Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action CAPTAIN AMERICA (1991)

CAPTAIN AMERICA (1991)

When “Batman” ignited Bat-Mania in 1989, Marvel Comics decided to get in on the act, and what better to use the 50th anniversary of Captain America to steal the Dark Knight’s thunder. Although trailers and movie posters hyped the film for a Spring 1990 release, it was ultimately shelved and snuck into video stores in late 1992 unheralded. There are numerous cases of great films being shelved and dumped onto the home video market, but sadly this isn’t one of them.

“Captain America” introduces us to Steve Rogers, a patriotic soul trapped in a sickly frame. That all changes when he agrees to participate in an experiment to transform him into a patriotic Hercules, using a process designed by a Nazi defector. While the experiment succeeds, but a Nazi spy kills the defector leaving Rogers the only American of his kind. But not the only one of his kind, as he quickly finds out. Parachuting into Germany to destroy a rocket headed for Washington, Captain America meets the Red Skull. The Germans have developed their own super soldier, but that plot point is quickly brushed aside as the two battle it out and Rogers is left strapped to the rocket and streaking towards his nation’s capital. Somehow knocking it off course, the rocket crashes into the Arctic , where Captain America lies frozen in hibernation for 50 years. Awakened in the modern era, he is soon horrified to learn the Red Skull is still alive and still up to his old tricks. The Red Skull now plans on kidnapping an environmentally minded president with the intent of implanting a mind controlling device in his brain; something everyone who’s aspired to the presidency dreads because it’s happening so much anymore. After five decades in a frozen state, the time has come for Steve Rogers to re-don his costume and become Captain America one more time.

It’s a lot easier to mention the positives of “Captain America” than the negatives, mainly because the positives are very few and far between. Probably the best thing about the film is Scott Paulin’s turn as the Red Skull. He gives an evil character an added sense of loneliness and isolation at being the only one of his kind, despite trying to lead a normal life and raise a daughter. Ronny Cox also gives it his best as the idealistic American president, at times looking as if he’s trying to channel Jimmy Stewart’s spirit–and he wasn’t even dead yet. To their credit, they at least put up a good effort, even if they’re essentially rearranging the Titanic’s deck chairs. Sadly, their efforts are swamped under a tsunami of terrible film-making.

Blame can be laid at the feet of writer Stephen Tolkein and director Albert Pyun for the essential implosion of the film. Tolkein has been quoted in interviews as to his dislike of the comic book genre, making you wonder why he accepted the job to write “Captain America”. Tolkein has Rogers in costume intermittently in the first third and finale of the film, something practically unacceptable to comic book fans. That major gaff would be forgiven if the rest of the script was a spectacular thrill ride, but “Captain America” is anything but that. An implausably ridiculous story coupled with wretchedly stilted dialogue amount to a film that is barely watchable. The film could have been salvaged by a talented visionary of a director, which Albert Pyun is anything but. Pyun manages to get the cast to say their lines and move the film along to its conclusion, but that’s about it. With sluggish and underdone action scenes, no suspense or dramatic tension to speak of, and mawkish acting-you can’t help but imagine Pyun staying in his trailer and yelling directions out his window instead of bothering to show up on the set.

Editor Jon Poll, who has gone on to a fairly prominent career in Hollywood, shows some inklings of talent cutting “Captain America”, and does a  fairly good in job assembling the film but no amount of time in the editing room can redeem this effort. On a lesser note, the musical score by Barry Goldberg and cinematography by Philip Alan Waters does no one any favors; they are at best serviceable and and at worst workmanlike. In the lead role of Captain America/Steve Rogers, Matt Salinger is uncharismatic and mostly dull, but you can’t help feeling anything but sympathy for him. He wanders around the film looking like a deer caught in the headlights of a tractor trailer, as if he knows the film is going to be terrible but can’t figure out how to escape.

It was sad that one of Marvel’s mightest heroes was given such a low budget and incompetent creative crew. Die hard comic book fans might want to hunt down a copy, but anyone else looking for a diverting adventure film best look elsewhere. Hopefully in 2011, this will be rectifyed when Captain America get the big screen treatment he rightly deserves.                  

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