The “Star Spangled Man” is currently clobbering the bejesus out of the box office with his vibranium shield in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. However, things were quite different some 24 years ago. Captain America had his 50th anniversary in 1990 and what better way to celebrate than with the release of his first big screen outing. If that sounds too good to be true, that is because it certainly was. Cap’s first journey to the big screen was far from smooth and it fell short in virtually every way, seeing a extremely limited theatrical run before it was released on cable and video.
The titular role went to Matt Salinger, son of The Catcher in the Rye author, J.D. Salinger. Unfortunately for Matt, his apple fell way off that tree, tumbled a mile down hill, and landed into a pool of raw sewage. Salinger’s Steve Rogers was (pun intended) ice cold. He had zero personality; he delivered his lines so poorly and without any conviction that it is very hard to watch. There is also absolutely no difference in Steve’s physicality before and after “Project Rebirth”. Granted, with technological and budgetary constraints, we can’t expect that they would have handled this plot point the way they were able to in 2011. However, give us something a little more visually hard hitting than a really lame and inconsistent limp. Salinger really made polio look like it was no fuss at all- by that logic, man up and walk it off FDR!
The Supporting cast was comprised of many talented actors including Ned Beatty (Deliverance) and Darren McGavin (A Christmas Story), but the performances were a mess all around. We all have had crap jobs and often times our work suffers when we find ourselves in a difficult environment. Given that this film had a long and difficult history getting off the ground, coupled with the fact that it was hemorrhaging money, one could surmise that frustration must have set in for all involved in the production.
The film begins in Italy of all places, and fairly brutally I might add. Benito Mussolini and his men abduct a young boy from his home and slaughter his entire family. The boy is experimented upon and becomes Cap’s nemesis, the Red Skull. Now nothing against Mussolini, he certainly was just a dandy fascist dictator, but see there is this other leader of the axis powers, crap his name escapes me at the moment. Cap mixing it up with the Italians is not exactly what I’d call thrilling. Just ask Indiana Jones: real, schnitzel-stuffing Nazi’s make for the best villains. In any event, America’s answer to the Red Skull is Steve Rogers. In their first meeting, Red Skull gets the better of Captain America, straps him to a rather ACME looking missile, and sends it on a collision course with (gasp) the White House! Luckily Cap kicks it off course and crash lands somewhere in Alaska where he becomes a “Capsicle”. He is unfrozen 50 years later to learn that Red Skull is still alive. He is now the head of a very powerful terrorist organization, which has committed some of the most brutal assignations of the past 5 decades. Their nefarious plot now? Brainwash the president so he does not pass some pro-environmental legislation. Um… Sounds like we got the wrong Captain for the job.
The design of Cap’s costume (I say costume in lieu of uniform because this is a costume in every sense) is certainly true to the comics. Unfortunately it looks incredibly hokey on film, even by early 90’s standards. His mask reminds me of when I used to make my own masks out of fruit rollups during recess (don’t judge me).Red Skull’s makeup job is ghastly. When we are first introduced to him he looks like a sun dried tomato. When we meet him again 50 years later, he apparently received extensive plastic surgeries to look like Tommy Wiseau.
The overall production is slathered in 90’s cheese from the fashions to the music. Most notably, the song and montage that plays following Steve’s unfreezing. Memories of you , by “Southside Johnny”, combines the trite lyricism of Randy Newman with all the gusto of Bruce Springsteen in one embarrassing chill-inducing little ditty…It is…yea…just watch the video.
Admittedly, I am looking at this film now with my current pair of jaded fanboy eyes and that is not what Throwback Thursday is about. It is about the feelings associated with the times. That being said I loved this film as a kid and have many fond memories of it. My dad taped it for me off the TV and I watched it till it wore out. Coming off the heels of Batman, superhero films were nowhere near as commonplace as they are now. It was a thrill for me to see one of my favorite Marvel heroes in live action, even if it was in a bad film. For that, 1990’s Captain America still holds a huge place in my heart; so much so that I do in fact own it on DVD and get to re-watch (and torture my wife with) every cringe worthy second.