DVD Review: Captain America (1990)

There was a time in Hollywood history when studios didn’t spend hundreds of million dollars 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 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 isn’t nearly as worthless as Elektra. The film comes out of the era when superhero films weren’t treated in high regard. The cheap qualities become slightly endearing. Golan wasn’t going to spent a fortune on it. This was an action film meant to be seen on the small screen so you didn’t see the low budget breaking the seams of the effects.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfer appears to have been lifted off a video master, but less details the better on the low budget fun. The audio is stereo. The levels are a little low so you’ll want to crank the volume. This is a manufacture on demand title. The DVD-Rs play much better in dedicated DVD players than computer drives.

The trailer (1:49) really makes you think this has a major budget like Ishtar.

Captain America doesn’t have the slick big budget as Captain America: First Avenger. This is from a time when a superhero film was made low to the bone. The first act is much more exciting simply because that’s where the money was spent. The film slips into low budget ‘90s action when the hero defrosts.

MGM Limited Edition Collection presents Captain America. Starring: Matt Salinger, Ronny Cox, Bed Beatty, Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon. Running Time: 96 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released on DVD-R: August 30, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.

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