Captain America is finally available on Blu-ray!
No, I'm not talking about Captain America: The First Avenger, the fun Chris Evans flick from 2011. I'm talking about the Captain America film from 1990, a B-movie from the era when Marvel's cinematic ventures were strictly second-rate, low-budget affairs.
Our own Paul Brian McCoy discussed this early Captain America flick was discussed in great detail two years ago. Paul does a terrific job digging deep into this much-hated and derided creation. Paul finds some surprising depth where most viewers might find a lot of cheesiness. I think Paul's analysis is right on target. There's the core of a good movie in this version of Captain America, but the better elements of the film are just subtle, small suggestions that the film's original script, by Steven Tolkin, hints at. Somewhere there exists a script for this film that has real heart, depth and intelligent character development. Unfortunately, little of that quality is on display on the screen.
As director Albert Pyun and lead actor Matt Salinger discuss in their delightfully honest documentary feature included with this Blu-ray, Captain America was originally intended to be much more a character study of Steve Rogers, the man out of time, rather than being focused on Captain America, the burly shield-bearing super-hero. There are traces of that character study here – the scenes early in the film that show Steve leaving his California friends and girlfriend so he can get injected with the super soldier formula are surprisingly moving, as is his reunion years later with that same girlfriend. If this movie had been a bit of a meditation of the costs of trading your civilian life for a life as a hero, it might have had more than just a small dollop of real emotional power.
Of course a true character study of a super-hero was not what anybody would want to watch. Who would want to see a Captain America movie that isn't full of action and adventure? As Pyun and Salinger point out, this film was dogged from its very conception with the need to create a fun action film on a miniscule budget.
But fun action films are generally not created on a miniscule budget. That can be done, if the film is in the hands of a thoughtful, empathetic filmmaker. But that goal is seldom achieved. Most B-movies are like this one: they contain cheesy costumes, unconvincing action scenes, poorly coordinated stunts and plot holes large enough to fly a quinjet through.
Honestly, this film is more interesting for all the real world stuff that hovers around its edges. Lead actor Matt Salinger is the son of the reclusive and brilliant writer J.D. Salinger. He apparently works now as a film producer. Lead actress Kim Gillingham works as an acting coach exploring how dreams can affect acting. Ned Beatty shows up briefly, mostly making viewers wonder why his bank account was so low in 1990. Most interesting to me is that the modern Red Skull in this film, pale skinned and scarfaced, resembles the much-hated Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who has a face pockmarked with acne scars. That's likely just a coincidence, but it's a fun and intriguing coincidence.
This remastered version looks very nice, anyway. Much of this film was shot on the Yugoslav coast; from all appearances the water there is lovely. The scenes that take place in California also have a wonderful color depth. The Blu-ray restoration can't improve the sets or the acting, but the restoration does improve the look of the film.
The 1990 Captain America is a curiosity that will disappoint most people who buy it hoping to catch a great lost Marvel movie. This is not a completely horrible film, but as Paul points out, Captain America is missing the flair necessary to make it be enjoyable as more than a dumb camp classic.
This one is for completists only.