The original 1990 Captain America film was a trainwreck — by all accounts, the investors pulled out a short time into filming, and the budget had to be slashed mercilessly — but it's also a supreme achievement of campy superhero action.
And now it's on DVD, in a nice restored limited edition from MGM.
We just rewatched the film, and it's more fun — and crazier — than we remembered. The Red Skull is not only a World War II war criminal, he's also single-handedly responsible for the assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Yes, he's achieved the hat-trick of 20th century assassinations. And now he's kidnapping the President of the United States, to put a stop to the President's environmentalist agenda. He plans to put a brain implant in the POTUS' head to let him be remote controlled, so he'll become a Baby Seal-Clubber and serve the Big Business interests that the Red Skull represents. It's quite possibly the most liberal-friendly superhero movie storyline ever. And by coincidence, the President happens to have been the only witness to Captain America's feat of saving the White House from a super-rocket in 1943 — before the rocket got diverted off course and flew all the way to the tundra, where Captain America was frozen.
As a major bonus, the President is played by Ronny Cox, aka Admiral Jellicoe from Star Trek: The Next Generation. To his credit, Cox actually brings his "A" game, acting-wise, to his scenes, including a nice bit (see clip above) where he's cornered by the Red Skull and chooses to jump off a building rather than surrender. The President then teams up with Captain America to kick big-business-Italian-Nazi ass. Captain America, meanwhile, is played by Matt Salinger, son of author J.D. Salinger — and I would give anything to have a recording of those two watching the movie together for the first time. "So what did you think, dad?"
Sadly, the action sequences really are lackluster, and the film seems to have been edited with a five-year-old's safety scissors. And the Italian version of the Red Skull, with his famous "teach-a me some English" routine, is pretty bizarre, it must be said. Why is the Red Skull Italian in the first place?
But there are some neat ideas in there, like the President being a superhero fan, and the notion that Captain America's first act on returning to life is to track down the woman he loved in the 1940s, who swore to wait for him. (She's gotten old, but reveals that she waited a full 16 years for him to come back, even after he was declared missing.) And I like how Captain America's one and only bit of subterfuge is to keep pretending to be carsick so he can steal people's cars. All in all, it's a great movie to get stoned or drunk and watch, and maybe if you watch this one and the new, shiny Captain America: The First Avenger back to back, you'll get some kind of hilariously distorted composite film stuck in your mind.