A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 508 – Captain America (1990)

Captain America (1990) – July 21st, 2011

Why yes, to celebrate the opening of the new Captain America movie we are watching something so very sub-par that I’m pretty sure it’s on a different scale entirely. We figured hey, we’re not going to be able to go to a midnight opening and we probably wouldn’t get to see it at all until Sunday, so we should do our own thing! And while we had considered watching this the day we go to see the new one, if that’s Sunday then it’s impossible. We have special plans for Sunday and the entire coming week. Because I am on vacation. And we have long movies to watch. Turns out we’re going to see the new movie on Saturday, but that decision was made after we’d put this in and the damage was done.

This is a terrible movie. The first time I watched it was for an online riff chat some of the old AOL MST3K fan community did every so often. We’d all rent the same movie, start it at the same time and gather in a chat room to make fun of it together. And all I remember about this one was that it was absolutely ridiculous. And I remembered correctly! It is ridiculous! It is a bizarre mish-mash of a movie, full of things I suspect are canon and things I am damn sure don’t even have a passing acquaintance with canon. It has a couple of decent concepts that I could have possibly gone along with, but they’re cobbled together into this mess of a movie.

First of all, I would just like to point out that the origin this movie gives the Red Skull is suspiciously similar to the one the X-Men movies have given Magneto. Except where I really think the Magneto origin is done well and I especially appreciate the expansion of it in the newest movie, this movie doesn’t bother with subtlety and therefore it sucks. I mean, yes, the Nazis were, as a party, a terrible force that destroyed so many lives it’s sickening to think about numbers. And within the party there were scientists and soldiers who did even more unspeakably horrible things. And they make really good villains for anyone to go up against in a movie because there is no question that they are Bad Guys. They’re simple and the audience will know, without a doubt, who to root against. But where Magneto’s origin gives him some depth of character because his actions are so clearly connected to his experiences as a child, in this movie the Red Skull is just a guy who was tortured by Nazis and decided to run an assassins club (which I’m sure Martin Blank would scoff at) after the war. What’s the point of giving him any sort of origin there? I’m no Cap aficionado but I did a little poking around none of the incarnations of the Red Skull seem to have this sort of origin story. And it’s a brutal one! Kid’s torn away from his family who are then all brutally murdered in front of him before he’s taken to a secret lab and experimented on.

Not that the backstory for the Red Skull never comes into play again. His initial scene with his family and the piano and all ends up being a key point in the climax. But it’s a key point that comes in unconnected to anything else in the movie between the first scene and the last. How do we make the villain panic? Make him face the trauma of his youth! What trauma? Um… family murdered by Nazis! That’s much better than actually having Captain America defeat him otherwise! And why do we need a trick to make the villain panic when we’ve got a perfectly good superhero right there? Because Cap’s never been able to defeat him before in that one time they faced off just after Cap was given all his super strengths and all before he was buried in Alaska and hibernated for thirty years. So obviously he wouldn’t be able to defeat the villain on his own! After all, why have him spend any time training or anything like that after he’s dug up and revived when we could have a montage of him traveling cross-country by freight cars set to a power ballad ostensibly about his old girlfriend?

It just feels so strange, watching this movie, realizing that some of the most ridiculous things done in it are there because of poor choices very early on in the movie. The whole traveling montage isn’t really necessary to establish that Steve Rogers still thinks his old girlfriend, Bernice, is waiting for him. It’s several minutes of power ballad lyrics about “memories of you, girl!” when something far simpler would have done just fine and that screen time could have been used to establish Captain America gearing up for facing down his hastily-established nemesis. It could have been spent on said nemesis, even! Give him something else to justify that first scene! But no. Power ballad and freight cars.

One concept I really quite liked here, but felt was absolutely horribly done, is President Kimball. Back in the day, when Steve Rogers became Captain America and first encountered the Red Skull and saved the White House from a rocket meant to destroy it, little Tom Kimball sees him and is forever transfixed by this red, white and blue clad figure with an A on his helmet. And then little Tom Kimball grows up to be the president who is then kidnapped by the Red Skull and saved by his childhood hero. I kind of like the idea that Cap returns to this one man’s life. And I like Kimball. He’s the scrappiest president ever, getting into it with his captors and stealing some acid from the lab where they’re preparing him for a brain implant that will give the Red Skull complete control over him. He pretty much frees himself, really. To be honest, Cap’s kind of useless here. His major talent is faking being carsick so he can then steal a car (he does this twice – someone, tell me this is not canon, please). The trouble is that we get a scene of Kimball as a kid, and then we get spinning newspapers and voiceovers detailing his political career and rise to the presidency. It’s not even worthy of the montage label. It’s a demi-montage. More like a scrapbook. Why spend time on that? Why not just go from the kid in Washington, catching a snapshot of Captain America saving the day, to the adult in present day Washington, looking at said snapshot? That would tell us all we need to know along with the same name for the character.

The whole movie is like this. Somewhat decent ideas played out in horrible ways, with montages and power ballads and clumsy writing. Oddly enough, once Cap and his old girlfriend’s daughter, Sharon, get to Italy, I think the movie goes a lot better. Sharon’s clearly the cleverer of the two, speaking Italian, finding information about the Red Skull’s origins, acting as a decoy for the bad guys so Cap can break into the Red Skull’s fortress. What does Captain America do? He feigns carsickness again and then scales a wall. President Kimball and Sharon, on the other hand, are breaking out of their cells and duking it out with baddies, hand to hand. But at least there are no montages. There is a piano on the outer wall of the fortress, which I remembered very clearly but had no real context for this time until hey, there it was! But really, it’s all just bizarre dressing for this sad mess of a movie. I’m not even dignifying the Red Skull’s “fiendish” plot by describing it. The movie’s ending doesn’t even really work (what, the detonator stops working if the person holding it falls down a cliff?) and neither does the rest of it.

July 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Captain America (1990)

July 21, 2011

Captain America (1990)

It’s probably pretty sick of me to admit that I’ve been looking forward to watching this movie for a couple months. We bought it as a kind of gag – something to watch when the new Captain America movie came out in theaters. I hadn’t ever actually seen this movie all the way through though, so the joke is somewhat on me. I had not anticipated quite how impressively bland and mediocre this movie really is.

I’ve been in the room while this was playing. It was (for some inexplicable reason) favoured by one of our co-workers at TLA for a while, so he was in the habit of putting it in the VCR there while we worked but I never paid it much mind. So I’ve seen bits and pieces of the movie, out of sequence, but I had no concept of the whole. It was probably a better way to see the film – the movie that I constructed in my imagination from the bits and pieces I saw was preferable to this jumbled mess.

I have to think that this movie was somehow influenced by the success in 1989 of Tim Burton’s Batman movie. Somebody figured they needed to act quickly to make a Marvel-based super hero movie to cash in on this huge audience for gritty dark comic book films. But make it cheap just in case the formula isn’t such a sure-fire thing. And have some comic book humor. And have some attractive women. The end result is a movie that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be.

It starts out cool and gritty and dark. The Nazis in Italy in the 1930s (were there Nazis in Italy that early?) are working to perfect a formula that will make soldiers bigger, stronger and smarter. It’s not quite right yet, however, and has some unpleasant side effects. They decide to go to human trials anyhow and for their first human subject they choose a brilliant young prodigy. They recruit him to the cause by the simple method of forcing him to watch as they slaughter his family. Sure, who wouldn’t want to join them after that? So distraught is the project leader by this behavior that she defects to America.

Three years later we learn from a bit of ADR that the process has been mastered and that the Americans are ready to start human trials of their own. They have chosen for the honor a simple fellow with a slight limp (because the formula is supposed to cure ailments like polio and such) and an aw-shucks kind of wide-eyed naivete named Steve Rogers. So Steve kisses his steady girl goodbye and goes off to become a human guinea pig. Unfortunately a Nazi spy has infiltrated the secret lab (hidden under a diner) and during the experiment he shoots the scientist who had developed the super soldier serum, meaning that Steve is the only super soldier on the US payroll.

Almost immediately Steve, now dubbed Captain America is airlifted off to Nazi Germany to infiltrate a top secret missile base there. And just as quickly he proves that he’s not much of a super soldier as he gets his ass soundly kicked by his Italian counterpart – the super soldier prototype now known as the Red Skull (due to those side effects I mentioned.) The Red Skull straps Cap to a rocket aimed at the White House and is launched away. At the last possible moment Cap is able to bend the tail fin of the rocket enough to divert it so it crashes harmlessly in the frozen north somewhere, and Captain America is frozen alive.

All this is just the pre-amble to the movie though. The real film is about Captain America being defrosted in 1993 and having to cope with the much altered world he finds there. Now that sounds like it could have been a kind of groovy movie. If it had been Austin Powers. But instead the effect is that the climactic battle between good and evil happens about twenty minutes into the movie, evil resoundingly wins, and the whole rest of the film feels like an afterwards.

The only witness to the missile that almost hit the White House was a young boy who never forgot that strange man strapped to a rocket. That boy, through a montage of spinning newspapers, grows up to be Dick Jones, the slimy head of the OCP team that developed the ED-209 President of the United States. His best pal grows up to be a newspaper reporter obsessed with a conspiracy theory regarding a mysterious crime lord called the Red Skull who has been behind every major assassination in the last thirty years.

Here’s where things get a little confusing. The president is attending an environmental summit in Italy, and for some reason the Red Skull (who no longer appears red for some reason, but just looks kind of craggy) and his cabal of evil doers feel threatened by this summit, so they decide to kidnap the President and implant a brain control device of some sort so that they can rule the world. Muhahaha! Meanwhile, Red Skull sicks his psychopathic daughter and her empty eyed companions to kill the recently defrosted Captain America.

Cap is experiencing some culture shock trying to figure out the modern world. His steadfast girlfriend from the forties has moved on somewhat, getting married and having a daughter even though she still carries a torch for Steve. In a somewhat creepy move Steve promptly shacks up with his ex girlfriend’s daughter (which is somewhat okay I guess since the daughter is played by the same actress as the ex girlfriend? I don’t know.) Steve and his ex-girlfriend’s daughter promptly fly off to Italy to rescue the president (which caused Amanda to wonder where Steve got a passport on such short notice.) And over the course of another twenty minutes of faffing about the movie limps to its eventual end.

Clearly part of the problem is the conflicted nature of the movie. How can the same film have the brutal slaying of the Red Skull’s family, and the torture and murder of Steve’s old flame but at the same time contain cheesy attempts at humor like Steve’s repeated attempts to steal cars by feigning nausea. (How I wish I were kidding!) There are all these scenes in Italian with subtitles, which seems to indicate that they were attempting for a more mature audience, but then there’s the rubber American Flag outfit Cap wears that looks simply ludicrous. It’s like watching a battle of wills between studio executives who refused to relinquish power. Not good for a film.

Even worse, the title character is a pretty lame hero. This comes down partially to Matt Salinger’s portrayal. His Steve Rogers is such a big, gullible, lump of a guy that he barely seems capable of thought, much less heroism. He’s supposed to be this big super soldier but he spends the whole film lumbering around getting his ass kicked by flunkies. He doesn’t stop the missile launch. He doesn’t save his ex-girlfriend. He doesn’t even save President Kimball (the President saves himself thank you very much.) He gets shot at a lot and he throws his magic shield around, but as a super hero he leaves much to be desired.

I knew going into this movie that it wouldn’t be particularly good. That was kind of the whole point. And it’s far from the worst movie in our collection. It’s a big ugly mess though, and I found it kind of sad because there was some cool potential hidden in here. Hopefully we’ll go see the new Captain America movie in the theater on Saturday and that will help wash the memory of this one from my mind.

July 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment