Captain America (1992)

Format: NTSC
Language: English
Region: 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
Number of discs: 1
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Allied Vaughn
DVD Release Date: August 30, 2011
Run Time: 97 minutes




One might look at the recent big-budget Captain America as a slow progression away from Suck. Said Suck began in the 1970s, with a pair of truly ridiculous made-for-TV movies that featured silly plastic shields and a slumming Christopher Lee.

From there, it took an ever-so-small step up to a 1992 direct-to-video version: less crappy than the first films, but still a far cry from the Chris Evans blockbuster this summer. It was re-released on DVD last month in an effort to cash in on the character’s heightened profile. Judging by the quality on display, there was absolutely no other reason to do so.

To its credit, it stays more true to the character than the 1970s films. And it attracted a pair of comparatively famous actors (Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox) to help shepherd it home. But in the face of the 2011 version, its shoddiness is almost shocking. Like the new film, it starts during World War II, with the scrawny Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger, son of J.D.) volunteering for a secret experiment that transforms him into the pinnacle of human perfection. Donning the red, white and blue long-johns of Captain America, he does battle with the evil Red Skull (Scott Paulin), who has been injected with the same super-soldier serum and now furthers the aims of the Axis. Cap thwarts the Skull’s plans, but ends up frozen in ice for his troubles, thawing out only in the 1990s to take on his old nemesis yet again.

The problems begin almost immediately, with an unnecessarily convoluted back-story and the inexplicable decision to make the Skull Italian instead of German. Salinger himself makes a shockingly feckless Captain: filling out the suit well enough, but otherwise more stumblebum than super-stud. Director Albert Pyun plays up the stranger-in-a-strange land notion to the film’s ultimate detriment. We’re treated to interminable scenes of Rogers wandering through the 1990s landscape, amazed and los in equal measures with no clear direction in which to proceed. Only when the Skull kidnaps the President (Ronny Cox) does he leap into action again, but by then the bulk of the film is lost.

The lack of budget doesn’t help matters. With limited time and funds, the action scenes feel like a third-rate cop show: using the pretty Yugoslavian locations in an effort to make the amateurish stunts look more polished. None of the actors invest much in the proceedings – even Beatty and Cox are phoning it in – and the cheap production does nothing to justify their attentions. Admittedly, it respects the character enough to stay true to his origins and tries desperately to bring some fun to the proceedings. But with the sea change in Marvel’s cinematic fortunes, it exists more as a curiosity than a worthwhile experience.

Indeed, that may constitute its only worthwhile purpose. Captain America was released amid a glut of similarly cash-strapped efforts, from the Dolph Lundgren Punisher to the David Hasselhoff Nick Fury. Looking at this film and the new one side by side highlights how much we’ve gained in the last decade: how even mediocre efforts like Fantastic Four stand head and shoulders above earlier generations of Marvel movies. That’s not Captain America’s fault, of course, but that doesn’t mean that anyone but the most die-hard fans should suffer through it.

THE DISC: This is a quickie cash-grab and it shows. The menu is minimalistic and the disc contains nothing but the movie itself: indifferently transferred and lacking even a chapter search function to help you navigate through the sludge.

- Rob Vaux



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