As you know by now, it didn’t. If you managed not to catch it in its long-delayed VHS debut in 1993 — or the burn-on-demand DVD released in 2011 just to piggyback off the big-budget, blockbuster Captain America: The First Avenger — now you can see it the best it’s ever been and likely ever will be, via Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray.
Even given the success of last summer’s Cap-included The Avengers, I never thought his first feature film would hit Blu-ray. Why? Because it’s awful — so awful, I’ve seen it six times now! Here are just three reasons for its awful awfulness:
1. It’s from Cannon Films, which specialized in many a Chuck Norris and ninja movie in the 1980s.
2. It’s directed by Albert Pyun, whose credits at the time included the Mystery Science Theater-ified Alien from L.A., and more recently, H.P. Lovecraft’s Cool Air.
3. See 1 and 2. Repeat as necessary. (I obviously have; it’s one of my all-time favorite bad films.)
Pyun sprints through the Marvel Comics origin as soon as he can. What takes place at about 30 minutes into the new movie occurs at about seven in this one, as beefy soldier Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger, son of The Catcher in the Rye author, J.D., which boggles the mind) is transformed into the just-as-beefy Captain America, as part of a top-secret government science project during World War II. As a witnessing member (Michael Nouri TV’s NCIS) of the military brass remarks, “He may not be Superman.”
Amen to that, Lt. Col. Louis! Even Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (another Cannon offering, by the way) is gold compared to this comic-book adaptation. With absolutely zero training, Captain America paratroops into enemy territory: “I won’t let anyone down sir. I love you, Bernieeeeeeeeee!”
Then he gets his ass frozen for 50 years.
Cap believes that his archenemy — “an Italian boy called the Red Skull,” as the U.S. military puts it — is behind the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK, and that the next target is another higher-up whose last name also begins with K: U.S. President Kimball, who’s played by Ronny Cox. The film reunites Cox with his Deliverance co-star Ned Beatty, but this time with no man-on-man anal rape. (Perhaps that’s in Pyun’s director’s cut?) The two play pals since childhood, with Beatty now a dogged reporter.
As for action, Cap does a flip over a car and gets to throw his shield a few times. If you think a superhero like him should get involved in a bike chase set to a generic ’80s synth score, you’re going to be very pleased. Speaking of that decades’ wretched music, Captain America sports two of the worst rock ballads preserved on film, courtesy of Ivan Neville and Southside Johnny. They’re more evil than any plot perpetrated by the Red Skull (Scott Paulin, TV’s Castle), whose makeup is actually pretty good.
Can’t say the same for the special effects, which are as poor as the movie’s Walter Cronkite impression it tries to pull during the 50-year transitional sequence, in which various headlines are pasted on to the same fake-newspaper story.
Shout! Factory has branded the Blu-ray as a “Collector’s Edition,” but there’s only one extra feature. Luckily, it’s a goodie: a half-hour piece in which Pyun (clad in a wolf T-shirt) and Salinger reminisce about the film’s making. Pyun mentions how Howie Long almost landed the role, while Salinger recalls the costume was so difficult to get on and off, he’d have to give the crew a half-hour bathroom warning.
“It was worth it,” Salinger says. “I mean, you’re playing Captain America.” —Rod Lott
Hey! Read This:
• The Avengers film review
• Captain America / Captain America II: Death Too Soon DVD review
• Captain America: The First Avenger film review
• H.P. Lovecraft’s Cool Air DVD review
• Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVI DVD review
• The Superman Motion Picture Anthology: 1978-2006 Blu-ray review