With the recent cinematic successes out of the Marvel Universe, there has been some increased attention towards Marvel’s earlier, less impressive attempts to break into the big screen. Whereas DC saw successes with Superman and Batman on the big screen long before our current comic book movie boom, Marvel was a bit late to the game. Before Raimi’s “Spider-Man” and Singer’s “X-Men” franchises, there were a small handful of attempts to cash in on Marvel properties at the box office. My personal favorite of those was an Ozploitation version of “The Punisher” featuring Dolph Lundgren, but this blog is rarely about things that I like. So, today I am going to talk about the formerly IMDb Bottom 100-ranked “Captain America” from 1990, directed by the infamous Albert Pyun.
There were a lot of factors working against the team creating “Captain America (1990)” that certainly contributed to the movie’s failure. They were battling a resistant studio, rigid restrictions from Marvel, and were working with a very small budget. All of those issues are evident while watching the movie, particularly the budget whenever any kind of special effects are needed. The costuming issues (rubbers ears, for example) also certainly stemmed from the restrictions from Marvel on how they could present their properties on screen, which I think Pyun did the best he could with. However, there were certainly some bizarre creative decisions going on as well.
First off, the casting of Captain America is beyond perplexing at first glance. Matt Salinger was not an experienced actor, and was clearly not suited to be the lead in a movie. Apart from the fun-fact that his father is JD Salinger, there isn’t much notable about him. In a behind-the-scenes feature, Pyun claimed that he wanted to have two different actors to play Steve Rogers (pre-transformation) and Captain America. At the time, that might have been the best way to pull off a convincing transformation (this is the trick they used for “The Incredible Hulk” on TV, after all). However, apparently this idea was shot down, so Pyun had to cast someone who could be convincing as a muscular hero and as the unintimidating Steve Rogers. That doesn’t quite excuse going with Matt Salinger, but the decision is a little more understandable in that lens. I still personally think it is more likely that Matt Salinger was the cheapest option on the table, so they ran with it.
As is not uncommon with an unpolished, low-budget movie, Pyun was essentially locked out of the editing room after the funding ran out for filming. At that point, the movie was cut together with what was available, despite an entire filming location being cut for lack of funds. The result is a somewhat jarring final product that is clearly missing pieces needed to flesh it out.
Personally, I’m not convinced that any budget could have made this film good. Albert Pyun I don’t think has the talent to pull off a top-tier Hollywood flick, but I would have been interested to see what he would have come up with. I do assume that Salinger would have been out if the money permitted a bigger name, but rumors I have seen included Dolph Lundgren and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role, which would have been a little odd either way. In any case, I think that “Captain America (1990)” is pretty entertaining for what it is. Some seem to find it pretty painful to sit through, but I thought that there were enough hammy moments between the bad special effects and Cap’s carjackings to make it a pretty good watch.
The best news is that with the recent success of Captain America on the big screen, this movie has been re-released on Blu-ray! If you are interested in watching this movie, I totally recommend checking that out (especially the interviews with Salinger and Pyun about the movie’s production).