As Bad As You Thought Avengers Month Edition: Captain America (1990)

Whenever you bring up the idea of a full fledged Captain America movie people immediately conjure up images of Chris Evans on a World War II battlefield plowing through HYDRA agents in the bad assiest way possible. This is because people have selective memory and forget that in 1990 there was another Captain America movie, though this one not so great. Starring Matt Salinger the son of famed novelist JD “I have no son” Salinger as the Star Spangled hero in a K-Mart brand suit fighting a Not So Red Skull. Having gone straight to video and lost to time this movie has been missed by many, but with The Avengers getting ready to hit theaters as the crowning achievement of Marvel’s movie efforts it is time to look at one of their biggest failures as ask if Captain America is as bad as you thought.

On a dark night in World War II era Europe a kid plays piano for an adoring crowd in Italy, before Nazis come crashing in and grabbing the kid. Then in a dungeon somewhere a group of officers in suits which mix elements of WW2 German and Italian uniforms (seriously what country are they from) and watch a film of an evil science experiment and plot how many more evil villain cliches they can pull off. After the movie which I’m sure gave a producer credit to Leni Riefenstahl, the cabal of Nazists (Nazis and Facists mixed because I can’t figure out what country these guys are from) behold the resultsof the evil experiment and it is a super buff rat with no skin, obviously the evil experiment has some bugs that need to be worked out. Bugs or no bugs they wouldn’t be villains if the science experiment did not turn something into a monster, so as expected the boy they captured gets thrown into the chair for some monsterfication to the horror of the scientist who invented the program. I guess she never figured that her machine built with Nazi funding to turn people into ‘roided out monsters with red skin would be used for evil. I think it would make more sense to turn an adult into a super soldier of evil instead of a kid, who super powers or not can be taken out by a grown up.

Seven years later in the good ol’ US of A (we know this because the sub titles at the bottom of the screen tell us that we’re in Washington DC) the president looks over classified documents that tells about the scientist from Italy who is trying to create her own super soldier in America, because the first shot turned out so well. Worried because the Germans have their own super soldier a “boy” by the name of the Red Skull, President Roosevelt gives his OK to it. According to FDR’s aid their first volunteer is a boy named Steve Rogers from California (not New York?) and as soon as the words escape his mouth we see a house and the words at the bottom of the screen tell us it’s in California, but didn’t the guy just say where it was? I guess they REALLY want us to know it’s in California. In the midst of a family get together we meet young Steve Rogers who….waitaminute this guy is easily in his thirties, why is he still living in his mother’s house? And poor and sickly “young man” nothing while his physique is not perfect he looks like he’s in fairly good shape. All this program needs to do is fix his weird limp that seems to come and go for him and he’s good enough to be a soldier.

Anyways, at the party before he leaves, he notices his girlfriend is not there and runs down the street to find her. She’s not at her home so he goes down to the coast, gets around pretty good even with the weird limp, and finds her there. I don’t know how important she is to the plot but for the few seconds she is on screen she cries and pitches a fit with the best of them about her beloved Steve going overseas, promising in near hysterics that she will wait forever for him. I guess the actress realized this crappy movie was about as far as her career was going and threw out all the stops. At the end of the day the army sends the scientist woman to pick him up and take him to a diner in the middle of no where, except when they get out of the car the woman scientist has magically transformed into a male military officer, I guess her super soldier program still has some bugs to work out.

In the laboratory beneath the diner Senator Kirby (now bring one of the greatest comic artists ever into this watches as they begin. Kirby is amazed that this experiment will take a frail kid with polio and

“You guys! I think the machine broke nothing happened!”

make him into a world class athlete and to prove it they’re gonna test it out on a pretty healthy guy with a weird limp, who was apparently the best candidate out of six hundred volunteers which makes me wonder about the other 599 guys. Like creating a Frankenstein monster the crew activate a lot of machines that shoot off sparks and electricity and behold as Steve Rogers’ muscles grow just a little bit. When all is said and done, Rogers has transformed into, well nothing he looks exactly the same.

“So Captain, you come to this bar often?”

As anyone who knows the story knows, a Nazi spy is among them and opens fire killing the scientist, but is stopped by a single punch from the Captain. Cap is pretty injured in the attack but is stirred into recovery by the fact that the Nazis are building a rocket and he is the only one who can stop it, aside from all of the regular soldiers in the military I mean. The next scene is him and the army colonel who has been overseeing this whole project flying to the sight of the missile, the same colonel who let an obvious spy into a secret laboratory if I were Cap I would find someone else to put my trust in personally. Rogers brings up the fact that his uniform that the dead scientist chose for him is not really conducive to camouflage, but the colonel reassures him that it was because the scientist loved the good ol’ red, white, and blue. ‘Merica bitches. Rogers also complains that his only weapon is a shield that he’s not that good at fighting with, I guess giving him a gun was too much effort, but not to fear a whole TWO resistance fighters would be escorting him to the missile launch site. They want to make sure that they’re only poorly trained and already injured super soldier has all the back up he needs. He parachutes down into the wild blue yonder and upon landing it is the dead of night, how long did it take him to fall out of that plane?

On the gorund he bravely charges up to the secret Nazi lair and his shocked when they spot the guy in a cheap blue Halloween costume brandishing a shiny shield, this would be a good time for that back up from the resistance fighters they talked about on the plane, I guess they got a glimpse of the super soldier and refused to take him seriously, can’t blame them. In one fling of his shield he brings down an entire guard tower and the shield comes right back to him because physics is awesome. He runs through a gaunlet of enemy fire and throws his shield at a truck which sets off a series of explosions because… I got nothing.  He clumsily fights through several enemy soldiers like Jar Jar Binks fighting Battle Droids, until he comes face to face with the Red Skull. Damn, just seven years before he was just a kid, now he’s a full fledged adult, is that a side effect of the experiment? I must admit the Red Skull looks REALLY bad ass like something from a nightmare, I mean in my honest opinion he looks better than Hugo Weaving did in the role, not even the ridiculously over the top acting from Scott Paulin can detract from it. Too bad what happens later on in the movie ruins it all. This leads to a very one sided fight as the Red Skull takes Cap to town, a great first outing for our hero. Of course because the villains in this

“Now turn your head and cough and this’ll be over soon”

movie thus far have learned their trade from Snidely Whiplash, the Red Skull ties Cap to the missile which is heading straight to the White House, geez that’s a lot of rocket fuel. So on the first outing of the great Captain America he succeeds in, losing his resistance escort, fighting foot soldier with the help of the Lucky-Fu fighting style, and got easily defeated and captured by the Red Skull who strapped him to a missile and launches him across the Atlantic, I would hate to see the other 599 guys who applied for this position. The only victory he can claim is that the Red Skull lost a hand, but that’s because he voluntarily hacked it off when Cap grabbed him. Seriously, why even bother wasting the millions of tax payers dollars on something this stupid, I guess the US Government in the 1940’s had more in common with the government of today than we originally thought.

In Washington DC an obnoxious insomniac of a kid leaves his hotel room and ventures off to explore the city and take pictures. As he does he is able to get a shot of the Cap Rocket zooming by as the Captain kicks it hard enough to send it off course and onto who knows where? A hospital? A homeless shelter? A bus full of babies? It’s anyone’s guess. Luckily it lands in the frozen tundra of Alaska. Now the distance from Germany to DC is close to 4,000 miles and from DC to Alaska is close to 4,200 miles, man the Red Skull knew how to made a durable missile. The next day the boy and his friend who is an aspiring reporter debate who the man on the rocket was, discussing which member of the classic team the Invaders it was, in comics it would have been the biggest baddest member of the team but in the world of this movie, it was the clumsiest hero of them all. After that we are treated to a nice montage of newspapers showing the passing of time and the life of the kid as he grows up and eventually becomes president, wasn’t this movie supposed to be about Captain America? The montage ends with a reporter informing us that President Tom Kimball was heading to Rome for a meeting with world leaders where he would propose a series of international policies that would ban several common industrial practices but, by his own admission would sink the economy by costing the jobs of millions of people, but if this bill is not passed everyone will die…slowly. I like this guy already.

Back in the Oval Office he finds his top general played by the late great Darren McGavin snooping around. McGavin tries to cut a deal with the president on the bill but President Kimball tells him that if he wants to make a deal he should buy a used car, it’s an attempt at a joke I think. In an old fortress in Italy a group of villains sit around a fancy dinner table drinking wine and discussing evil stuff, personally I’m surprised Cobra Commander, Dr. Doom, and Mr. Burns aren’t there, and are being led by none

Now he just looks like a guy with a skin condition

other than the Red Skull! Also at the table is the general from the Oval Office, he got to Italy quickly. I am glad he’s there though, because his blatant Americanism clashes so much with the evil European guys in suits theme that it’s hilarious for all the wrong reasons. It is at this time we see the greatest horror of this movie; remember how cool the Red Skull looked earlier well now he looks like a Dick Tracy villain! Seriously what was the point of even having the Red Skull in the movie if this is what they were gonna do, it would be like if after Darth Vader stormed the blockade runner in Star Wars he changed into blue jeans and a hoodie. I can’t even call him the Red Skull anymore in good conscience because he is neither red nor a skull, I’m gonna call him Chuck. Chuck, doing his best Bond villain impersonation tells his evil cohorts that killing the president is not the answer, but using a thing he invented controlling his mind, the only things missing is a hearty, “mwahahahaha.”

Suddenly the movie remembers that it is supposed to be about Captain America and not the struggles of President Kimball. In Alaska a research team discovers Cap frozen in a block of ice and tries to figure out what to do with him. Fortunately it is not a problem for long because Cap dramatically breaks out of the ice, why didn’t he just do that in the first place?  Before he leaves the crew takes a picture of the newly revived Cap, and it makes the newspapers. The president sees the picture and immediately recognizes him as the man from the rocket. Does the president track down this man by dispatching the best Army Rangers of Navy SEALS at his disposal? Actually he just calls up his reporter friend from when he was a kid to go to Alaska and find him. I have to say for a reporter who has regular phone calls from the President of the United States, he does not seem to be that high up on the professional ladder from the looks of it. In Rome, the Red Skull learns of Captain America’s return and being the ruthless super villain he is, he sends his teenage daughter to find him. In the comics, his daughter is a villain named, Sin and is quite capable of going toe to toe with the Star Spangled Avenger, but this girl is clearly not Sin.

Cap travels through the forest but a helicopter blaring bad Eurotrash music is hot on his heels, the chopper is being flown by Skull’s daughter, she got to America and found him incredibly quickly, maybe I sold her short. Suddenly the one helicopter becomes TWO helicopters, must be Nazist magic. The helicopters land and a couple of people on motorcycles emerge and take off, but how did motorcycles fit on…nevermind I learned from Cap’s first (failed) mission that logic does not apply to this world. Skull’s daughter seems to think their best course of action is to ride their bikes really fast through a maze of trees and rough terrain to hunt down Cap. Remember that thing I said about selling her short, well I wish to retract that statement.

When dangerous comes aknockin’ Captain America goes a hidin’

In order to stop them the brave living embodiment of liberty and freedom…runs away, great hero. Luckily he is saved when Sam the reporter pulls up (what are the odds of the happening?) and tries to get some intelligence to help discover the Red Sku….er Chuck’s motives, but upon seeing that his car was made in West Germany and his tape recorder was made in Japan, the bold and resourceful Captain America…fakes being sick. They pull over and Cap crouches like he’s going to vomit, but when Sam gets out to check on the brave and upright super soldier, Captain America fakes him out and steals his truck. You know traditional Captain America stuff. How does he even know how to drive an automatic vehicle from decades in his future, but it does not matter because it’s time to SOFT ROCK!!!!!!! That’s right a singer doing his best Bob Seger impersonation plays and sings a ballad expressing Cap’s loneliness (I’d be alone too if I stole a car and stranded the only person trying to help me) as Cap puts on normal clothes that he got from somewhere and proceeds to travel on foot and stow away on and hitch hike around.  Man this incarnation of the Sentinel of Liberty could be taken out by a troop of Girl Scouts.

Captain America thanks the (really) dumb luck that has preserved him thus far as the truck he randomly stowed away on travels from Canada to California without stopping. As he adjusts to this new world, he finds his old girlfriends house and randomly comes onto a random girl he thinks is her, except who looks completely different, and because it is safe to say the Captain America in this flick is not the tough as nails character from the comics the young woman easily takes him out and calls for her parents to call the cops. Her mother happens to be the over dramatic girlfriend from decades earlier who is shocked to see Steve Rogers has not aged, oh and her husband looks like he could easily stomp Cap’s face into the pavement for harassing his daughter. Cap and his ex share a tender moment in the kitchen  where things get really awkward. But hot on his trail is Sam the reporter as well as Chuck’s daughter and her Eurotrash gang she picked up from the disco-tech, seriously even I could beat up these henchmen. All the while Cap takes up with his old flame’s daughter, Sharon (yeah someone’s gonna need some therapy after this movie) and watches a bunch of videos to conveniently catch up with American history up until that point. It is then he realizes that the scientist who made him Captain America had a diary that contained the Red Skull’s real name, and I’m really not sure why that’s important. During their movie night they get a phone call that the Eurotrash gang has killed  Sharon’s parents as well as Sam.

But they are not given time to grieve as it is soon learned that the president has been kidnapped! The traitorous general come on TV telling everyone in the most suspicious and upbeat fashion that they have nothing to worry about. The president as been kidnapped and everything’s going to be alright?! Well, it is because Captain America is on the case and as soon as he finds the scientist’s diary and discovers the Red Skull’s real name, he’ll find the president. Cap and Sharon go back to the old diner which housed the lab which is still surprisingly there in it’s original state. But as soon as he finds the diary, Chuck’s henchmen close in on him. Luckily he finds a trash can lid and can wield it like a shield which surprises me because I didn’t think the Captain America in this movie even knew how to fight…well calling what he does in this scene fighting is being generous it’s more like sneaking around and getting in lucky shots when he can. They get away and crack open the diary, and by chance Sharon knows Italian, well that’s fortunate. The diary does not have the Red Skull’s name in it which kind of ruins the whole point of the mission but it does reveal that he is in Italy. They decide their best course of action is to go to the town in Italy where he was from and ask around for the Red Skull’s name, you know it’s not like the president has been kidnapped or anything, oh wait he has. But with the competency of Cap in this flick, I’m willing to put my faith in finding the president with the military or Interpol or anybody else but him. And again why is the Red Skull’s name that damn important! I guess they plan on defeating him via exorcism.

In the Lair of Evil, Chuck injects the president with his evil serum, which will soften the president’s tissues to make him susceptible to Chuck’s mind control. As Captain America and Sharon rush towards the Italian town to rescue….er find out the Red Skull’s name, seriously this is like watching a low budget version of The Da Vinci Code, Cap seizes his opportunity and pulls the whole car sick trick on Sharon like he did on Sam leaving her stranded in a foreign country, which I guess is better than the Canadian

He’s ready for anything…except danger he’s not too good with that

wilderness. And he does it all because he does not want to put her in danger, he has a point whenever danger comes a calling for Cap, he runs away or gets strapped to a rocket. Cap is able to find the house that he is looking for only to find it abandoned, a blonde girl from a neighboring building in wondering what he is doing, and once he discovers that she does not know a word of English he proceeds to explain his problem….in English, like a true American. Luckily Sharon, who has traveled with the same light speed technology everyone in this movie seems to have, and speaks to the woman in her native tongue and finds a recorder. And by the same pure dumb luck that has persisted through this movie, it records the kid’s piano concert from the beginning of the movie.

In a cafe, they plot their next course of action and get ambushed by Chuck’s daughter and her crew, and true to his character, he runs away from them. That is until he remembers that he has an indestructible shield (how did he get that through customs?) and uses it to clumsily defeat one of the bad guys, so he can have a clear path for more running away. They remember that back at the cafe Chuck’s daughter

left her purse and luckily it’ still there so they pick it up for clues. Inside the purse are the address to the Lair of Evil and a picture of her dad. Why they did not bother looking in the ominous castle off the coast to begin with is anybody’s guess, but they head off to save the president. How they plan on doing this without having discovered the Red Skull’s real name is surely to be a challenge. I hope Cap has had some good practice with his running away and faking being sick skills, because there will be bad guys aplenty I’m sure.

As he gets close to the castle Steve Rogers gets abandoned by Sharon, who goes off to actually stop the bad guys, she is inevitably captured leaving Mr. Rogers on his own. In the Dungeon of Chuck, Sharon discovers that she is beneath the president’s cell and that he has been using acid he has gotten from somewhere to melt away at the bars all the while Chuck keeps threatening to mind control him. Once Steve Rogers gets close enough to the Lair of Evil, he opens his back pack to reveal that his Captain America suit has been there the whole time and he suits up. Holy crap I forgot this was a Captain America movie! I was beginning to think it was the tale of two people trying to discover a man’s name!

Not willing to wait on his costumed rescuer, the president finally succeeds at kicking open the weakened bars of his cell and escaping and then sets off to save Sharon, who’s the hero of this movie supposed to be again? When Chuck’s henchman return to the cell they open it up to discover President Kimball has escaped! I don’t know why they had to open the cell to discover that, I mean it is your standard iron bar cell, they should have been able to clearly see he was missing. President Bad Ass charges through the castle looking for an escape until he is surrounded by Chuck and his men and literally has no where left to go, but rather than surrendering to Chuck, he leaps off the turret rather than be mind controlled. but before he can plummet to his death a man in a silly costume scaling the wall grabs him, waitaminute the guy in the silly costume is the hero of the movie I forgot about that. Meeting the man strapped to the rocket he saw as a kid and learning Chuck killed his reporter buddy, inspires the Ass Kicker and Chief to press on with his mission to defeat Chuck, and takes off through a hail of enemy gunfire while Cap follows him close behind except he’s hiding behind a shield so he moves a bit slower. When they run into henchmen, Cap distracts them with his shield while Kimball beats their faces in. President Kimball makes it to a radio and calls in NATO for assistance and because he is so tough, they believe it’s the president and set out to help.

“I told you before; no means no!”

Finally in a moment of pure cheesy done-to-death cliches, Captain America finds a talkative Chuck, while Sharon is being held with a gun to her head. With no where left to run it is time to see if his heart is stronger than Chuck’s hate (actual movie line). As Cap slowly and cautiously approaches his arch nemesis, the president and Sharon are busy taking out the henchmen, clearing the way. Chuck pulls out a machine gun, but Captain America gets his shield tossed to him by the president and with a “Mr. President. Thanks.” and a thumbs up Captain America continues the fight until Chuck pulls out a nuclear detonator, in the traditional movie villain “if I go down everyone dies” way. The injured Captain America is forced to find the tape of the red Skull’s piano recital and play it to distract him emotionally for a brief second, before he goes right back to his nuclear detonator, a man and his toy am I right? FINALLY Captain America decides to throw his shield at him knocking Chuck and his daughter off the castle to their deaths and to his victory. The nuclear detonator is still ticking, but when you’re Captain America you don’t worry about little junk like that, he just beat the bad guy. In the end a voiceover informs us that all the nations agreed to President Real Hero of This Movie’s economy killing treaty, no mention if Congress actually ratified the treaty which according to the Constitution has to happen for the US to follow it’s own international agreements (see World War I aftermath for more information).

Was this movie as bad as I thought? I answer that with a big patriotic, YES! If what you know about Captain America comes from the comics from legends like; Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Mark Waid, Mark Millar, or Ed Brubaker then you will be disappointed to find that that Captain America is

The smug look of satisfaction that one can only get from doing the bare minimum to save the day

not in this movie. Instead the Captain America of this movie is a complete loser, he runs away from fights and steals cars, and he may have spent about five minutes of the movie in his actual costume. I realize that in many classic superhero movies like; Batman Begins and Spiderman the hero spent a good chunk of time out of costume; but in those movies the time spent as their alter egos built up the characters making the audience like them and learn who they were, in Captain America the time Steve Rogers is out of costume the audience learns to hate him even more. But while Captain America fails in every possible way in his attempts to be heroic, President Kimball gives President Harrision Ford from Air Force One a run for his money, why didn’t they just make him the main character, well for a good fifteen minutes of this movie he was. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m gonna put the 2011 Joe Johnson movie, Captain America into the DVD player to be reminded of who the character is supposed to be.