*** Out of 5
Release Date- December 14th, 1990
Running Time- 97-Minutes
Screenplay- Stephen Tolkin
Director- Albert Pyun
Starring- Matt Salinger, Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty, Darren McGavin, Kim Gillingham and Scott Paulin
Before Captain America became a big Hollywood franchise there was the 1990 version, which was originally planned by Cannon Films in the 1980s, but it never ended up happening and when Menahem Golan left Cannon part of his severance were the rights to Captain America, which finally ended up being made, but only got a limited release in the UK in 1990 as well as a couple of other countries, but it didn’t get released in the States until July 22nd, 1992 and rather than any kind of theatrical release it was DTV. Actually even before this version there was a 1979 TV movie, which starred Reb Brown as the title character, which if not mistaken was meant to be a Pilot for a TV series, but ended up just being a TV movie and than later in 1979 a sequel aired and that was it for the Captain until the 1990 version. In the modern era comic book themed films have become a huge business, but they’ve actually always been around. There were the Batman serials in the 30s and 40s as well as Captain America and Superman. Of course there was the Batman TV series in the 60s and there was actually a Spider-Man TV series back in the 70s. I suppose Superman: The Movie in 1978 is the superhero film that opened the door for these kinda films and Superman would become a successful franchise and than when Batman came out in 1989 these films started to take off and while a few were made in the 90s it was the 2000s when these films really began to dominate. In between all of this were plenty of animated shows throughout the 80s and 90s.
Despite the popularity of superhero themed films (or shows) they were never really taken seriously despite the acclaim films such as Superman and Burton’s Batman received. Even with positive reviews these films weren’t seen as classic films. Perhaps overtime some of these films are now seen in that light, but it was Chris Nolan more so with Dark Knight than Batman Begins that took a genre of film that even when serious also had camp value and played it straight and it actually worked and now these films often get massive critical acclaim and aren’t just seen as very entertaining films, but great films. But back in 1990 that wasn’t the case.
Steve Rogers (Salinger) undergoes an experiment by scientists and becomes the super soldier Captain America and goes to battle in WWII against the evil Red Skull (Paulin). Frozen for decades Steve is found in revived and once again has to battle the Red Skull.
The screenplay by Stephen Tolkin is quite subpar, but works well in some regard due to the cheese factor. The origin of Steve Rogers doesn’t go into much detail, which is fine since it didn’t need a deeper explanation, but a little more could have been done with it. The characters lack depth, but are also fairly decent, which probably has more to do with the cast. The middle sections focuses more on characters and this is where the film encounters some issues since the writing and characters aren’t strong enough to carry the film. For some reason Red Skull is Italian rather than German and I don’t know if that was a mistake or just a creative choice. There were some good ideas presented such as Red Skull being involved in the assassination of John & Bobby Kennedy as well as Martin Luther King. The script overall is quite sloppy despite some good ideas presented, but with that said the cheese factor does make the script better than it actually was.
Director Albert Pyun does the best he can with a limited budget, but it’s also not an excuse for the film turning out the way it did. Captain America does feature some pacing issues, but I’d put more of the blame on the writing than the direction. Pyun does deliver a fun film that does work on the so bad it’s good level, but with that said to Pyun’s credit he does deliver some fun and energetic action scenes and sure they aren’t classic, but they are effective. Captain America does have a fun tone for it, but the middle is where it begins to slow down and again I’d put more of the blame on the script, but Pyun doesn’t really make up for it. The film does get back on track in the final act and like I said the film works on the so bad it’s good level (though I don’t exactly think it was poorly made, but just limited by its budget).
Captain America does feature a very good cast with accomplished actors such as Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty and Scott Paulin. These actors handle their roles well despite their characters lacking depth. Paulin is quite a joy to watch as Red Skull. Matt Salinger the son of Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger actually makes for a very good Steve Rogers/Captain America and while he isn’t often talked about in the role given a better production I think more people would have seen how good he was in the role.
Overall Captain America is not a good film by any means, but if you like B-movies this film can be enjoyable. It does have a fun cheesy feel, but the middle is when I did begin to lose some interest until the final act. There was potential here though even with a proper budget I’m not sure results would have been any better if I’m being totally honest. While Captain America isn’t gonna be in my top 10 superhero themed films I can however enjoy it for what it was and what it wanted to be. The films reputation isn’t exactly positive and I can’t say I’m shocked even if I did get some enjoyment out of it.