Captain America (1990)

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“The Original Avenger” (I imagine this one was added for the rerelease)

Directed by Albert Pyun
Starring Matt Sallinger, Scott Paulin and Ronnie Cox

Huge, but polio-crippled patriot Steve Rogers is enlisted for a special programme and injected with a special serum, developed by Dr Maria Vaselli, transforming him into Captain America. After Vaselli’s murder by Nazi agents, Cap is sent to take out a war rocket built by Nazi super soldier Red Skull, an Italian piano prodigy kidnapped and injected with an early version of the formula. Cap proceeds to get beaten like a red-headed stepchild and tied to the rocket, managing to deflect it into the arctic ocean and becoming frozen until the 1990s. Waking, he has to battle the Red Skull again, now working as an agent of the military-industrial complex to sabotage a major environmental treaty.

What’s wrong with it?

Captain America is a big hero, for big stories; like punching Hitler in the face. After a brief foray into his WWII adventures, in which we discover that Captain America went on one mission, which he royally screwed up, this film pits him against the Red Skull and… a bunch of hip Italian Mafia slackers led by his evil, but personality-free daughter, working for a group of industrial magnates who might as well be battling Captain Planet as Captain America.

Pitching towards the more family end of the market, it nonetheless opens with the brutal murder of a family, and the agonising transformation of a young boy into the Red Skull; pretty strong stuff, even if not shown in graphic detail. It’s also harder to hate the Red Skull when his evil is due to a flawed formula, and correspondingly harder to admire Cap when the implication is that his heroism likewise derives from the perfected serum, rather than his own courage.

As we go on, Steve’s ex-girlfriend and her husband are killed, as is President Ronnie Cox’s best friend, and just about anyone else that crosses Cap’s path without being the leader of the free world or the designated love interest. This would be bad enough if not for the fact that most of them die because Rogers can’t be arsed to stick around and protect them, wandering off to some plot dump while they get butchered.

Did I mention that Red Skull’s legion of doom is five hip young kids who seem to have escaped from a Madonna video?

What’s right with it?

Environmentalism was topical at the time, and it’s interesting to see a film at least in which America leads the way in that regard. The WWII section is actually a highlight as well, and its a shame they didn’t go all historical.

How bad is it really?

Man, this is bad, and all the worse for seeing what could be done with the material.

Best bit (if such there is)?

On seeing the Cap for the first time, Red Skull declares that he is delighted to have a chance to practice his English. He then proceeds to kick him around the room while reciting his language exercises: “Where is the pen of my aunt? The pen of my aunt is on the table!”

What’s up with…?

  • The Red Skull’s ineffectual mod squad goons? Who thought that would be threatening?
  • The environmental slant? I guess it was super topical at the time, but it’s an odd choice for Captain America.
  • The Red Skull being an eleven year old piano prodigy from Italy instead of a committed officer of the German Reich and HYDRA member?

Ratings

Production values – The historical costumes are not terrible, but the fight scenes suffer for their budget and the villains lack menace due to their hip, modern get-up. 15
Dialogue and performances –  The dialogue tops out at nothing special. Most of the performances are adequate, but Matt ‘son of JD’ Salinger in the central role is both a low point (although apparently he’s a shit-hot playwright; who knew?) and the bulk of the screen time. The love interest fails to be remotely memorable. 14
Plot and execution – Shambling, shambolic and inconsistent in tone, with a poor sense of purpose not helped by the tacked on environmental message, which could honestly be a pace-holder for any issue. Moreover, the film simply has no real stakes, the ultimate threat being that things stay much the same as they are already. 18
Randomness – The mod goons; the Italian piano prodigy; the string of deaths which Cap barely even seems bothered by. The fact that the President managed to snap a shot of Captain America flying past on a rocket on the camera he had in 1943, when he was eight16
Waste of potential – In spite of its limited budget, any comparison to the recent Captain America films show this to be inferior, not only in terms of special effects, but of plot, characterisation and fundamental grasp of what might make a superhero film interesting. 18

Overall 81%

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