Oh man, I’ve been waiting to sink my teeth into this one for a long time now, and seeing as we’re just a week away from Captain America: Civil War, I figured what better time than now to look back at the embarrassment that was 1990’s Captain America movie?
I was originally going to do a scene-by-scene breakdown of this crapfest, but after about 15 minutes of film, I just realized I didn’t want to write an entire novel. There’s so much wrong with it right away that I don’t even think I could cover everything if I tried.
The story is very simple- Polio stricken young man, Steve Rogers, undergoes a secret experiment in 1943 that turns him into an olympic-grade athelete with the codename Captain America. With little to no training, he is sent to stop a missile from destroying the White House, but in the process finds himself frozen in ice. Fast forward to 1990, where Steve awakens and has to take on the same villain that he fought in the 40’s, the Red Skull, an Italian super soldier turned mafia crime boss who has kidnapped the President of the US for reasons.
Most of the story in the first act is explained via heavy-handed exposition- we only know what’s going on because some character, at some point, comes right out and says it. We never get to see anything play out, as if the first 20 minutes of the film is basically just a visual synopsis of the comic origin that does absolutely nothing aside from introduce the characters and plot. You know Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger) is a good guy because everyone has told you he is. Not once are we ever shown Steve doing anything heroic, nor do we know why it is he is chosen to be Captain America, or even why he would want to be. The movie just tells us “He’s the best candidate out of 600 men. That’s a lot of guys, and you should be impressed. Now let’s move on.”
What might be worse, though, is that even after he becomes Cap, we still have no reason to root for him. He gets a serious smackdown at the hands of the Red Skull before being strapped to a rocket and frozen. It’s his first (and only) mission during the war and he gets defeated! In, like, 3 minutes! To be fair, I don’t know what anyone was expecting when you send a guy with virtually no training, who even states at one point, “I just wish I had more time to practice”, out on his own against an entire army. Sure, he saves the White House by kicking the rocket he’s strapped to, but since he failed to stop the launch, and that WAS the mission, I’m still counting it as a wash. From there he does zero in the way of heroing. He kinda just runs around assuming everyone is a Nazi and puts others in the line of fire throughout his oddball international journey. Hell, I think he gets saved more times by Sharon than he actually helps anyone.
The movie does a better job of giving us reasons to love President Thomas Kimball (played by Ronny Cox) and convincing us that he’s a great guy who should probably be our main character. We know he can’t be bought, he has the people’s best interest in mind when making his decisions, and he’s a national hero. I would have loved to have seen this movie developed into a new version of Cap where Kimball is President of the free world by day, but justice-serving costumed crusader by night. “Captain America: Vigilante President”. I’m game for that.
I don’t know why the movie decided it was necessary to spend time developing his character instead of the titular hero, but it makes him one of the only likeable people in the entire film. The downside to that is that it causes the movie to spend an absurd amount of time on his stupid B-plot with his childhood friend-turned reporter, Sam (Ned Beatty). In fact, the B-plot is the only thing that propels the story in any direction, giving Sam an awful lot of convenient exposition to help guide Cap towards the Skull and save the President.
And the Red Skull…geez. I don’t know where to start with him.
The movie opens with a scene set in 1936 Italy where a young boy, Tadzio de Santis, is kidnapped by the Fascist government as part of an evil plan to create a world-conquering supersoldier. Before being dragged away, he is forced to watch his entire family gunned down right in front of him and then brought to a secret lab where he is strapped into a chair with a some sorta weird Halloween mask attached to it. The doctor in charge of the super soldier project, Dr. Maria Vaselli, objects to the use of this innocent child as the subject of her experiments, as any sane person would, but she can do nothing to stop the evil Italian army from continuing their mad plan and resolves to leap out a window as the boy screams in pain.
And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is the origin of this movie’s Red Skull. An innocent boy kidnapped by an evil government and horribly disfigured because he’s smart. I have a hard time hoping this tortured soul gets comeuppance.
At least he’s somewhat entertaining to watch, even if he’s actually the Red Skull for only about 5 minutes of screen time. And most of that time he’s less like the comic book version of Red Skull and more like…I don’t know…picture Super Mario with a steamed tomato for a head. And with that visual in mind it isn’t hard to tell why the Skull’s 1943 scenes are entertaining- who doesn’t love Mario? I do have to ask this, though- if your enemy, who is tied to a rocket, grabs your wrist just before it fires, wouldn’t you cut HIS hand off before removing your own? Not that it matters since The Red Skull’s missing hand never really plays into anything that happens the entire film. Plot beats that lead to things? Maybe I’m expecting too much.
In addition to some underdeveloped characters, we get a really half-baked story that moves along clumsily from plot point to plot point. The entire story hinges on some random happenings coinciding to go anywhere. Why does the Red Skull send his goons after Cap? Why does the reporter decide Cap is the only one who can help him save the President? Why does Sharon tag along? Well, dear viewer, there wouldn’t have been much a movie to speak of otherwise, that’s why. And when that’s the reason things happen in your film, maybe you shouldn’t be making it.
The action scenes are inexcusably boring in part due to the bad camera angles, crummy editing, and poor lighting, but also because I think it would help things if the audience cared AT ALL about what happened to the main character. Again, hard to root for a guy who is as interesting as a stale slice of bread and makes a habit of abandoning important expositional friends in other countries.
Watching Steve throw his mighty shield is like seeing a dad pass an oversized Frisbee to his kids. “Here, vaguely Nazi son, go long!” There’s no intent or power behind it in the slightest. Not only does it look ridiculous, but the shield has some seriously ill-defined abilities. In one throw it knocks a guy off a ledge and circles back in mid air to clock another person in the face, and then continues on straight back to Cap. As if it somehow decides it’s just time to go home. Physics!
I could really go on and on about just how bad this movie is all day long. How does the President know who Sharon is? What’s with the terrible soundtrack? Why are Captain America’s ears made of rubber?
After watching this movie, it’s really no wonder it only got a very limited theatrical release, even after being delayed a few times. The studio had sunk a few million bucks into making this monster and they were probably trying to figure out if they should unleash it onto an unsuspecting populace or burn it in a windmill. Ultimately, in 1992, the movie finally saw the light of day via direct-to-video release and that was met with some less than stellar reactions. It currently has a 9% rating on Rottentomatoes.com, and those reviews were written years after the movie’s release- long enough time for it to go from “terrible movie” to “campy cult classic”. Yet somehow this movie is just so bad it can’t even garner the respect that Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four travesty receives (a movie which sits at a solid 29% on that same site).
Sadly this was not Cap’s worst cinematic outing, as the atrocity that was the 1979 made-for-TV movie starring Reb Brown was far more mind-numbing. Maybe I’ll go ahead and review that one day, but for now I don’t think I can handle much more abuse. I need some MCU to wash this taste out of my mouth. Bring on Civil War!