Captain America: Civial War was huge. With a gigantic all-star cast of Marvel’s biggest names and huge action scenes, it was more on the scope of an Avengers movie rather than a standalone character movie. What is unexpected though is that over the course of two standalone and two Avengers movies, Captain America has become the crux of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: a series that once relied on Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man for its success now sees Chris Evans’ more straight-faced, patriotic hero as their flag carrying poster boy. While the Iron Man movies have gradually become more forgettable, Caps’ have progressed from the Second World War set, “Saturday Matinee Serial” throwback of Captain America: The First Avenger, to political allegory in The Winter Soldier, with far reaching consequences for all corners of the Marvel universe.
After the monumental success of Civil War earlier this year, I decided it was time to revisit the past cinematic adventures of Captain America. And that becomes the problem with the Marvel Cinematic Universe: it has become so vast with so many connecting storylines that trying to revisit anything now takes a lot of dedication and any excess holiday time available from work. The MCU is colossal at this point, which became dreadfully apparent to me last year when I sat down in my local cinema to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron. From the opening moments I was lost; I had no idea what the Avengers were doing or how they have come back together after several movies doing their own thing. At some point during the opening carnage I realised that I hadn’t got round to watching the second Thor movie. I still haven’t nor have I any idea if it has any bearing on this film. I decided that what I needed was a “Previously on Marvel” montage at the beginning of any subsequent Marvel movie just to give me a vague idea of where the storyline is and what I’m supposed to be watching.
Instead, I decided to revisit a movie that I haven’t watched in well over a decade; the cinematic (or as it turned out, direct-to-video) debut of Cap. Now the general consensus of this movie is that it’s a disaster (9% on Rotten Tomatoes, sigh), but I grew up with this movie and rented it relentlessly from my local Global Video until I had my own copy (which I recorded on VHS from a late night showing on BBC 1 in what was probably the last time it was shown on British television). I loved it so much as a kid that I would hazard a guess that this is in my top five most watched movies of all time, along with the original Star Wars trilogy and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (possibly Flash Gordon). How’s that for a recommendation!?
Captain America was brought to the screen by a post-Cannon Films Menahem Golan who acquired the rights to the film in his severance package from Cannon. You know Cannon: they’re the ones that bulldozed the Christopher Reeves Superman series to death with A Quest for Peace and at one point had the rights to make a Spider-Man movie (come on, who doesn’t wish that actually happened?). The fact that Canon, a studio that would literally make any movie that came to their mind, would let this movie go probably isn’t the best recommendation. And yet, Captain America symbolises what that studio was all about: making films quick, with very little budget, and with a couple of relatively big name stars (in this case a surprising Deliverance reunion between Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty). This was directed by Albert Pyun, a Canon and low-budget movie veteran with Jean Claude Van-Damme vehicle Cyborg as a credit, so expect slow motion fight scenes with clunky punches and spin-kicks.
If you’ve seen Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel’s obviously much bigger budgeted origin story, then basically that entire movie happens in the first twenty minutes of this (minus any Howling Commandos or Bucky). The movie hits fast-forward from the get-go; Nazi’s kidnap a young boy and turn him into Red Skull in the lead up to World War II and America quickly counter this by creating Captain America, who single-handedly takes on a Nazi compound before having his ass handed to him by Red Skull and being strapped to a missile to destroy the White House. Cap manages to stop the missile by kicking it a lot and he instead crash lands in Alaska and is frozen until the present day. Seriously, all of this happens in barely twenty minutes. As he hits present day we get modern day confusion, awkward romantic subplots, a kidnapped President, and Cap being pursued seemingly by a group of Italian supermodels.
I was hoping that revisiting this movie as an (hopefully intelligent) adult that I could decipher some of the plot points that had confused me as a kid. I couldn’t. It really doesn’t make much sense. It’s never really explained why the Red Skull is so deformed and Captain America isn’t when they went through the same experiment. Meanwhile the Red Skull’s masterplan has something to do with putting a device in the President’s brain. Who knows?
Also, Captain America’s eye holes in the mask are amazingly miss-cut and make him look cross-eyed and how the hell did I never notice those were plastic ears on the mask before? Apart from that, I think that the suit here looks pretty great and as a kid it looked to me as if the comic book had come to life. Too bad he’s played by Matt Salinger (son of JD no less) who unsurprisingly didn’t have much of a career after this. I did spot him in two episodes of 24 some years ago. I’m sure I was one of only a few. Salinger probably isn’t helped out a lot by the script, which does its’ best to make him sound as brain dead as possible at points (key dialogue; “holy mackerel!”, “gee whizz!”), while he manages to pull off an incredibly bad car-sick fake twice and delivers a not quite acting masterclass when he arrives in the modern day and realises everything is made in Japan.
It sounds like I am destroying the movie here, but I still had a lot of fun watching it again. It takes me back to a different time, when superhero movies could be produced on the cheap and you could approach a movie like this without any need for context or prior knowledge. We are spoiled with big-budget superhero films nowadays where we have literally seen so much that nothing surprises us anymore. In 1990, the berth between superhero movies was huge. On one hand we had Tim Burton’s mega-budget, all conquering Batman, while on the other we had movies such as Captain America, which tried but couldn’t compete and got lost in the pack.
It’s not a great film, but I will always have a soft spot for it. It is a great piece of early 90’s nostalgia and well worth a visit if you plan on having your own “Previously on Marvel” experience and see what Marvel films used to be before they conquered the planet.