In the late 1970s, through the 80s and into the early 90s, while DC Comics were turning their big superhero characters into multimillion-dollar movie franchises and TV series, Marvel were scratching and clawing their way onto the screen with a string of misjudged (and almost inevitably straight to video or TV) efforts.
Captain America was one of the bigger of these films following on from the successful Incredible Hulk TV show and TV movies and less successful Spiderman outing, it was released on video in 1990 and, in doing so, became something of a cornerstone of my childhood viewing (or so my memory tells me).
So it was with some sense of nostalgia that I came to re-watch the film as I had found a copy on DVD, though I will admit that my expectations weren’t high.
Well it turns out my expectations really should have been lower and to be honest I’m amazed this even made it to video back in 1990 and wasn’t relegated to the unreleased status of the Fantastic Four movie that was made a couple of years later.
Sticking loosely to the plot of the comics (Cap is a sickly kid who volunteers, gets super powers, fights his Nazi nemesis the Red Skull, ends up trapped in ice and is woken up to get confused in the modern day still fighting Red Skull), the delivery of this is done in such a shambolic way that at no point is it particularly clear what the Red Skull wants as his aim veers from world domination via the Nazis to brainwashing the President of the US to destroying the entirety of southern Europe with a previously unmentioned atomic bomb.
While Skull is up to his diabolical ways Cap is left defying geography trying to find out what’s going on in the world as he walks from Alaska to Vancouver in a few hours and then drives down to California before realizing what’s going on and seemingly forgetting any confusion to fly to Italy with his ex-girlfriend’s daughter for the climactic scrap.
Throughout the film there are three major action scenes, all of which take place with no sense of threat to anyone involved, including when Skull hacks off his own hand, and the confused motivations of pretty much everyone leave the whole film feeling like it doesn’t know where its going until it happens – almost as if the script were an unedited stream of consciousness project.
Away from them there is the genuinely pointlessly upsetting and odd moment when Cap’s ex from the 1940s gets killed along with her husband in a pretty graphic way, for what is clearly meant to be a kid’s film.
This leaves the whole film feeling tonally imbalanced throughout.
Production value-wise the film is pretty shoddy with the general air of being a superhero movie set in the world of a cheap soap opera like Crossroads with flimsy clichéd set designs and music provided by what sounds like a battery powered 80s Casio keyboard.
The best (or worst) moment in this area is Cap’s costume which seems to have a built-in six-pack as evidently simply spandex and Matt Salinger didn’t quite do Cap’s physique justice.
On the other hand, and one of the few good things that could be said about the film, is that Red Skull’s make up in the post war scenes is, while clearly rubbery and fake, not as distracting as it could be and even his actual Red Skull make up is half decent considering the film’s budget (maybe that’s where all the money went).
Acting wise there isn’t really much to say that you couldn’t work out from the rest of my comments, but, a particular low is Matt Salinger’s attempt at playing “a frail boy with polio” by limping inconsistently while still looking like a relatively beefy chap.
Thankfully the late 1990s saw Marvel find the right formula for their movies, with Blade and the X-Men leading the way, and they have clearly since made amends for this with Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011 and The Avengers in 2012.
That said this is the sort of film that if you like bad movies (which I admit to having a soft spot for) is worth a watch, just don’t expect much from it (though any film where the main character gives a thumbs up direct to camera can’t be all bad right… well ok).
The whole film also seems to be up on YouTube if you are foolish, brave or interested enough to want to check it out and don’t want to fork out a couple of quid for the shoddily transferred DVD version: