MGM // 1990 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // August 30th, 2011
Evil is about to see red, white and (black and) blue!
If not the most popular than at least the most patriotic, Marvel Comics super soldier Captain America has been fighting the dastardly forces of darkness for more than half a century. To coincide with this summer's release of a big budget version of Captain America, MGM/Fox Home Entertainment is releasing -- or unleashing on an unsuspecting public may be more apt -- the 1990 version of Captain America!
It's 1963 in Fascist Italy and a small kidnapped boy must watch his family be brutally slaughtered in front of him. The boy is then used in a secret experiment that will alter both his body and mind, in turn creating the vindictive Red Skull (Scott Paulin). In the United States a similar experiment is conducted on all-American volunteer Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger, son of "Catcher in the Rye" author J.D. Salinger), whose newly created super speed, strength and smarts earn him the superhero status of Captain America.
When Captain America is sent hurtling on a rocket while trying to stop the Red Skull, he's buried under mounds of ice and snow until he is dug up and thawed out in present day 1990. The good Captain learns that Red Skull is still alive and is now the leader of a powerful crime syndicate as well as a mastermind behind the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. The Red Skull's next target is President Kimball (Ronny Cox, Robocop) and it's up to Captain America to make sure Red Skull's ultimate plan of mass destruction is thwarted before it's too late (or too early...you can never tell in these movies).
I saw director Joe Johnston's newly minted Captain America this past summer and found it be monumentally disappointing. While some reviews praised its pro-America gung-ho, 'can do' attitude, I found it the remake/reboot/restart far too square for its own good. Then again, what are your options when you're dealing with a superhero dressed like a 4th of July Old Navy commercial? The good news is that no matter what, the 2011 version of Captain America is superior in almost every single way when compared to this 1990 version of Captain America.
I won't pretend that while I watched the 1990 version of Captain America I wasn't comparing it to its 2011 counterpart. The newer version of Captain America at least makes a noble attempt to make Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans) a character with vested interest. Matt Salinger, on the other hand, creates a Captain America whose personality shines about as brightly a five watt bulb in a fifty thousand square foot warehouse on the moon. Salinger can't seem to generate much charisma as the titular hero; Captain America comes off as slightly smarter than a sack of potatoes, and just as dense. Even worse is Captain America's outfit, which looks like a Halloween costume you can pick up at your local seasonal store. There is a reason why Salinger never went on to international acclaim as an action hero -- he is, plain and simply, the wrong actor for this material.
Similarly, Hugo Weaving's 2011 Red Skull is a far more interesting and sinister version of the character; Scott Paulin's Red Skull drowns in a thick, stereotypical Italian accent that sounds like the chef on The Simpsons ("Cap'n America, I is-a gonna to snap-a yo neck like a...how you say?...chicken bone!"). Oddly, the Red Skull's makeup actually looks (mostly) convincing (considering how low the film's budget was). The supporting cast is made up of some semi-famous faces, including a mini Deliverance reunion with Ned Beatty as a news reporter and Ronny Cox as the President of the United States. Both men are fine actors but the script gives them little to do except react to Captain America's adventures and recite ham-fisted dialogue that adds nothing to the proceedings. If someone can write me with a plausible explanation as to how it's possible Stan Lee was one of the producers of something so crappy, I'll send you everything I have in my bank account.
The movie's biggest sin is that it's just plain boring; there is little here that sets Captain America apart from other cheap looking straight-to-DVD titles. Director Albert Pyun (who also helmed such classic clunkers as Alien from L.A. and Kickboxer 2: The Road Home) has about as deft a touch as a bull suffering a seizure in a china shop. Scenes are cut together poorly and without much cohesiveness (many of the fight scenes are confusing, and this is years before Michael Bay made this kind of editing a bastardized art form). The effects work is mostly horrendous, which should come as no surprise to anyone since A.) this was made in 1990 on a budget of about a buck and a quarter and B.) no one except hardcore comic book geeks and film nerds (like myself) have heard of it. One of my favorite shots is when Captain America is strapped to a rocket which blows past the White House -- it's the least convincing special effect on film, and this includes Megan Fox's breasts. As a side note, you know you're in a heap of trouble when one of the movie's big action set pieces takes place on a bicycle.
The truth is that Captain America is a murky mess of a movie that doesn't hold a candle to any superhero movie of the past 20 years. If you do feel the need to plop down and subject yourself to this version of Captain America, you might as well multiply your pain by making it a double feature with the 1994 Roger Corman produced Fantastic Four. Misery loves company.
Captain America is presented in a dreadful looking 1.33:1 full frame version. While fans probably shouldn't have been expecting anything too impressive, this transfer is downright painful to look at. For those of you who bought bootleg copies of this movie on VHS and DVD over the years at comic book conventions, hold on to them -- this transfer is only the slightest notch above a VHS print. Even worse is that the film is in a cropped full frame format! Scenes set in darkness are nearly unwatchable while the daylight scenes lack any true detail. While the movie didn't require a new digital master, it most certainly deserved something better than this. The fact that MGM is charging full price for such a shoddy product is shameful. The soundtrack is presented in what I assume is Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (no mention is made on the package, natch) and is, at least, far better than the picture quality. Dialogue, effects and music are all evenly recorded and distinguishable. No alternate subtitles or soundtracks are available on this disc.
The only extra feature included is a theatrical trailer for the film.
Captain America is a bad movie. Sadly, it doesn't even fall under the ubiquitous "so bad it's good" category -- it's just plain terrible. MGM's work on this disc is near appalling; even though there's a disclaimer at the beginning that notes the print was struck from "the best elements available," I find it hard to believe this is the best they could do. For nearly twenty dollars, this is an easily skipped product.
Captain America is found guilty of almost every charge in the US law
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13