Captain America (1990) So bad, That it's Actually Good!
Cult Director Albert Pyun's career was met with some acclaim with films that launched the careers of Jean Claude Van Damme and Thomas Jane. However, he was met with much disdain as some of his projects were underwhelming to say the least.
Although the late Director’s films weren't well received by the moviegoing masses, I must give him credit for attempting to make his move into the pre–Marvel Cinematic Universe with 1990's Captain America.
Directed by Pyun and released through former Cannon Pictures Exec, Menahem Globus' 21st Century film distribution company, Captain America is your basic origin story that's underbudgeted yet has a few interesting ideas such as environmental conservation, and conspiracy plots.
Featuring unknown actor Matt Salinger as our titular hero there are a few noticeable thespians like Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty of Deliverance to lend more clout to a movie that was sub par, that it would not get released in theaters aside from Puerto Rico and partly this is due to Golan not having enough money to distribute it in theater chains.
At the beginning of the film which takes place in Fascist Italy, we see a young prodigy Tazlo De Santis, (No relation to Ron De Santis, although both are seen as "Nazis".) playing a piano in front of his relatives, only to witness a tragic event as Mussolini’s thugs break into his family's home, kill them and abduct him for Dr. Vaselli's Super Soldier experiment. The boy is given superhuman strength but with his face being disfigured as a "side effect" from the early stages of the formulas phase. Hench forth, he is dubbed, "The Red Skull."
Meanwhile in Redondo Beach California, volunteer Steve Rogers signs on for the "rebirth" program which has been rebranded by the United States government that uses the same formula albeit a few perfections, that Dr. Vaselli who escaped from Italy, developed. Feeling a burden of guilt for the abomination she created, the good doc would try to redeem herself by using her research, creating an army of American super soldiers to stop Hitler's regime.
While Roger's transformation is a success, Vaselli gets killed in an unintentionally funny scene, that felt ad lib. With Steve being the only one of his kind, he goes on a surveillance mission to Nazi Germany wearing a costume in red, white, and blue but with a finishing touch, plastic ears!! I have no idea to this very day, what led to that bizarre choice of design, other than the cowl was a not so good fit for Salinger's face, or it was strictly within the budget meaning, no alterations or duplicates. In what might be the best scene out of the entire film, Cap lands into the enemy base, smashes a watchtower with his "mighty shield" and knocks out a few "Jerrys" but when coming face to face with his rival, the fight is short-lived as the Skull overpowers him with a lil ass kicking followed by sticking it to the man, literally!
Cap is tied to a v 1 rocket enroute to as Skull referred to as "Casa la Blanca “. I got to admire the set pieces used for that scene because despite the low budget of thus production, it looked authentic enough, and even bared swastikas something its successor Captain America: The First Avenger, neglected to do, because "reasons!"
A good part of this movie focuses on President Kimbal (Cox) who is committed to saving the earth's environment by dismantling toxic wastes, and plastic containers all run and operated by statesmen and wealthy businessmen who are in fact, movers and shakers and co conspirators, alongside the Red Skull. Of course, they view the Prez as a threat to their operations and as a result they want him dead. But Skull dismisses any assassination plans after realizing how the hits put on the Kennedys and Dr. Martin Luther King has backfired when making them "martyrs to the cause." It seems that almost everyone Rogers runs into gets killed, Sam (Beaty) also gets offed by the Skull crew.
What disappointed me was the wasted potential of this semi ambitious project as the narrative is more centered around dialog and miniscule storytelling as opposed to Cap demonstrating more of his combat expertise. There was an opportunity during the Canada scene where cap should have taken down his pursuers but instead of using his shield to protect him from gunfire, Steve jumps into a car with reporter Sam as his rescuer.
There was a clever moment where Steve sees Japanese and German products, "Volkswagen "in Sam's car arousing his suspicion that Sam may be a Nazi spy, this is where Steve should have forcefully interrogated Sam but to paraphrase Ronny Cox in also 1990 Total Recall, "but noooooooooooo..!!" Rogers pretends to be sick, and drives off after running away from Sam.
I couldn't help but chuckle at the four-minute montage that looks like a bad MTV video with Cap reminiscing about Bernie while making his way back to America. And when they finally reunite, he coldly says to the love of his life who is now old and less attractive, "I guess it just wasn't meant to be." The movie pretty much follows the comic source material during the first 30 minutes, but Stephen Tolken's script takes a opposite direction with again, story emphasis where Steve Rogers makes his way back to Bernie, the befriends her daughter especially after she gets unceremoniously killed by the Skull's daughter, Valentina and her cronies whose appearance is like those foreign fashion models from the 80's. Now, I'm having flashbacks of those vintage Chams de Baron and Jordache commercials 😫!
When Cap is not faking out by being "sick", so that he can go carjacking, gets into a few action breaks like fighting some Asian Skull agent (Stunt coordinator, Jeff Imada who ison the far right of the pic.) by throwing him down a long chute, killing him more than likely.
Steve and Sharon go on a "sightseeing" vacation in Italy, as in tracking down the Red Skull who kidnapped President Kimball which leads to the third and final act where Captain America has a rematch against Redhead which concludes with a hammy congratulatory speech followed by a corny rendition of "Home of the Brave." The End.
I got to be honest here for a minute, Matt while I'm sure he's a nice guy in person, is not the phenotype for Captain America. He looks and acts a bit goofy, not too stoic as his comic counterpart, and even his mask did not make much of an improvement. Pyun might as well have hired a cosplayer from those comicbook conventions.
Albert Pyun's Captain America is both bad yet, watchable thanks to a few innovative concepts as well as performances, one being Scott Paulin's portrayal as the maniacal Red Skull with impressive prosthetic makeup.
What's interesting is how the 2012 adaptation borrowed some ideas from this movie, e.g., Red Skull being the first to receive the super soldier application also altering his facial appearance.
The environmental subplot deviates from your average Comicbook adaptation with a President who tries to make positive change, is on the receiving end of what seems to be Skull's Illuminati. Ronny Cox adds plenty of "Gee whiz" moments when being rescued by his boyhood hero and even gets in on the action, where he punches both a corrupt General and a massive henchman who looks like Superman, if he was Italian.
And speaking of whom, at first, I was put off by the implementation of Red Skull being of Italian descent, but for some reason, it worked. De Santis was this tragic villain whose family was massacred then forced to serve under the Axis. Again, Paulin added plenty of dimension to the iconic Supervillain. With sparse action sequences, hokey dialogue at times, cheesy songs, and one too many jump cuts, it’s of no secret of how I expressed my disappointment in the 1990 adaptation to Albert when he visited the AICN forums, but he highly recommended that I watch the Director's cut that further fleshed out the story and film overall.
As underwhelming as Pyun’s Superhero entry was,there were some good things about Captain America. While the environment subplot serves as the key element to the story, I admire how Tolken's script highlights corporate greed which has always been the "bad guy" and seeing as how corporations are often engaged in underhanded policies like dumping toxic wastes within surrounding cities, the meta is real. Also it’s a big step up from the TV version starring Reb Brown and most of the Marvel films prior to 1990, which may not be saying much. Thank Jesus, Mary Joseph for Kevin Feige establishing Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which paid better respect to one of Marvel’s signature icons, and that’s all I can say, as we were eating good! Well, that is until Phase four came along.
Captain America is now available for stream via Amazon Prime Video
I give Albert Pyun's Captain America, a marginal "Thumbs up!"