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Captain America (1990)

Shout Factory // PG-13 // May 21, 2013
List Price: $14.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted May 7, 2013 | E-mail the Author
Think about everything you'd wanna see in a Captain America origin story. A sickly patriot hellbent on serving his country in its greatest time of need, the brilliant German defector whose experimental serum transforms this 98 lb. weakling into the perfect soldier, Steve Rogers becoming a symbol that rallies the troops and lifts America's spirits...yeah, there's not a whole lot of that in this nearly quarter-century-old take on the iconic superhero, a movie that wasn't released so much as barely escaping direct-to-video a couple years after it was shot.

Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger) never tries to enlist, at least not on-screen. Instead, he volunteers for a secret military project...again, off-screen! give America a chance to match the Nazis' diabolical super-soldier, The Red Skull (Scott Paulin). Oh, and the Red Skull is Italian for some reason. Anyway, on his very first mission, Cap is strapped to a rocket and launched straight at the White House. He manages to kick (yes, kick) the missile off-course, crashing deep into the Alaskan wasteland,, that's some range this rocket has. Captain America -- the unknown hero who saved a nation that never knew it was in danger -- slumbers in the ice for five full decades.
The perfect soldier, ladies and gentlemen...the peak of physical perfection!

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Dateline! 1994, or at least somewhere around there. Phil Collins is still at the top of the charts. A nation remains fixed on O.J. Simpson and that white Bronco of his. The world at large starts to hear about this "Internet" thing that used to just be the domain of academics and the military. Oh, and President Tom Kimball (Ronny Cox) -- who, as a child, was perhaps the only civilian on the planet to catch a glimpse of Captain America! -- is riding high with his uncompromising stance on environmentalism. Ooooooh, but not all the high muckity-mucks in Washington are that enthused about the Prez cleaning house like that, sending Lieutenant Colonel Louis (Michael Nouri) into the arms of a cabal of military and business leaders throughout the globe who seek to wrest control of the White House from Kimball. We're not talking about assassination or anything nasty like that; they'd just be minting a martyr and making life even more difficult than it already is. No, the Red Skull -- a seventysomething-year-old billionaire industrialist who's still Italian and no longer has a red skull, which...I don't know -- proposes a mwah-hah-hah nefarious scheme to inject Kimball with a mind-control device. Why go to all the trouble of replacing a president when you can just seize control of the one that's already there? Pull ze stringk!

Anyway, you can probably guess the rest of the broad strokes from there, with the short version being "...and Captain America has to save the day!" There's a bunch of fish out of water stuff as Steve Rogers adapts to life in the '90s. He finds out what happened to the girl he left behind. He even gets a new
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sidekick out of the deal who kind of looks like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. It's just...yeah, Captain America is just about every bit as terrible as you've heard. The Steve Rogers we first meet is a reasonably fit smoker (!!!) in his thirties, which is wrong in pretty much every possible way. There's borderline-zero character development since we barely get to know the guy, and the first act is so rushed that the romance angle about the girl who's about to be a half-century in the rear view mirror winds up feeling like a pointless distraction.

The second act, which has Captain America in plainclothes for pretty much the entire time, plays more like a random episode of T.J. Hooker, complete with an underlit warehouse-y-type battle against interchangeable, gun-toting thugs and some generic, repetitive bassline standing in for a score. The dialogue sounds like it was written in Italian and translated back to English by a 10th grader, there's no real emotional or dramatic hook lurking around anywhere in here, the paint-by-numbers plot is woefully uninspired and barely holds the movie together, the pacing is glacial, a bafflingly high percentage of the movie is shot in close-ups, the action is hopelessly choppy and doesn't cut together at all, especially whenever Cap throws his shield... What's fun and deliriously campy at the outset quickly makes way for bamboo-shoots-under-fingernails tedium. The storytelling's somehow both breathlessly rushed and agonizingly slow at the same time. It doesn't help that Captain America looks like it was shot on a backyard-Super-8-epic budget either. I didn't even get to the part with Ned Beatty playing a schlubby newspaper reporter who drives his truck from DC and immediately finds Captain America in the middle of the Yukon, and I also forgot to mention how Cap's superpower is pretending to be carsick than hijacking that ride, something he does twice! Between that and Cap's knack for getting shot over and over and over, at no point does he threaten to seem like much of a superhero.

Pretty much everything Captain America fumbles wound up being done the right way a year later in The Rocketeer, and it's kind of appropriate that its director would go onto helm the immeasurably superior Captain America adaptation a couple summers back. This, though...? Legitimately one of the worst superhero flicks ever made, and this is from a guy who's suffered through Man-Thing. Skip It.

For an underfunded superhero flick from the class of 1990, Captain America looks shockingly alright on Blu-ray. Once the opening titles are out of the way, the clarity, definition, and detail on display here are all respectable enough. Nothing that'll curl your toes and nothin' that'll direct a bunch of grrr-aargh tweets towards @ShoutFactory either. Colors come through pretty well, speckling and the like are kept somewhat mild, and the noise reduction dial isn't cranked up too high. Haloing is visible in a couple of stray shots:
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...although it's so isolated that I assume that's a quirk dating back to the original photography. One frustration is that the bitrate is kinda low, and instead of the sheen of grain being fine and clearly resolved, it all kind of clumps together. Not distinct granules so much as digital noise. It's not perfect or anything, no, but Captain America looks good enough, and that $11 sticker price certainly eases the sting a bit.

Single layer Blu-ray disc. 1.78:1. AVC.

Captain America is
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rocking a 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio stereo track, and...yeah, it's okay too. The clarity and fidelity are high enough that you can tell from word one that this is indeed lossless audio. Effects in particular are clean, clear, and reinforced by a healthy low-end. The Casio-preset score is thin and insubstantial, though, and dialogue frequently sounds dated, especially the crackly line readings when Cap and Bernie reunite. No dropouts or distracting pops ever get in the way, while hiss tends to be fairly mild. About what I'd walk in expecting to hear.

There's not even a 'Setup' menu this time around, so I guess it goes without saying that there are no dubs, no subs, no closed captions, and generally no nothin'.

  • A Look Back at Captain America (20 min.; HD): The one and only extra on this Blu-ray disc is an interview with star Matt Salinger and director Albert Pyun, who's wearing a three-wolf shirt because of course he is. They tackle just about everything you'd want to hear, including why Steve Rogers looks pretty much the same before and after the Super-Soldier Serum infusion, the physicality of a superhero flick like this, the ordeal of wearing such a heavy suit in the triple-digit heat of an Eastern European country that doesn't exist anymore, and trying to overcome the hurdles of zero time and zero money. It's...a little clearer why the movie is as lousy as it is, and the two of 'em make it sound like the Captain America they sought out to make was at least a little better than what eventually escaped onto home video.

The Final Word
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Nope. Sorry, Cap. Skip It.
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