Marvel’s desperate and clumsy attempts to shove their properties onto television in the late 70’s were a mixed bag at best. Sure, The Incedible Hulk was a smash hit (pun very much intended) and ran for years but virtually every other attempt crashed and burned with hideous regularity. Doctor Strange had all the spectacular razzamataz of a rotting deer carcass and let’s not forget the kitch pleasures of Nicholas Hammond trying to stuff all his boffant hairdo into a skin tight Spider-Man mask every week and running around on rooftops in tights.
And yet, even with their budget restraints and hokey performances, each one of these shows and TV movies have a particular superpower in being really, really (accidentally) funny but believe me when I say you ain’t seen nothin’ yet…
Behold the unintentional hilarity of Captain America circa 1979.
After leaving the marines, blond lunk head Steve Rogers has his life all planned out. He has decided to drive around America, live in his van and concentrate on his art (nope, not creepy at all) but his plans fall apart when he is contacted by a government agency who worked with his late scientist father in the 1940’s. It turns out his dear old dad created a super formula dubbed FLAG (standing for “Full Latent Ability Gain”, honestly, Marvel and their acronyms, it’s simply darling) which can enhance the abilities of anyone injected with it but as it was created based off the DNA of Rogers senior, it is surmised that it could only truly work on his son, Steve.
Needless to say, assorted bad guys are out to snatch this stuff for themselves for whatever reasons bad guys in TV shows in 1979 had, and they make an attempt on Steve’s life which leaves him critically injured but not brain dead (not that you’d notice). In an attempt to save his life they pump Steve full of FLAG (ew) and before you know it he’s boasting powers similar to the Six Million Dollar Man – wait, did I say similar? Make that EXACTLY like the powers of the Six Million Dollar Man (complete with weird sound effects whenever he busts a super powered move). So he immediately leaps into costume and fights crime and – oh, no wait… He doesn’t want anything to do with it yet, so we wait while the agency gently whines at him to use his talents to aid America and the bad guys take repeated shots at killing him (what the hell does it take for this guy to make his mind up). Eventually (mercifully) he relents which is a good thing to as they’ve turned his not-at-all-intimidating-rape-van into a tricked out spy vehicle which launches a motorcycle out the back at neck snapping velocity. Armed with a costume that wouldn’t look out of place in a superhero themed sex party and a shield made from the flimsiest plastic they could find, Steve is finally ready to embrace his destiny as the $1.50 version of Captain America!
Needless to say, Captain America: Sentinel Of Liberty is utter trash. It’s slow, poorly structured, loaded with VERY on-the-nose TV acting and whenever the budget finally stretches enough to allow some action to slip through it’s laughably awkward – Steve’s able to leap onto the side of a helicopter from a motorcycle, for example, because someone suspiciously left a stunt ramp in the middle of a dirt road for no reason whatsoever.
Two things keep this chuckle inducing abomination inherently watchable: the first being how much this movie doesn’t bother to follow the comics origin to Captain America AT ALL – in fact I don’t even think he’s a proper captain. As you let your mind try to process the fact that we have a Cap origin tale that doesn’t include a single hint of World War II, Steve Rogers being skinny, The Red Skull, Bucky, Nazis OR being frozen for decades; also try to deal with the fact that Cap is also an impressive idiot, nearly fatally poisoning a bad guy with exhaust fumes only to find out he’s wearing a dead-mans switch linked to a neutron bomb. We proceed to watch on, dumbfounded, as his BOSS essentially saves the day instead as Rogers seems totally oblivious to the fact that he nearly obliterated a hefty chunk of the United States because he chose to cut corners of subduing a man in his mid fifties.
The other questionable jewel in Captain America late seventies crown is lead actor Reb Brown, “known” for the enjoyable awful Space Mutiny (lambasted fantastically on cult show Mystery Science Theater 3000) and Italian Rambo ripoff Strike Commando he stuns you with a performance that somehow doesn’t seem to contain a single trace of emotion from beginning to end. Fixing his co-stars with a blank, unfeeling gaze of a man forced to constantly relive the worse moments of his life on a continuous, eternal loop and speaking his lines with the tone of a sociopath desperately trying to pass as normal, Reb effortlessly sets a bar for wooden that even trees can’t hope to match. Watching him run around, trying to be stealthy in red, white and blue spandex while wearing a crash helmet with a giant “A” on it while making security guards slip in an oil slick is it’s own kind of dubious reward but lovers of bad movies will rejoice.
America, fuck no…