DVD MOVIE REVIEW: "Captain America" (1990)

Wil Avitt
Wil Avitt's picture

You ever notice how when you grow up some things aren't as quite as you remember them being when you were a child? Some things are, for example I still love a lot of the cartoons I loved in the 80's when I was a kid. But some things just aren't. For another example, I loved the TV show Knight Rider when I was a kid. It had a talking car and everything. It was a great show. I even had an RC KITT car. Then, when I had grown up, I happened across Knight Rider on the Sci-Fi Channel after I had gotten out of the Army. The show changed. What had been magical when I was a child was a horrible piece of garbage when I was in my early 20's. Some things just change.

I had a similar experience with the Alber Pyun directed Captain America movie from the early 90's. Similar, but different. I first saw this movie on HBO when I was 12 (1992, the year it was finally released after having been shelved in 1990). As a 12-year-old boy, totally enamored with superheroes, I hated this movie. He was only Captain America once at the beginning and then once at the end and he spent the entire movie running around some European cities that I've never been to in his regular street clothes. Now, I had already seen Batman and Batman Returns and after those, this movie kida just leaves you cold. Well, Captain America has finally been released (sort of) on DVD and I got it. I'm a completist (I own Catwoman, after all, even if I did wait until I could get it used for about $2 and I almost never watch it, and when I do I remember why I almost never watch it). Anyhow, I'll get to what "sort of" released means in a moment, but right now let's talk a bit about the film itself.

First of all, this movie is by no means great. A lot of that comes from the movie's budget being cut to nil literally in the middle of filming. Mr. Pyun didn't have a whole lot to work with, so he deserves a bit of a pass just for the effort put forth in making a movie for the cost of a pack of gum. It isn't great, but it also isn't the horrible piece of flotsom I seem to remember from my youth, either. WARNING: since this movie is more than 20 years old, I'm not going to tread a fine line on the spoilers. SPOILERS AHEAD!

Unlike the previous attempt at a live action Captain America (2 television movies/pilots starring Tor's Reb Brown, which will also see a DVD release to tie-in to The First Avenger's DVD release), this movie stays a lot more true to the source material. Captain America is Steve Rogers, a 4-F classified American in WWII who volunteers for a secret government project that would give him super-human strength, speed and stamina. He is sent to the front lines of the European Theater to fight the Red Skull, Germany's version of a super soldier, and after a brief battle is fired from a rocket and frozen in the Arctic and then thawed out in the modern era, 1993 by mention of a radio commentator. Cap makes his way back to his hometown of Springfield, Ohio where he looks up his old girlfriend, Bernice, who still lives in the same house she did in the 40's. Bernie has a daughter named Sharon, an obvious nod to the Sharon Carter character from the comics, who teams up with Cap to help him track down the Red Skull, who has been working as a mercenary since the war and was responsible for the assassinations JFK, RFK and Martin Luther King, jr (so obviously the Red Skull is also the Cigarette Smoking Man?) and has also kidnapped the President of the United States.

So Cap and Sharon travel around Europe looking for clues to the Red Skull's stronghold, and Sharon is eventually captured by the Skull. Now, it's time for the tights. Captain America, in all of his red, white and blue glory, storms the Skull's stronghold and has a battle, where he is assisted in the butt kicking department by the President, played by Ronny Cox. Cap and Prez defeat the Red Skull, who falls to his death, and the movie ends to a nice country music tune.

The Good:
As I said before, the movie isn't terrible. It's really not, taken from the context of when it was made. It has a solid script and tells a coherent story, it has a great cast including Ronny Cox (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Darren McGavin (Kolchak: The Nightstalker), Bill Mumy (Lost in Space) and Ned Beatty (Superman: The Movie). The acting really is quite good, considering the actors must have worked for sticks of gum from the pack purchased with the movie's budget. The costumes were good, although Cap's could have been a little better. A lot of people give Cap's costume crap for having fake rubber ears, but come on, you really can't tell they're fake and if you think you can you're lying to yourself (OK, there are a couple times when he's standing still where you CAN tell, but they aren't that bad). Besides, I'd rather have fake rubber ears than fake rubber nipples (Joel Schumacher, I'm looking at you).

The Bad:
Most of this movies weaknesses come from its lack of a budget. It is certainly a B-movie version of Cap, but it's a B-movie that REALLY REALLY tries to be a B+ movie and I give them a lot of credit for ambition. Also, there could have been more Cap in costume, but the tights don't get as little screen time as I thought they did when I was 12. Besides, trying to take the comic book out of comic book movies was kinda par for the course in the late 80's and early 90's. The worst thing about this movie, though, is its liberal tree hugging let's save the planet plot. The Red Skull is hired by a top ranking Army General (because the Army is evil, right?) to get rid of the President because of environmental protection legislation he's trying to pass. In fact, there is even a plea after the credits to support the Environmental Protection Act of 1990 (even though no one got to see this movie until 1992). The movie kinda watches like a 90 minute propoganda film for the EPA and also for hating the military. But that's really a small part of the plot (well, it's the whole plot but it's hardly ever mentioned).

The Disc:
OK, remember how I said it was "sort of" released? Well, MGM did release this movie, however in their infiniteness destitude as a studio they released as an Amazon exclusive manufacture on demand disc. It's an official studio release, but it's on DVD-R format, though truthfully, the only difference between this and a disc you'd buy at Walmart is that the surface of the disc is purple. Other than that, it's exactly like a real disc and NOT like a bootleg. They used the same transfer used for the original VHS/Laserdisc release, but a disclaimer at the beginning tells you they used the best source material they had available (and it's still better than the transfer used for The Legend of the Lone Ranger release, which WAS a mass market release). The worst thing about it is the box art. The front cover is nice, but the back cover is plain and boring, and on the spine the designer couldn't even be bothered to center the title on the spine. It's like 2/3 of the way down the spine. Honestly, I think he designed it drunk and didn't much give a crap because MGM was probably only paying him that last stick of 20-year-old gum they had left over from the movie's original budget.