some questionable films from yesteryear. The first is producer Manahem Golan, who paired with Yoram Globus, made some of the most iconic (and comically bad) action films of the 1980’s. While such bullet drenched gems as Death Wish, Missing in Action, and Delta Force may bring fond memories, I’m more familiar with their awful epics such as Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and Lou Ferrigno‘s benighted turn as a demi-god who just wants to flex in Hercules (1983.) When the creative duo split, Golan got the rights to Captain America and ran with it.
The second offender was director Albert Pyun, who’s cyborg-fixated resume reads like a veritable high-light reel for Mystery Science Theater fodder. Despite making 3 of the 4 Kickboxer movies, I’ll always remember him for his first opus: The Sword and the Sorcerer. God, did that movie suck…
After a half dozen scripts and two production studios, we finally got Captain America…straight to VHS, after it sat unwatched for two years while Cap’s anniversary faded into the rear-view. I have to hope Marvel pulled some strings to get this awful film buried until well after the golden anniversary had passed.
Captain America (1990)
Largely faithful to the comics, Steve Rogers was an army reject selected to receive a super-soldier serum during the second world war. Getting super speed, strength, and hearing (they always seem to be keen on his hearing in these films!) he was suited up in a flame-resistant flag costume and given a nearly indestructible shield that would magically return to his hand when thrown…unless the plot dictated that it didn’t. Rogers becomes Captain America, but the price is that Nazi saboteurs killed the scientist responsible for his transformation. Dr. Maria Vaselli had defected from Italy after being forced to create a Nazi super-soldier, the hideously deformed Red Skull. The Red Skull plans on launching an attack on the White House with a rocket, and Cap is sent in to stop him…with ostensibly no formal military training. Steve is dropped behind enemy lines and is
victorious completely overwhelmed. The Red Skull straps Cap to the rocket as a fitting FU to the USA, but Cap manages to steer the rocket away at the last second. All the way to Alaska. That’s one hell of a rocket!
Revived 50 years later after an icy siesta, Cap must again confront the Red Skull who has kidnapped the president. Apparently the Bad Dudes were on vacation.
Failure to Launch
The origin story is alright, but is skipped through faster than a teenager looking for the nudity in Porky’s. Steve has an awkward moment with his girlfriend Bernie, after fake-hobbling out to the pier to find her (just to show that, yes, he’s not soldier material.) Bernie is frighteningly earnest about her affections, and Steve ends up being not the only person embarrassed by her display. From there we are whisked to a secret base…under a diner protected by a chain smoking waitress packing a pistol and too few buttons on her blouse. Steve gets super-powered, Vaselli gets murdered, and next thing you know we are airborne over Nazi Italy. Cap gets a pep talk, grouses about his gaudy uniform, and is dropped like a sack of veal into the lion’s den. He’s immediately spotted, rushes the base like a mad-man, and throws his only weapon ineffectively at the Red Skull (who is at least sporting enough to throw it back…but our Star Spangled Doofus neglects to pick it back up.) The Red Skull hammers on Steve-O for about ten seconds and then straps his ass to a rocket. Steve gets one good lick in by grabbing the Skull’s arm, forcing him to cut his own hand off in order to avoid joining Cap on a rocket tour of the continental US.
A young Tom Kimball sneaks out of his parent’s DC hotel in order to see the White House (which would still probably warrant him being arrested. It’s the 1940’s and we’re at war with the Nazi’s, I’m pretty sure you can’t just amble up to the White House at two AM with a camera.) The kid catches a grainy photo of Cap tied up like a turkey to a missile that is about to cream Roosevelt’s corn, but at the last minute Cap heroically fidgets like an electric chair inmate and redirects the rocket to the icy blue north. If it wasn’t so pant’s wettingly awful, it would be amazing. In fact, just having read the description of these events made me want to see this movie. “Cap cuts off the Red Skull’s hand and then rides a missile to Alaska” sounded a whole hell of a lot cooler before I actually saw it happen. Chalk that one up to experience.
That my friends is the best five minutes of the film. It’s rushed and cheesy as hell, but at least it has a clear plot, some decent make-up effects, and an honest to god fight. The rest is all plodding exposition and a mopey Captain America who can’t fight, can’t strategize, and wears civilian sweaters for the next hour.
The Adventures of Slightly Above-Average Steve
We see the next 50 years through clippings of President Tom Kimball’s rise to power. His crowning achievement is an environmental accord that pisses off the robber barons of industry, the military, and the Red Skull. They create a cabal to abduct the President from Rome and brain wash him into being a stooge for big business. Gotta hand it to them, at least they didn’t use the current strategy of “unlimited Super-Pac money until he becomes your stooge.” Gives the proceedings something festive to look forward to.
Meanwhile, Cap is found in ice, escapes from ice, hitches a box-car to his old home and discovers that Bernie got married and had a cute daughter. When the Red Skull finds out, he has Bernie whacked, and that ushers in 45 minutes of Steve moping across the world with Bernie’s hot daughter, trying dissolutely to find the president while not actually doing anything heroic. The should have called this movie “The Adventures of Bernie’s Attractive and Supremely Capable Daughter…and Some Steve Guy.” It’s interminable, and inexcusable. Matt Salinger, who plays Cap, was a nobody who had his girlfriend stolen from him by dweebs in Revenge of the Nerds. He in no way warrants a soul-searching interlude in a goddamn super-hero movie, especially when it takes 60% of the run time. Cut that shit out.
After Bernie’s daughter (I swear they must have mentioned her name at least once, but I could barely register that Cap was named Steve, it got so dull) does all of the heavy lifting, Captain America finally puts on his long-johns and assaults the Red Skull’s base, once again demonstrating his utter incompetence. He catches the president (who sprung himself from a prison cell) as the pres throws himself off a tower. Now, if the president died, it would be sad but the Red Skull would have been thoroughly screwed and the movie would have ended. Since Steve saves him, the Red Skull has another chance to win, and the pres winds up getting shot anyway. It’s hilarious. Steve “escorts” him to safety by running ten steps behind him with his shield covering his own damn head, all while machine gun fire rains down.
One: Red Skull, you know if you shoot him your plans are just as screwed, right?
Two: Steve, you are such a fucking loser.
Cap and Skull square off, and we almost get a decent fight. The stuntmen flip and jump kick into harm’s way…only to have the B-movie stars throw lazy hay-makers at each other for the rest of the fight. I swear I almost got excited when Steve’s double flipped over a thrown chair to start the fight, but it all went to shit as soon as it started. The finale is one of the most soul-crushingly stupid things I have ever seen. Cap loses, naturally, but uses a memento of the Skull’s past to distract him. While he’s HOLDING A DETONATOR TO BLOW THEM (AND MOST OF EUROPE) TO SMITHEREENS!
One: What’s up Red Skull? Having a case of the feels? You’re about to commit glorious suicide/genocide, I don’t think being sad should really alter your plans much.
Two: Steve, you are such a fucking loser.
Back on Ice
What’s good about this movie? I liked the Red Skull’s make-up when he was actually red in the skull region. The transformation of Steve into Cap is pretty well done. They stay pretty faithful to Cap’s origin. Bernie’s daughter (Kim Gillingham) is pretty great…although she also plays old Bernie as well, who is a train-wreck. See, I couldn’t even get three nice things said about this film without finding a flaw.
There’s no reason to watch this movie. It is cheaply made, poorly acted, filled with plot holes, is nearly catatonic in the excitement department, and has pacing problems that would make War and Peace seem brisk by comparison. The extra violent start is no good for kids, and the rest of the movie is no fun for adults. I expected at least a schlocky good time from the knuckle-heads who made this, but they failed to make a crappy action flick with any action. I thought we’d already done a Double Dare Review this week! If you’re a comic book movie super-fan, avoid this movie like the plague. This is worse than sitting through a triple feature of all three Punisher movies. Even War Zone, which is perhaps the (now second) worst comic-book movie I have ever seen.