Captain America (Blu-ray)
Shout! Factory / 1990 / 97 min. / PG-13
Captain America was the very first Marvel Comics character to be adapted for the silver screen all the way back in 1944 with the 15 chapter Republic serial of the same name. Apart from some character names and the costume there was actually little resemblance to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's star spangled comic book hero. Unfortunately, despite several attempts to bring Steve Rogers and the evil Red Skull to live-action life on both the big screen and small, it would take a whopping 70 years for someone to get it right.
In 1990 prolific Z-budget genre director Albert Pyun (of THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER, ALIEN FROM L.A., and the direct to video Full Moon Entertainment titles DOLLMAN and ARCADE fame) tried his hand at bringing the characters to the silver screen in what became the first Captain America feature film. The result only played theaters in a few European countries and went straight to video in America. It was difficult to find when it came out and the critics who did review it bashed it mercilessly. Unlike the Republic serial this CAPTAIN AMERICA tried to stay true (well, truer) to the comic book characters. However, as we learn from Pyun himself in this discs supplement, overwhelming problems behind the scenes (from non-existent budgets cutting virtually all of the scripts main action set pieces to stifling restrictions from Marvel limiting what his team could do) ultimately sank this ship to the point where he has never seen the finished product.
Our story opens in 1936 Fascist Italy with a brilliant young boy being abducted for a secret government project to create a supersoldier. The result, of course, leads to the boy becoming Red Skull (Scott Paulin.) Flash-forward seven years. The scientist behind the Fascist supersoldier program has defected to America and has improved her formula. Polio-stricken Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger) volunteers for the project and soon is donning a latex red, white and blue suit complete with matching shield and battling Red Skull in an attempt to thwart a plan to blow up the White House with a missile. Cap saves the Oval Office by diverting the missile (which he is strapped to) to Alaska but is frozen for the next 50 years. When he is found in 1993, Cap quickly discovers Red Skull is still around and has kidnapped the President of the United States (Ronny Cox.) With the look-alike daughter of his 1940's girlfriend in tow, the pair jet over to Italy to rescue the President and take down Red Skull once and for all.
While this CAPTAIN AMERICA has been bashed for everything from its bad acting and clumsily cobbled together script to the horrible make-up effects and general lack of the comic book Cap and Red Skull (Rogers only wears the Captain America costume at the beginning and the end of the film and Red Skull only looks like Red Skull for opening battle having had plastic surgery after the war), it is easy to see why it was dismissed when first released. However, time has actually been kind to this movie and it now plays like a comforting cheese fest; a whimsical but noble attempt that unfortunately failed on almost every front. What makes this film watchable and indeed enjoyable to us lovers of Z movies is Pyun's and Salinger's obvious love of the characters. They were really trying to make a good CAPTAIN AMERICA movie and their intention shines through the endless cutbacks and cheesy compromises they were forced to make just to get the film finished.
Is CAPTAIN AMERICA a good film? No. But boosted by a great cast that includes Ned Beatty, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon and Bill Mumy (granted they all have very limited screen time) it is a very noble attempt that has garnered a cult following over the years and is a great bad-movie night ride.
Shout! Factory has delivered a surprisingly good looking anamorphic 1.78 transfer for Cap. No, this disc won't win any awards but for a 20-plus year old direct to video title it looks really sharp and colorful.
The excellent transfer carries over to the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound mix as well. Overall, this is a great looking and sounding disc.
The sole supplement consists of "A Look Back at CAPTAIN AMERICA" with director Albert Pyun and star Matt Salinger. This is a solid 20 minute piece that is more than worth your time to check out as the pair (interviewed separately) openly discusses the limitations and endless behind-the-scene problems with the shoot without apologizing for anything. Great job, guys!
The pre-IRON MAN Marvel films may not have the mega-budgets and super-star power as the current "phases" do, but going back and revisiting the 1990 CAPTAIN AMERICA was certainly a campy blast and one that is easily RECOMMENDED for lovers of Z-grade movies.
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