For years now, we’ve been hearing about two Marvel movies that (almost) never saw the light of day: The Fantastic Four and Captain America, two ill-conceived and terribly shot pieces of cinematic crap whose collective awfulness was so legendary, it put anyone off the idea of making their own film based around these superheroes for decades after. While I’m still incapable of offering a decision on the former, I am proud to announce that—as of today—I am finally able to speak with authority about the latter. Read on for my Captain America (1990) review, after the jump (and prepare yourselves, people: you’re about to witness a vicious beating).
Allow me to introduce 1990’s Captain America (directed by Albert Pyun) to you in the same way that it introduced itself to me just a few hours ago.
“This film has been manufactured using the best source available”, says the Captain America DVD once you’ve pressed the “Play Movie” button on the film’s DVD Menu (speaking of which, the DVD menu features two still photos—the MGM lion logo and an image of the Captain America DVD cover box– along with a helpful note telling you that pressing the fast-forward button on your remote will advance the film in “ten-minute intervals”). If you weren’t convinced—by the stories you’ve heard about the film’s budgetary problems, by the god-awful reviews the film’s received over the years, or by the laughable cover box this piece comes nestled in—that you’re about to watch a tremendously bad movie, that apologetic message should get the message across.
“We did the best we could,” the DVD seems to shrug.
Earlier this year, Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger delivered on all the hype that Marvel, Johnston, and everyone else associated with the film had been bombarding us with for a full year leading up to its release. Whereas most expected Kenneth Branagh’s Thor to be the standout Marvel film of the summer, many (myself included) fell head over heels in love with Johnston’s film, instead. And if you’d told me five years ago that, one day, the guy known for cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare’s greatest works and the guy who directed Congo would both make superhero movies for Marvel, and that the Congo guy’s film [Correction: I meant Jumanji; Frank Marshall directed Congo] would be the better of the two, I would’ve laughed into your stupid face.
But there it was, in all its glory: Captain America: The First Avenger was one of the summer’s best films (admittedly, that’s not saying much, but still—it rocked), and when you add that to the decades-old rumors that Albert Pyun’s Captain America was one of the worst superhero films ever made, I leapt at the chance to review Pyun’s version for Collider. Hell, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this thing: were all those savage rumors about the film’s terribleness hyperbole, or was it actually that bad? Would it really be the “worst superhero film ever made”? Would the whispers about an Italian Red Skull with a full head of hair turn out to be true?
Uh, yeah. To pretty much everything. We’ll never know what Pyun’s original version of Captain America would have looked like—the funding on the film got massively reduced just before the film went into production, meaning that Pyun had to make his film with a fraction of the budget he’d been promised—but based on what I’ve seen here, no amount of money would have made this Captain America worth watching. Pyun (working from a script by Stephen Tolkin) displays a massive lack of talent, with many sequences, shots, and decisions approaching Ed Wood levels of incompetence. Take, for instance, the boom mics that sneak into a handful of shots. Take, for instance, the fact that Captain America’s shield can clearly be seen to be made of plastic on more than one occasion. Take, for instance, the decision to give the Red Skull a wacky Italian accent. It’s a cornucopia of fail, and there isn’t a single moment where it’s presented with anything other than a straight face.
Here’s the story: Steve Rodgers (played by Matt Salinger, son of J.D.)(!!!) volunteers to become a supersoldier for the U.S. government. Apparently, the Italians have created their own—with less favorable side effects—in the Red Skull, and in the film’s opening fifteen minutes, we see the Skull’s backstory, Rodgers become the Captain, and the two go head-to-head in an Italian…warehouse? Airplane hanger? Something or other, I guess, a place that’s capable of housing a ridiculously fake-looking rocket. The Captain and the Skull square off, the Captain loses, gets attached to the rocket, and is then shot overseas to Washington, DC, where the Skull hopes the rocket will crash into the White House (actual dialogue: “The, uh, how you say ‘casa bianca’? Oh, yes: White House”).
Needless to say, the rocket doesn’t crash into the Casa Bianca, and Rodgers instead lands “Somewhere in Alaska”, where he then rides out several decades while frozen to the rocket. During this time, the Red Skull keeps doing his thing, growing a full head of hair in the process and appearing a lot less “Red” than he did in the film’s opening sequence when we next see him. When the Captain finally frees himself from the ice, the film’s plot goes into effect, and though I could devote several paragraphs to its idiotic machinations, I’d rather just throw you some of the highlights (after all, the silliness of the plot is best left for you to discover).
Here’s a random list of things you will see in Captain America: Ned Beatty, last seen being sodomized up against a log in Deliverance; the Captain’s supersuit appears to be made from the exact same material that Target uses to make its pajama pants (which, unlike Albert Pyun’s Captain America, are absolutely worth every penny you might spend on them); a time-lapse sequence that takes place in-between Cap’s freezing and his thawing that completely redefines the word “amateurish” (newspaper headlines mixed with sound-bytes on a black background); a “sad” montage wherein Captain America hightails it to Canada (!!!) that includes a song with the lyrics “I’m alone in a cold, cold world” and other overly-earnest lyrics; 90’s fashions—clothing, hair, the whole bit—as far as the eye can see; some of the worst A/V quality you’ve ever seen on DVD.
The above paragraph could go on and on (at one point, I toyed with the idea of simply listing every embarrassing moment from the film instead of writing an actual review), but I think you get the point. While it’s true that Captain America (1990) is just as awful—if not moreso—than you’ve always heard it was, it’s worth noting that I watched Captain America in a roomful of rowdy, somewhat drunken individuals, and that the film played like gangbusters there. This is absolutely one of those “so terrible it’s awesome” movies, something in the vein of Troll 2 or the Super Mario Brothers movie (I can also recommend Samurai Cop, Hard Ticket to Hawaii, and Malibu Express if you’re a bad movie aficionado).
And so, while the film is a failure on every conceivable technical level—the acting’s wooden, the script is laughable, the special effects appear to have been completed by someone with profound retardation, the differences between this and the film’s comic book source material are enormous, and so on—I can’t help but recommend the film to those that enjoy seeing trainwrecks in action. Of late, I have found myself on a bit of a bad movie run, taking in as many purposefully bad titles as possible in my down time (this is the antidote for the week’s worth of awesome that was Fantastic Fest 2011, assuming that “awesome” needs an antidote), and Albert Pyun’s Captain America was amongst the very best of the worst. If you can find a copy of this thing, I strongly recommend that you pick it up, if only to show off to your drunken buddies when there’s nothing else worth watching.
My Grade? F- (as an actual movie), B+ (as a bad-movie watching experience)