Say what you will about the two laughably cheap 1979 TV movies that played absurdly fast and loose with Captain America’s history, at least they weren’t dull. With tons of unintentional laughs launched at you by the sheer magnitude of comic-adapting incompetence on display; not to mention the impressive non-performace of the flat-lining charisma of it’s lead actor; they both scored a big fat bulleye as so-bad-it’s-good stinkers.
Unfortunately, this later attempt, cobbled together from the spectacular wreckage of Cannon Films and mercilessly unleashed on vulnerable, movie-starved Marvel fans in 1990, can’t even boast that much as the vaguely more faithful attempt goes down in flames harder than the Human Torch attempting fellatio…
Feeling like someone’s recorded a terminally drunk amnesiac is trying to tell you the plot of Captain America: The First Avenger and decided to play it back on Edison’s cylinder, the plot sort-of gets the gist of Cap’s time spanning back story kinda right despite featuring (for some reason) an Italian Red Skull.
The year is 1936 in fascist ruled Italy and we see soldiers escort a child progeny from his doomed family to a secret experiment which turns him into a super soldier to be used against any enemy who comes at them. A chief scientist in charge of the procedure is horrified at such cruel treatment of a child (but only DURING the event. Heart’s in the right place, timing’s a little off) and escapes to flee to America. Years later she has perfected her serum and polio stricken Steve Rogers has volunteered to undergo the experiment and become a super soldier to take the fight to Italy’s greatest weapon, The Red Skull (nope, still can’t get used to that…). However, after the experiment is complete the scientist is assassinated by a spy (who, in a room jam packed full of guards has time to give the full Nazi salute AND scream “Heil Hitler” before shooting her to death before anyone even blinks) who in turn is electrocuted by a wounded Roger’s who heals from his bullet holes in days. Despite the fact that he hasn’t had the greatest debut, Cap is sent out to destroy the Red Skull (who, I gotta be honest, looks like a malevolent strawberry and sounds like a cartoon Dracula) but is subdued and in an act of sadism worthy of Dr. Evil, bolts Steve onto a missile aimed at the White House. So so far Cap’s 0-2, but never mind – but wait! After tricking the Skull into chopping his own hand off (believe me it plays WORSE than it reads) he manages to steer the missile off course by kicking it and ends up crashing in Alaska.
We hop ahead 50 years to modern day where a group of researchers have found something frozen in a block of ice and because they presumably haven’t seen The Thing, decide to thaw it out. It’s obviously Captain America who runs off thinking it’s still the 1940’s but rapidly finds out that it isn’t and that everyone he knew has aged, including his sweetheart. Hooking up with his ex-beau’s daughter, Sharon (awkwaaaaaard…) he intends to bring down the Skull – now the head of of an Italian crime family – who has designs on brain washing the President thanks to his ecologically friendly views.
Can Cap – armed only with an unbreakable shield that looks like he got it from a 1980’s cosplayer and a costume that looks like it breathes like latex cement – stop his mortal enemy? Will you care?
So let’s put our cards on the table. This film is awful. Not even enjoyably awful. Just awful, awful. Prolific 90’s purveyor of low budget junk Albert Pyun (best known for passable Conan clone The Sword & The Sorcerer and Van Damme Sci-fi clunker Cyborg) tackles the subject matter with high hopes but low ability as the story is rendered virtually unwatchable by the director’s lack of style.
For example; knowing full well a film like this lives and dies on it’s action, Pyun bravely chooses to shoot the majority of the action in smokey darkness, therefore making the terrible fight choreography a moot point. He fares no better with the other stuff either, frantically trying to crush every frame down to avoid seeing the edges of a tiny set or a modern car or house in the 1940’s section. In fact his framing is so tight for the entire runtime, virtually every shot in every scene is in danger of invoking panic inducing claustrophobia in the audience… or at least it would if it had one.
Matt Salinger has the unenviable task of bringing this comics icon to life and desides to approach it as if he knows less about what’s going on than the audience (the audience doesn’t know because it doesn’t care… what’s Salinger’s excuse?).
Cursed to be entombed within a fairly comic accurate costume that makes him look cross eyed (always a good look for a superhero to have), I not sure what the hell they made the costume out of but it looks fucking excruciating to wear and you assume that after every shot they had to cut him out of the thing before he died screaming of heat exhaustion.
There’s some decent support here in the form of Superman’s Ned Beatty and Robocop’s Ronny Cox but any film that carries the moniker of Captain America that then has the kidnapped US President free himself and take out just as many bad guys as the hero is just brow-furrowingly frustrating. As is having a super-intelligent villain who readily admits he’s having trouble picking up the English language…
So as we are played off by a godawful Springsteen-lite ripoff entitled “Home Of The Brave” we patiently await a time when America’s greatest defender finally gets his due. I guess Steve’s gonna have to be frozen for about 21 more years, then…