Two summers ago Captain America-mania was sweeping the country as the superhero finally got the blockbuster treatment in Captain America: The First Avenger. Fans were frustrated when MGM merely put out the 1990 version of Captain America as a manufacture-on-demand DVD-R instead of a normal DVD. Fans wanted more. With less than a year until Captain America: Winter Soldier hits the screen, the original Captain America gets an high definition injection to emerge on Blu-ray.
There was a time in Hollywood history when studios didn’t spend hundreds of millions on comic book movies. They didn’t view guys in tights with capes as a box office success. Thus it was easy for low budget filmmakers to get the rights to the characters. Producer Menahem Golan (formerly teamed with Yoram Globus at Cannon Films) had first crack at the cinematic debuts of Spider-Man and Captain America. Only the red, white and blue superhero made it into production. Fans anticipated the big screen debut in the spring of 1990. Like the frozen superhero, Captain America found itself on ice. Two years after the promised date, it snuck out on VHS and cable. Was it really any more disappointing than Daredevil or Elektra?
The movie is about better fighting through chemistry. A young boy is yanked away from his Italian family. Instead of killing him, the child becomes the subject of an inhuman Axis Powers science project. They convert him into the grotesque Red Skull (Scott Paulin). Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger) dreams of fighting in World War II, but he has a gimpy leg. The army offers a way to overcome his shortcomings. An experiment transforms Steve into the more hunky Captain America. A Nazi spy kills the lead scientist thus ending the project at the prototype stage. He will be the only patriotic superhero. The two scientific creations are on a direct collision course. Red Skull and Captain America battle at a German missile base. The result is Captain America strapped to a rocket aimed at the White House. His quick actions saves the president’s life, but lands Captain America in Alaska. He’s frozen in a block of ice for nearly 50 years until a group of scientists melt him out. Even in the ‘90s, Red Skull is powerful as the head of a secret organization seeing to economically control the world. They want to kidnap the president (Deliverance’s Ronny Cox) and turn him into a computer controlled puppet. It’s up to Captain America to defeat Red Skull once more.
The first 20 minutes of the film are rather exciting with the origins story and the big battle between Captain America and Red Skull. Once Captain America gets frozen in ice, the production budget appears to have been slashed. The big finale of the movie takes place in a huge Italian castle that has very little set dressing. It’s creative cutbacks which make the film a little more campy that the opening act would suggest. At least they hired a few choice faces for supporting roles. Darren McGavin (A Christmas Story) is a traitorous general. Melinda Dillon (McGavin’s wife in A Christmas Story) is Steve’s mom. Ned Beatty (Deliverance) must guide Captain America in the ‘90s. The ultimate casting coup is Bill Mumy as the young version of General Fleming. Lost in Space’s Will Robinson grows up to be Kolchak!
Captain America is so much better than Elektra. The film comes out of the era when superhero films weren’t treated in high regard. The higher resolution does expose the cheap qualities of the second half of the film. But it doesn’t diminish the comic book fun. It’s a relief to finally see this version of Captain America get 1080p respect.
The video is 1.78.1 anamorphic. The image is a major set up from the DVD which was full frame. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The mix isn’t quite as dynamic as The Avengers, but the levels are louder than the DVD-R.
A Look Back at Captain America (20:05) has Albert Pyun and star Matt Salinger talk about the ever vanishing budget. Producer Menahem Golan was true to his Cannon roots in promising big and making due with a lot less. Pyun originally wanted football superstar Howie Long as the star.
Captain America is a fun comic book adaptation that proves that the biggest foe for a superhero is an unspectacular budget. The film gets inventive to cover up the lack of cash in the second half of the film. Rejoice that Captain America can be seen in the red, white and Blu-ray.
Shout! Factory and MGM present Captain America. Starring: Matt Salinger, Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty, Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon. Running Time: 97 minutes. Released: May 21, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.