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.

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July 21, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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