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The Marvel Movies: Captain America (1990)

by on May 27, 2011
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The year? 1990, one summer season after DC Comics’ “Batman” adaptation was the runaway hit of the summer. Burton’s movie made superheroes cool again, and Marvel, which had found success on TV with “The Incredible Hulk” and its subsequent TV movies, scrambled to get its own heroes on the big screen.

The first effort, “The Punisher,” failed to even hit cinemas, instead dropping straight to video. But even that film fared better that the next film, “Captain America,” which not only missed out on a theatrical release but sat for two years before it even made video.

Where did Cap go wrong? Well, first off, the man playing him is Matt Salinger. If that name sounds familiar but kind of not, here’s your connection: Salinger is the son of J.D. Salinger, legendary author of “The Catcher in the Rye.” What are his acting credentials, especially to lead Marvel’s, er, flagship hero? Sure, he was in “Revenge of the Nerds” and had a couple of TV movies to his credit, but to lead Marvel onto the big screen? Certainly not.

Next, they saddled Cap with a silly story, terrible production values, bad visual effects and horrid acting. Well, it’s acting mostly in the sense that the people who are playing the characters are really not those characters. Don’t forget a really ridiculous looking rubber suit that looks really uncomfortable (and Salinger looks vaguely cross-eyed wearing it).

Steve Rogers (Salinger) is an all-American blue-blooded teenager in 1943 who just wants to serve his country. Problem is he has a permanent limp that keeps him from being able to enlist until a turncoat Nazi doctor intervenes. (To be clear: She’s a Nazi who developed the secret formula for the Nazis, then defected when she saw them use the serum on a young Italian boy before it was ready — transforming him into the Red Skull.)

So Rogers is given the perfected serum, which endows him with borderline-superhuman strength, speed and agility; he’s virtually turned into a world-class athlete overnight. The doctor is probably killed and since she kept her data in her head, the serum is lost.

Cap immediately joins the war and takes on the Skull; he is captured and strapped to a missile aimed at the White House. The missile is launched, but Cap diverts it at the last minute and crashes in Alaska, freezing Cap in suspended animation. A young boy happened to be standing in front of the White House with his camera in the middle of the night at the time and photographed the missile.

Cut ahead 50 years; Some hikers discover Cap’s body. The young boy who took the photo is now president of the United States (Ronny Cox). The Red Skull (Scott Paulin) is now an Italian businessman/crime boss (responsible for the deaths of Robert F. and John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King) — now merely scarred rather than a deformed freak thanks to some plastic surgery.

Cox, in a rare move after making a career out of playing villains, plays a benevolent President of the United States while Darren McGavin, known for playing fatherly types, plays an evil turncoat. Ned Beatty also makes an appearance as an investigative reporter who saves Cap.

The movie is full of strange inconsistencies, nonsensical developments and plot holes. For instance, Cap’s shield is like a boomerang, bouncing back to him when he throws it, which carries over from the comics and is a cool touch. It also apparently has the ability to make vehicles explode, which, to my knowledge, is a new feature for this film.

Others: At one point, Cap tries to stop the rocket launch by grabbing onto the Skull as he’s strapped to the missile. Rather than stop the launch, Skull cuts off his own hand. Why not just stab Cap, or cut off hishand? Also, why give Cap his super-awesome, top-secret boomerang shield back? (They strap it to the missile with him.) Shouldn’t it be studied or at least be repainted with a swastika on it since it’s such a rare, valuable weapon?

Another rather un-Cap-like move: When Beatty rescues him, Cap is convinced it’s still 1943 and he’s in the midst of a conspiracy perpetuated by the Nazis. Beatty rescues him and they zoom off in his Volkswagen pickup. Cap, trying to escape him, pulls the old “I’m gonna be sick. Can you pull over?” routine, then repeats it with Sharon Carter later in the film. So Captain America, the most heroic man in the world, sissies out from overpowering Ned Beatty and a woman, for crying out loud?

Then of course you have the ending, in which the in-his-prime Cap fights the now-geriatric Skull. Scintillating stuff there.

“Captain America” is arguably the worst Marvel movie, one that couldn’t even garner a straight-to-video release at a time superheroes should have been red-hot, cinematically speaking. Of course, Cap’s main contender for that title comes up next.

Next time: Marvel’s first family finally gets a film … kind of.

Previous Marvel Movie Entries

Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Red Sonja (1985)
Howard the Duck (1986)
The Punisher (1989)