Shout! Factory // 1979 // 203 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // November 13th, 2011
Tina: "How can I thank you?"
Captain America: "Just be happy."
The more successful Marvel Comics is at crafting faithful, big-budget adaptations of superhero franchises, the more their dark, embarrassing past comes back to haunt them. This Disney-owned comic book giant spent the better part of its life selling off the movie rights to franchises to whoever wanted them, resulting in embarrassements like Roger Corman's Fantastic Four, Nick Fury: Agent of Shield starring David Hasselhoff, and worst of all the 1979 Captain America made-for-TV movies.
Steve Rogers (Reb Brown, Space Mutiny) is a Marine veteran, home from duty and looking to kick back, cruise the coast in his conversion van, and pay for stuff with pencil drawings. It was supposed to be the American dream...until the government calls on him to serve. Dr. Simon Mills (Len Birman, Silver Streak) finds Rogers wants to inject him with FLAG, a special syrum developed by his father during World War II. It apparently only works on Steve Rogers.
After plenty of coaxing and a near-death experience with some goons, Rogers accepts his role as America's hero: Captain America. And he's just in time to thwart some greedy, nuke-stealing industrialists.
Rogers returns in Captain America II: Death Too Soon, where he faces off against a terrorist (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) who has a rapid-aging chemical he's about to unleash on Portland, Oregon.
Spider-Man once wore a utility belt. Nick Fury had an exploding eyeball. Captain America fought crime while wearing a motorcycle helmet. It's hard to believe these are the sort of divergent adaptations comic book fans used to settle for.
Nothing about Captain America is done well. Set in modern day 1979, both films are packed full of lazy patriotism, generic villains, and lots and lots of padding -- all set to a kinky '70s soundtrack. The plot moves along at a snail's pace, as director Rob Holcomb opts for lengthy sequences of vans and motorcycles driving around instead of rising action or climax. Not lending the film any energy at all is Steve Rogers himself, a beefy, dumb hunk before he ever has a drop of the super-soldier-steroid. Once Captain America does kick into gear, any conflict is quickly resolved with a good old fashioned warehouse fight. It's clear early on that either of these movies (but more specifically the first) are generic enough to be about any crime fighter, whether he's a steroid-pumped superhero or man with a mullet and Swiss Army knife.
The more egregious error, however, lies in the soul of these films. The Steve Rogers I know, the one that lit up the box office this past summer in Captain America: The First Avenger, is eager, ready, and willing to fight for his country. He refuses to take no for an answer. That's the whole point of him being a tool for American propaganda: he encapsulates everything this country stands for. Reb Brown's Rogers is a self-centered "motocross expert," trying to kick back with some surfers and hang out, thrilled to be done with his service as a Marine. Not only that, but the first film spends over half of its runtime showing us how Dr. Mills had to bribe Rogers into helping his country: he fixes up his van and installs a motorcycle launcher, gives Steve his FLAG stereoid while on his death bed, and makes him a fancy new dirt bike outfit that's close to infringing on Evil Knievel. Just about every bit of theme and ethos here is out of character. Perhaps this is just a sign of the disillusioned era in which this was written, summed up nicely with this awesome exchange:
Rogers: "The American ideal. It's a little tough to find these days, isn't
Dr. Mills: "Not if you know where to look."
Rogers: "Right on."
The second film, Captain America II: Death Too Soon is every bit as generic and absurd as the first. Cap splits his time between working on a farm helping animals and tracking down the notorious terrorist, Miguel (Lee). You would think, with all of the dull origin story stuff out of the way, this film would feel a little more fluid and exciting. Instead, it's even more lame, with action scenes hinging on the slow, warbling toss of Cap's plastic shield. Director Ivan Nagy mistook "running" as a form of action, as Rogers is constantly ducking behind trees and avoiding machine gun fire; occasionally, he takes the time to knock out a bad guy. For all intents and purposes, this sequel could have been an hour long.
These films aren't beyond redemption. Aside from being a lesson in abusing artistic license, they're also stupidly fascinating. If you like to laugh at unintentionally bad cinema, then you will get a kick out of Captain America I & II. The acting, with maybe the exception of Christopher Lee, is horrendous; Reb, who has been maligned enough thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000, spends a hefty amount of screentime staring into space or posing. The action sequences are even worse: the first movie has a lengthy fight scene in a meat locker, and the sequel finds Cap chasing down a couple of purse snatchers riding in a dune buggy. Even the motorcycle vs. helicopter chase feels laborious. Compentency eludes the filmmakers throughout the 200+ minutes of footage.
Shout! Factory has gone above and beyond the call of duty by merely considering releasing these stinkers on DVD. There's no special features to speak of, and the full frame transfer is fuzzy and dated. The best thing about this two-movie set is that the menu animation sequence outshines the content it presents.
If you approach Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon with the right mindset -- as awful, cheesy adaptations worth laughing at with your friends -- you won't be disappointed. If, however, you're looking for anything remotely exciting or well-made, stick with The Incredible Hulk. This Captain America adaptation should be frozen at the bottom of the Atlantic.
Review content copyright © 2011 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Bottom 100 Discs: #36
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 203 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: Captain America
* IMDb: Captain America II: Death Too Soon