Impulse Buy Theater's Avengers - Captain America (1990)
As any dog with a hankering for Christmas tinsel will tell you…sometimes a shiny shit makes all the difference in the world. And that’s about as good a lead in to a review for the blu-ray presentation of 1990’s Captain America as I can muster.
Actually, it’s not all terrible. Well, the movie was…but when you get context as to why it’s so bad, it kinda helps...maybe? This is where we have to pause and give a MASSIVE shout out to the folks over at Shout Factory. These guys are like the Criterion Collection of genre film. Each one of their Collector or Special Edition blu-rays comes digitally remastered, making the film (particularly in this case) look better than it has any right to and adds extra features that either you didn’t know existed, hoped had existed, or, in the case where there really was nothing (like here) they go out and do retrospective interviews with cast and crew, many of whom not only remember working on it, but usually have a story or two to tell. This is one of those latter instances, as the disc only has one special feature, but it’s worth it: an interview with star Matt Salinger and director Albert Pyun. What they tell you about the film is both tragic and expected. The way they describe the screenplay they received to make them sign on for the film, well, it feels like a tragedy that we’ll never see that vision. (Granted, once we look into the film proper, let us say there were still flaws in the adaptation.) Even more in this vein, the director, Pyun, eventually walked away from the film out of frustration…leaving god knows who to finish it (I’m guessing the infamous producer, which would explain rather a lot really). Unfortunately, the expected part of this is that it was produced by 21st Century Film Corporation. Doesn’t sound familiar? How about the producer…Menahem Golan. Maybe ringing some bells now, but let’s go for the slam dunk…what other motion picture company was Golan known for? Cannon Films. There we go! Now we‘re in Impulse Buy Theater territory! The mastermind of low to mid-budget schlock, second only to Roger Corman, and best known for taking good scripts and underfunding the hell out of them. So when you hear that they wanted to hire two different people to play Steve Rogers, one pre-serum, one post, you know that wasn’t going to happen. When you hear that they wanted this or that from the special effects…um…nope. Again, it’s great to see that these two had a real vision for the film and just a little saddening that when you take a look at the finished product…yeah, they didn’t even get a quarter of what they wanted. Honestly, it occurred to me just after this most recent watching that this film parallels another property utterly trashed by Golan: Superman IV. We’ll get into this a bit more later, but for now…welcome to 90 minutes of suffering.
The film starts off in Italy in the early stages of World War II. Mussolini is in power and is leading a group of soldiers into a small house with a family gathered to record and listen to a child play the piano. Many gunshots and one kidnapping later, our boy is taken to a lab, strapped into a chair, while Mussolini looks on at the creation of the Red Skull.
Insert record scratching sound here.
Yes, folks, you read that right…the Red Skull, a very VERY EXTREMELY German character is now Italian. WTFBBQ? Why??? I dunno, maybe Germans were helping to fund this, I couldn’t tell you. Hell, with the producer, Golan, being Israeli, I’d have thought he’d be over the moon to highlight those Nazi German bastards and their evil…but nope. Not a single German in the whole film (okay, maybe a few in the background…and one German spy…). Sure, we see the swastika, but nope, not a single “mein Furher”, “heil Hitler” or the like. [Actually, there is one “Heil Hitler”. – Ed.] Anyway, the transformation takes place in Castle Linguine or some other pasta-based name [No it doesn’t. The film’s already bad enough, we don’t need you exaggerating to make it even worse. – Ed.] and the doctor behind the process is an Italian woman. I don’t mind the gender-swap, honestly, but again…this all taking place in Italy really bugs me. That aspect actually gets worse later on, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Next, we’re off to California to witness the going away party for Steve Rogers. Sure, I could sit here and nitpick that he should be in Brooklyn, not Redondo Beach, but honestly, looking at Salinger, the switch actually kinda works. Besides…it’s not like they changed the goddamn COUNTRY of his origin. The intro to Rogers doesn’t have the subtitle ‘Meanwhile…in Canada…’ or some such. Anyway, back to our good Captain here…there’s an awkward scene in the kitchen with his mom…oh, I should mention at this point that Matt Salinger does indeed play Rogers throughout the film…where the two are saying their goodbyes and such, but I gotta tell you, not only does his ‘mom’ look to be his age, there’s like this weird…I dunno…but I wouldn’t have been a damn bit surprised it the two kissed or something. They didn’t feel like mom and son, the felt kinda more like…ahem…let’s just say ‘equals’ yes? This is VERY much an instance where an actor portraying pre-serum Rogers was DESPERATELY needed. So, as Salinger had some build to him, you have much less the 90-pound weakling that Rogers was and more a guy with a limp they called “polio”. Honestly, I can handle this better than I can the Red Skull being freakin’ Italian. [Alright, I see what you did there. That’s your one. After this, I have to call you out on it. – Ed.] We move on from the party to meet up with Steve’s actual girlfriend Bernice/Bernie…where in their parting she says so many “and ever”s attached to her “I’ll love you forever” that if I were in Cap’s shoes…well, at this point I’d be looking forward to going to war (or sticking with mom). [Um…ew. – Ed.] She makes your worst ever case of static cling look like child’s play. From here, we’re sent along Cap’s origin (more or less)…’transformation’ sequence (in the loosest of terms), doctor responsible for the formula being killed by Nazi spy [The aforementioned Heil. – Ed.], showdown between Cap and Red Skull, Cap strapped to rocket and the resulting deep freeze.
So let’s pause here for a moment and take a look at the timeline that the movie has presented to us thus far. The kidnapping of the child that would be turned into the Red Skull occurs in 1936, and the kid, at best, looks to be in his early teens…and I’d wager that puberty really hasn’t set in yet. Fast-forward 7 years, and that’s where we meet Rogers, who, if we’re generous, looks like he’s in his upper 20s (but more than likely in his 30s). Doing the math, we’ve got the Red Skullini aged anywhere from 17 to 21 and Cap, having his transformation being immediate, still in his upper 20s to (again, we’ll be generous here) lower 30s. This isn’t even taking into account the time after the transformation that Rogers took to train with his shield and what-have-you. This leaves us at the time of their first confrontation with a bit of an age discrepancy…round about 10 years. Yet in looking at the two during this fight, they appear to be equally built, thus we’re left to question, was the Nazi/Italian formula better for filling out their subjects? [Any Italian mother would tell you yes. Now sit down and eat…you look so skinny. – Ed.] Did the American version just cure Steve’s polio? Or did the Nazi/Italian formula also come with about a decade’s worth of accelerated aging…that hit the brakes right when the biological clock hit 30 and revert to decelerated aging after that?
But wait, there’s more. Let’s take a look at that fight, well, more appropriately what happens after the fight. Cap loses and awakens to find himself strapped to the outside of a missile bound for the White House. I’m a little rusty on my 40’s origin for Cap so…okay, fine, this works. In order to try and get the Skullini to stop the launch, Cap lures him to come closer then grabs hold of him…now threatening to take both of them up into the wild blue yonder. Il Duce, however, makes a mean lasagna and, not wanting to miss out on that, Skullini cuts off his own hand. Okay, I dig it so far. Cap and missile take to the skies. Now, all the things that should’ve happened on the flight from Fortress Tiramisu to the White House…I’m just gonna wave off and call it in favor of the Super Soldier Serum…or process…or whatever. However…that’s a pretty massive fuel expenditure, we can agree on that, right? So, when Cap kicks the missile off course…HOW does it even remotely make it to freakin’ Alaska??? That’s one place where the movie loses me. The other is the spontaneous regeneration of Skullini’s hand. It’s always in a black glove to try to create the illusion of a prosthetic…but…just…no. Again, though, I’m getting ahead of myself. Instead let’s go…
…TO THE FUTURE! OF 1990!!! Or, in terms of the movie, present day. But it’s not the jump to 40 years later sort…no, we find ourselves following the rise of Tom Kimball. Who? Well, he’s the little boy who was the only witness to Cap kicking the rocket off its course to the White House. So, naturally, he grows up to be President…a President with a very high priority on environmental issues. Here’s where we get that parallel to Superman IV…with Superman, the issue was nuclear weapons while Cap is tackling the environment or, in this particular instance, plastics. Ugh. Clearly the writers were not huge fans of George Carlin’s take on plastic…but I digress. You see, the Red Skullini is part of a consortium, cabal or whatever of world leaders that are essentially Captain Planet villains. This would naturally include the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff…because of course the military is evil. [Well, I mean, sure, they probably are…but don’t do it so trope-y guys! – Ed.] The evil plan is to kidnap said President and brainwash him to reverse his eco-friendly agenda. Again, as I sense you need a reminder, this is Captain America…not Captain Planet. Though I can’t help but wonder if the Planeteers could’ve helped this movie out some. [And it’s not the readers/viewers that need that reminder, clearly it was the screenwriters. – Ed.] Like you would expect, it’s off to Italy with Cap and Bernie’s daughter because…ugh. Look, the only other thing to point out here (as remembering too much of this movie without the aid of alcohol is a rather painful experience which I wouldn’t be surprised isn’t too far removed from real post-traumatic stress disorder) are Skullini’s…um…henchlings? Would you think neo-Nazis? Given the beginning of the film, of course you wouldn’t. Would you think stereotypical high-fashion Italians with Gucci clothes, Porsches and cell phones (you remember ‘em…the bricks)? Of course you would…if you were strung out on a fair amount of cocaine. Sigh. With henchlings that look like they’d be more fearful of messing up their hair or getting a ding on their precious Fiat, I can’t even be remotely surprised that Skullini’s plan fails. Oh, oh, and since we’re talking about clothes…Cap’s costume. You know, I never noticed it before, but the eyes on the latex costume are a bit close together…and gives Cap this strange look that crosses a gimp with a derp. And then there’s the fake latex ears. Shrug…I’m at a loss. Still, props for the original Skullini’s look. I say original because once we get into present day, Skullini looks less like the Red Skull and more like a guy around 50 with a bunch of scars on his face. You kinda have to wonder…what was the point of using the Red Skull as the villain? Why not just make up some random dude like the 70s TV movies did? Couldn’t tell you.
You know, with movies like this, you hear about how the screenwriter and director had a vision and if it weren’t for the producers cutting their funding and forcing script changes that the end product wouldn’t have sucked. Look, to the extent that whatever was happening behind the scenes basically forced the director to day “screw you guys, I’m going home”…you have to hope that there was something in that original screenplay that could make this watchable…maybe even entertaining. With Captain America though…I have my doubts since, again, THEY MADE THE RED SKULL ITALIAN. WHY?????
To take up the metric that I used on the Incredible Hulk TV movies: Was this painful to watch? Yes. Is alcohol required? You damn well better believe it. Can I recommend this? Only if you’re interested in train wrecks (metaphorical, not literal) or cinematic sado-masochism.