Marvel Movie Madness! Part 33: Captain America (1990)

The first attempt at a feature film adaptation falls flat.

Enter Marvel Movie Madness, wherein Rotten Tomatoes watches all of the significant Marvel movies ever made. Full Marvel Movie Madness list here. Tune in! We give you our thoughts, and you give us yours.


Part 33: Captain America (1990, 13% Tomatometer)
Directed by Albert Pyun, starring Matt Salinger, Kim Gillingham, Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty

Tim: Since the late 1990s, Marvel has become increasingly protective of its properties, which has been a good thing for movie audiences. The X-Men, Spider-Man, and Iron Man all got the big-screen treatment they deserved, resulting in an exemplary marriage between art and commerce -- these were blockbusters with heart, smarts, thrills, and surprising depth. Aggressively guarding the brand can have its downsides -- we're probably less likely to see bold stylistic experimentation or deviation from formula in future Marvel flicks, especially after the hackles that greeted oddball entries like Ang Lee's Hulk -- but it also means that we can generally expect a certain level of quality control from here on out. If you aren't minding the store, someone's bound to make a second-rate hash of one of your most iconic characters, and that's exactly what happened with 1990's Captain America. Just about everything here seems cut-rate; this is the kind of movie where the villain (the Red Skull, in this case) can kidnap the president of the United States and plot world domination despite the fact that by all appearances he has about 20 henchmen. Unlike the 1940s serial, Captain America sticks closer to the comic books, but to what end? The action scenes are clunky, the geopolitical stuff is simplistic, and there's no sense of awe or exhilaration, no sense that anything is at stake.

Once in a while, in spite of itself, Captain America hints at being something more. There are a couple goofy scenes in which Steve Rogers is baffled by the norms of the 1990s, but this stuff was handled with more aplomb in the first Austin Powers. And the movie's most poignant scene -- when Steve returns to the home of his teenage sweetheart, now elderly, but still in love with him -- is so fleeting as to blunt any intriguing possibilities. Matt Salinger (fun fact: he's J.D's son!) has plenty of aw-shucks charm in the title role, and a couple of old pros (Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty) do their best in limited roles, but ultimately, the actors are overwhelmed by the hokey material. If some recent superhero movies have overdosed on self-seriousness, well, that's a preferable approach to the cheapness on display here.


Ryan: You are not wrong, sir; this movie is embarrassing in oh, so many ways, and I cannot recommend it to anyone looking for a semblance of quality filmmaking in a superhero story. That said, Captain America transcended its own putrescence just enough to land in "so bad, it's good" territory for me. Not everyone is going to agree, but that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

You've touched on some of the "big picture" issues, but there are also several very basic things wrong with this movie. For one, there is absolutely no subtlety about anything here. During Steve Rogers's procedure, an undercover German spy offers a handshake to Dr. Vaselli, only to shift the gesture abruptly and awkwardly into a Nazi salute, yell "Heil Hitler!" and bust a cap (ahem) in her gut instead... I LOLed. Then, there are the Ed Wood-ian mistakes, my favorite of which was when Steve Rogers and Sharon are supposed to be speeding downhill on a bicycle with no brakes, and the scene cuts to the pair literally running alongside the bike, rolling it off the edge of a cliff, and jumping after it.

Furthermore, between the corny dialogue ("God bless you, Captain America!"), the problematic plot elements (Red Skull strapped him to that rocket along with his shield?), and tension-free action (the bad guys fall behind in chases REALLY quickly, so much so that there's always time for someone to reflect on something in the meantime), there is just no finesse evident in its creation. But I will say this: There is a website called Everything Is Terrible, and they condense bad movies into mere minutes of sheer hilarity; Captain America would be absolute comedy gold in that format.


Jeff: I don't want to pile on here, because unlike a lot of the big-budget misfires we've seen in this series, Captain America has a heart -- even if it's in the wrong place, upside down, and pumping pure hooey. I'd really love to know the story of how this movie was made, because at one point, it was supposed to come out in theaters here. Did someone put some actual money behind it, only to watch the final product and frantically pull the plug? Usually films this inept are supposed to be a tax write-off, but I kind of think somewhere along the line, the folks involved really wanted Captain America to be great, which I find fascinating. Also: Ned Beatty won an Emmy the year this was filmed and obviously wasn't hurting for work. Why did he agree to this? Didn't he read the script?

Anyway, yeah, this Captain has a lot of flaws, including the fact that it's supposed to be an epic but was filmed with what looks like the budget from a company picnic. Cap's transformation from regular soldier (who never looks all that frail, by the way) to super soldier is just a bunch of sparks and yelling, and I think Kim Gillingham used the Red Skull's "reconstructed face" makeup during her scenes as Old Bernie. And the action sequences are brutal -- poorly staged, some poorly lit, and tons of tight, whirling shots with corny sound effects. (My favorite part of the whole movie: when one of the villains yells "Get the jet -- Captain America is in California," and the scene immediately cuts to a shot of a plane flying past the camera and making the stock "zoom" noise.)

The main problem is that Captain America desperately wants to be huge -- heck, the script makes the Red Skull responsible for the murders of JFK, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King -- but it doesn't have the budget to satisfy its scope, so you're left with people running around deserted locations in Yugoslavia and a laugh-out-loud climax featuring a standoff on top of an oceanside fortress that has a conveniently located piano on the roof.

On the bright side, though -- after this, the new Captain America can't help but be awesome in comparison.

Editor's Note: In an interview with Comic Book Resources' James Gartler at Comic Con, Captain America director Albert Pyun said the film was hamstrung by budget problems and studio tampering. A director's cut has been released on DVD that Pyun says is closer to his original vision. Check out the full interview here.

More Marvel Movie Madness:

Comments

Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

Gordon Terry

from CANNON FILMS!!!!!???? Manheim Golan and Yurim Globus
anyone involved with this has my sympathies.

(CANNON GROUP FILMS rarely fared well with critics).

Jul 22 - 03:41 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

Ya, they did Superman 4. They were like the second hand store of movies.

Jul 22 - 04:35 PM

Frisby2007

Frisby 2007

This looks nothing more than a geek in a costume running around for over an hour.

Jul 22 - 03:42 PM

Alexson Philip

Alexson Philipiah

never seen it, never will.

Jul 22 - 04:01 PM

Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

Gordon Terry

but YOU MUST! "HE COMMANDS IT!" . . . Danny Glick in SALEM'S LOT.///seriously you can't be so nihilistic in your approach to film. you should sometimes see bad and good movies alike even if you don't like them.///HEY: I thought HARRY POTTER and THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 to be AWFUL and I still saw it anyway and gave it a 100% FRESH RATING even though it wasn't my personal cup of tea.

Jul 22 - 04:30 PM

Linda B.

Linda Burke

Poor Danny Glick :(

Jul 22 - 04:50 PM

Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

Gordon Terry

I know . . . I felt that too "poor Danny Glick" and how Stephen King described Susan Norton when SHE appeared at Mark Petrie's window was disheartening as well. . . she was sad, operating against her will; miserable being a vampire. THANKS LINDA B. "HE COMMANDS IT" . . ."He" is KURT BARLOW "with a 'k'."

Jul 22 - 04:59 PM

Linda B.

Linda Burke

Yeah, I love that book. Definitely my favorite by Stephen King. But that has nothing to do with Captain America, lol.

Jul 23 - 03:24 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Mine too, and that scene where Danny is at the window is probably my all time favorite horror scene of all time although I like the Rob Lowe remake better than the Nosferatu knock off original, not to say the original is bad (The kitchen face off between Barlow and Father Callahan is worth it all by itself). Probably my favorite scene in the new one is even though it's hokey special effects when Lowe is in the prison cell or when Mike Ryerson goes flying out the window. I think what I love most about it though is it's the first vampire movie or horror movie in general where the hunters aren't idiots. "We'll meet back here at sunset to continue the hunt." "Why aren't we hunting during the day?" "QUIET YOU!!!!" I also think Mark Petrie is right up there with Van Helsing on my list of vampire hunters. I love how King wasn't afraid to make him the most competent character.

Jul 23 - 05:03 PM

Linda B.

Linda Burke

I have yet to see the adaptations, but they're on my list. The part where the grave-digger opens Danny's coffin and his eyes are wide open is spine-chilling.

Jul 23 - 05:56 PM

Matt Alex S.

Matias Sabaj

I wanna see it just to laugh my ass off at the guy in the costume,it's so hillarious! :P
and italian Red Skull? that's like a canadian Captain America :P

Jul 22 - 04:15 PM

Superzone

Link O'Fett

I've always wanted to see this, just for the lolz...

Jul 22 - 04:18 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Samesies!!

Jul 22 - 04:50 PM

Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

Gordon Terry

but YOU MUST! "HE COMMANDS IT!" . . . Danny Glick in SALEM'S LOT.///seriously you can't be so nihilistic in your approach to film. you should sometimes see bad and good movies alike even if you don't like them.///HEY: I thought HARRY POTTER and THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 to be AWFUL and I still saw it anyway and gave it a 100% FRESH RATING even though it wasn't my personal cup of tea.

Jul 22 - 04:30 PM

Linda B.

Linda Burke

Poor Danny Glick :(

Jul 22 - 04:50 PM

Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

Gordon Terry

I know . . . I felt that too "poor Danny Glick" and how Stephen King described Susan Norton when SHE appeared at Mark Petrie's window was disheartening as well. . . she was sad, operating against her will; miserable being a vampire. THANKS LINDA B. "HE COMMANDS IT" . . ."He" is KURT BARLOW "with a 'k'."

Jul 22 - 04:59 PM

Linda B.

Linda Burke

Yeah, I love that book. Definitely my favorite by Stephen King. But that has nothing to do with Captain America, lol.

Jul 23 - 03:24 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Mine too, and that scene where Danny is at the window is probably my all time favorite horror scene of all time although I like the Rob Lowe remake better than the Nosferatu knock off original, not to say the original is bad (The kitchen face off between Barlow and Father Callahan is worth it all by itself). Probably my favorite scene in the new one is even though it's hokey special effects when Lowe is in the prison cell or when Mike Ryerson goes flying out the window. I think what I love most about it though is it's the first vampire movie or horror movie in general where the hunters aren't idiots. "We'll meet back here at sunset to continue the hunt." "Why aren't we hunting during the day?" "QUIET YOU!!!!" I also think Mark Petrie is right up there with Van Helsing on my list of vampire hunters. I love how King wasn't afraid to make him the most competent character.

Jul 23 - 05:03 PM

Linda B.

Linda Burke

I have yet to see the adaptations, but they're on my list. The part where the grave-digger opens Danny's coffin and his eyes are wide open is spine-chilling.

Jul 23 - 05:56 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

I remember watching this in the mid '90s on, um, Fox I think? The one thing that wasn't mentioned was Red Skull's make-up effects (as the Red Skull not the white guy with syphilis) I actually thought they were kind of cool with the splits and cracks in his face. Definitely not good enough to save this direct to VHS garbage but worth noting.

I think that the new one will be bad. Even with Hugo.

Jul 22 - 04:33 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

Ya, they did Superman 4. They were like the second hand store of movies.

Jul 22 - 04:35 PM

Linda B.

Linda Burke

Poor Danny Glick :(

Jul 22 - 04:50 PM

Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

Gordon Terry

I know . . . I felt that too "poor Danny Glick" and how Stephen King described Susan Norton when SHE appeared at Mark Petrie's window was disheartening as well. . . she was sad, operating against her will; miserable being a vampire. THANKS LINDA B. "HE COMMANDS IT" . . ."He" is KURT BARLOW "with a 'k'."

Jul 22 - 04:59 PM

Linda B.

Linda Burke

Yeah, I love that book. Definitely my favorite by Stephen King. But that has nothing to do with Captain America, lol.

Jul 23 - 03:24 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Mine too, and that scene where Danny is at the window is probably my all time favorite horror scene of all time although I like the Rob Lowe remake better than the Nosferatu knock off original, not to say the original is bad (The kitchen face off between Barlow and Father Callahan is worth it all by itself). Probably my favorite scene in the new one is even though it's hokey special effects when Lowe is in the prison cell or when Mike Ryerson goes flying out the window. I think what I love most about it though is it's the first vampire movie or horror movie in general where the hunters aren't idiots. "We'll meet back here at sunset to continue the hunt." "Why aren't we hunting during the day?" "QUIET YOU!!!!" I also think Mark Petrie is right up there with Van Helsing on my list of vampire hunters. I love how King wasn't afraid to make him the most competent character.

Jul 23 - 05:03 PM

Linda B.

Linda Burke

I have yet to see the adaptations, but they're on my list. The part where the grave-digger opens Danny's coffin and his eyes are wide open is spine-chilling.

Jul 23 - 05:56 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Samesies!!

Jul 22 - 04:50 PM

Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

Gordon Terry

I know . . . I felt that too "poor Danny Glick" and how Stephen King described Susan Norton when SHE appeared at Mark Petrie's window was disheartening as well. . . she was sad, operating against her will; miserable being a vampire. THANKS LINDA B. "HE COMMANDS IT" . . ."He" is KURT BARLOW "with a 'k'."

Jul 22 - 04:59 PM

Sean N.

Sean Nasuti

Captain America: The First Avenger: Awesome!
1990's Captain: WTF went wrong here?
This film portrayed the Captain as a pretty weak superhero and what's the point in calling the main villain Red Skull if he only has a Red Skull for like five minutes.
No this isn't the worst superhero movie of all time and I say that because the actors were at least trying but they were given nothing to work with.
Even so, this movie sucks.

Jul 22 - 05:20 PM

King Crunk

King Crunk

I remember renting this when I was young and being eager with excitement because of my love for superheroes. Even as a child, I was disappointed.

Jul 22 - 06:59 PM

What's Hot On RT

Total Recall
Total Recall

Robert Rodriguez's 10 Best Movies

Ant-Man
Ant-Man

First pic of Marvel's Paul Rudd

Worst Summer Movies
Worst Summer Movies

We list the 60 worst since 1975

Scorecard 2014
Scorecard 2014

See where the summer movies rank

Find us on:                     
Help | About | Jobs | Critics Submission | Press | API | Licensing | Mobile