Timing is everything, and it is no coincidence that this nearly forgotten film version of Captain America is just now seeing the light of day on DVD, even if only as a manufactured on demand release. It would be so very easy to compare this film with the big-budget affair that was released this past summer. Easy, but certainly unfair. The 1990 production looks very much like a made-for-television film, but it wasn’t at all. It did sit on the shelf for over two years before it was finally released to a limited American audience. It’s a bit ironic that the United States was literally the last to see a film called Captain America. Heck, most of it wasn’t even filmed in North America. The exterior locations were all filmed in what used to be Yugoslavia.
The film attempts to cover the origins of both Captain America and his main arch-villain The Red Skull, just as the new film has done. There are a few other notable similarities. Both films have Captain America crashing in the arctic trying to stop one of The Red Skull’s weapons and later resurrecting in modern times. Both films feature a shootout during Rogers’ transformation scene. That’s about all that these films have in common. The 1990 movie takes most of the action after he is thawed out, while the latest film uses that part of the story more or less as a coda. Of course, the size of the budgets and the 21 years of improved f/x date the older movie pretty badly. The Red Skull makeup is unimpressive. But it’s not really the technology that makes this film such an inferior effort.
The cast for this incarnation is back-loaded. That is to say that the two main characters of hero and villain are about as bland as they can be. Their encounters are filled with unremarkable chemistry and are rather anti-climactic. Matt Salinger as Captain America remains an innocent and naive character who is merely reacting when he isn’t striking patriotic poses for the camera. Scott Paulin is no better as Red Skull. He throws out one-liners with a bad accent that makes him really a mustache-twirling cartoon. It’s the supporting cast that shows the muscle here. Darren McGavin is terribly underused as the turncoat General who sells out the President to the bad guys to stop his environmental programs. It seems that the president is committed to cutting our use of disposable items by 90%. Sounds more like a job for Captain Al and his Undeniable Truthers. Of course, Red Skull and his captain of industry minions can’t have this, so they plan to implant a mind control devise into the president. It’s a very lame character, given strength only by the performance of Ronny Cox. Then there is Ned Beatty, who plays the President’s childhood friend and now ace reporter. Again he’s not used enough to truly make a difference here. Look for Melinda Dillon in a small role here. Of course, she teamed up with McGavin earlier in the Christmas classic A Christmas Story. They played Mom and “The Old Man” (Dad). Look for a cameo by Bill Mumy and a tribute to character Jack Kirby who gets a Senator character named for him.
There’s a reason this one sat on a shelf for so long, and there’s a reason it’s only now seeing the light of day on DVD. MGM hopes to cash in a little on the whole First Avenger theme, and I can’t say I blame them. Even with Stan Lee on the production staff, this movie just doesn’t hold up well at all. At least you’ll be able to get your hands on it, if you really want to expose yourself to it. I had not seen it before and had slightly higher hopes, considering some of the cast. Certainly, I wasn’t expecting anything like this summer’s film, but forgive me for having a bit higher hopes. This one’s only for the serious Cap fan, the kind of kid who “sure did love the red, white and blue”.