1979 – TV Movie – 90 Minutes – Shout! Factory
Starring Reb Brown, Len Birman, Steve Forrest – Directed by Rod Holcomb
Captain America is the prime example of a superhero movie. He has a neat uniform that represents what he stands for, his weapon is cool, he has super strength and speed and to top it off, he’s chock full of American pride. His origins come from the heart, a weakling who wants to go to war to stand up against the Nazis and after a successful superhero experiment, he’s socking Hitler right in the kisser. All the ingredients for a top notch superhero flick. To play the star spangled hero, let’s get Reb Brown; the guy who would later star in the MST3K riffed Space Mutiny and a couple of Bruno Mattei ripoff-sploitation films, like Strike Commando and Robowar. And who else fits the bill better? He’s the blonde hair, blue eyed beefcake best known for shrieking at the top of his lungs while waving a machine gun around and beating the snot out of terrorists, so who else would be a better candidate for the USA’s all American superhero?
In 1979, Marvel would unleash upon the world the made for TV Captain America movie. With everything I talked about above, this movie is going to blow people away!
Nah, just toss all of that out the window.
Well then, how else would you open a Captain America movie, but with him leisurely cruising in a panel van, kicking it back while a mellow tune toots over the footage. What, you think an opening at a heated battle during WWII is action heavy? And this is how we introduce the patriotic Steve Rogers, who in this case is a former marine who is living in his van, traveling the states and finding out who he really is. In other words, Captain America is a hippie. We learn all of this as he talks to his surfer friend about meeting up with his friend Jeff who is in need of help and receiving a letter from a man named Simon Mills who wants to speak with him about his late father’s work. So much action happening in the first several minutes, it’s impossible to take it all in! Slow down, movie!
But Steve encounters some trouble on the way to his friend’s. Turns out, some thugs are after Steve, as they spray down a curvy road alongside a cliff with oil and do you think Steve spots this obvious trap? Of course not, because that would make the villains look incompetent, which surely they aren’t. Ahem. Since black oil in the bright California sun camouflages in so well with grey pavement, Steve falls prey to their trap and rolls his sweet set of wheels down the cliff, but emerges from the wreckage unharmed… except for a slight tear in his polo! Curse these evil-doers! Just who are they and what do they want with Steve? My guess would be to rid the world of horrific panel vans.
Steve literally walks it off and chalks it up to being an accident and meets up with Dr. Mills who tells Steve all about his father’s last project; FLAG. Full Latent Ability Gain. Yup, cause Super-Soldier Serum was too obvious and this movie needed something that was a little more vague. Although all the test subjects who have been injected with FLAG do gain powers, they don’t live too much longer afterwards. And you thought irritable bowels was an unfortunate side effect. It turns out that Steve’s father created the serum from his own DNA, so they believe Steve would be able to harness the abilities without, you know, the side effect of death. Does our patriotic marine step up to his calling? No. Instead, he whines and tells them he doesn’t want to report in to anyone and wants to lay low, kick back and discover who he really is. Our hero. The few, the proud… the puss.
Moving on with his life, Steve finally goes off to see his friend Jeff, who has just been murdered. Steve seems to be having a rough day. Meanwhile elsewhere, a black limo pulls up to an oil company and a man in a black suit gets out before looking around and walks into the building with a brisk, but relaxed pace. Why did I just describe that to you? Because they show every second of it, so it must be important! Inside, we learn that this man is named Brackett, an evil oil business tycoon (Seriously, is there ever a good one?) who is looking for some microfilm in order to complete building a neutron bomb that Jeff was working on with Brackett’s evil scientist in order to hold the city ransom so he can steal gold… ? I don’t know, it’s kind of a stupid plan. His henchman accidentally killed Jeff while interrogating him about the microfilm, but saw Steve at the scene. Perhaps he knows something? So wait, then why did we try to kill him? Before we even knew that he knew Jeff?
Well good thing Steve managed to survive, so now the villains can find out what he knows. Brackett calls him up, telling him he’s a friend and wants to meet up to tell him about what really happened to Jeff. Steve, of course, walks into this trap head first and what’s the first thing these thugs that are supposed to interrogate Steve do? Shoot at him, driving Steve off a cliff on his motorbike. I guess their policy is shoot first, ask questions later. And what is it about cliffs that attract Steve? It’s becoming a Looney Tunes cartoon at this point, except instead of turning into a xylophone, Steve is gravely injured and there is only one way to save him; inject him with the FLAG serum.
So now there are cool scenes of Steve saving people or accidentally and hysterically breaking things, realizing his full potential and newfound powers, right? Nope. He lays in bed and whines about how they took away his right and he doesn’t want these powers, denying Dr. Mills any testing. The visions of Cap standing triumphantly over Red Skull at dawn with the sun to his back as the American flag flaps in the wind comes to mind.
Whatever, at least the movie is going to force something to happen at this point. Even the filmmakers realized nothing has actually happened. Steve is kidnapped from the hospital by Brackett’s henchmen and taken to a meat packing plant, because… who cares. At least the movie seems to be setting up an action piece! The henchman outright start demanding for Steve to hand over the microfilm… which he still has no idea about… and if he doesn’t, well one of them reminds him what happened to Jeff.
“He got cute and hid the pictures. Then he got DEAD.”
Threatening words that anger Steve, so he breaks free and heroically defeats his captors by hurling large hunks of meat on them and then calling the proper authorities! Man, does this action ever let up!? There is no way they can top it, so let this mark the film’s only fight scene (or at least what passes for one here)! Steve decides that he should talk to Simon about his new powers, which they discuss along with his father’s secret identity as Captain America; a nickname given to him by those ridiculing him for standing up to for the little guy and fighting crime. Holy crap, Steve’s dad sounds awesome. He was a scientist that created a serum that gave him super powers and so he used it to fight crime… why the hell isn’t the movie about this guy?
Just in case Steve changed his mind about the whole “hero” thing, Simon prepared him a new panel van equipped with all kinds of gadgets that are never explained and a secret rocket bike hidden inside. But that’s not all! Made from the sturdiest materials on Earth, he gives Steve the trademark Captain America shield, representing the colors of the country; red, transparent and blue! Wait, is that right? Oh and cherish this moment where they test out the shield by tossing the flimsy thing into the air as it boomerangs back, because he never throws it again.
But Brackett has had enough. Kidnapping some of their female friends, one being Jeff’s daughter, which he should have done this long ago, who hands over the microfilm (oh yeah, there are a couple females in this movie, but they don’t do anything), he finally completes his neutron bomb and makes his demands known to Steve and Simon or else he will detonate it.
“But why? Bracket is no mad dog killer, he is after something.” – Actual words spoken by Simon.
Using his super hearing, Steve overhears some clues to Brackett’s location and decides to FINALLY do something with his powers and take action. Simon thinks Steve should use a disguise and presents to him what looks like a rejected Evil Knievel (even complete with a silly motorcycle helmet) costume based off one of his sketches. So finally at the 74 MINUTE mark, Captain America arrives! I know a lot of super hero movies wait until about 45 minutes or so to show their heroes, but those are 2 hour movies. This film barely makes 90 minutes. So, we don’t even see the titular hero until the final 15 minutes, which he’s not even in costume for the entire duration of.
So he rescues the girls after spraying down some security guards with oil (yeah not henchmen, but some minimum wage security guards just doing their jobs) and unravels the whole plot, which I kinda forgot at this point, because the stupid soaked deep into my brain. However, they still need to deal with Brackett, who has now rigged a device up to his heart so that if he dies, the neutron bomb explodes. Your move, Cap!
Transporting the bomb on a semi, Brackett has no idea Steve is hot on his tail, so now we get to see them duke it out or Cap stops the truck in a real heroic and tough way! Oh, why am I getting all of our hopes up. Of course he doesn’t. He bends the exhaust pipe of the truck into the trailer in order to knock out Brackett, but what Steve’s thick skull doesn’t know is that this causes humans to asphyxiate and die. Brackett passes out unconscious and the bomb will go off if he dies, so how does Steve resolve it? Does he punch his heart so hard, it beats faster? Don’t we all wish. So, get this… he calls Simon to come administer first aid to Brackett since Steve is untrained in that area. This scene actually goes on for a few minutes. This is… what the… I can’t. I can’t.
They keep him from dying, disarm the bomb and save the day… off camera, of course. We just see the exposition in a dialogue scene and Steve rocking duds that look identical (minus the motorcycle helmet) to the actual comic book version of Captain America, thus accepting his powers and taking on his father’s legacy.
So to reiterate, your source material consists of a man with great powers, who is brave and courageous, fighting Nazi’s during the second the World War, but for whatever reason that isn’t good enough?! No instead, we get a Captain America, in a much stupider looking outfit mind you, who whines and complains and doesn’t want to use his powers?! In fact, he never throws a single punch, his signature shield or really anything that Captain America is known for! Come to think of it, a majority of scenes are filler where nothing is happening or Steve is just cruising in his van. I’m sorry, but HOW do you f*#@ this up? I understand the 70’s were a different time and budgets were lower and special effects were much more difficult to pull off (especially for a superhero movie), but the Hulk series was fairly close to its source material, so why not Cap?
And Reb, what did they do to you, man? Sure this was before his action movie star days, but when you cast a guy like Reb Brown, you should just let him do his thing. His acting range goes from falling asleep to getting sleepy. Not the most versatile range of acting. They would have been better off actually choreographing fight scenes and letting the dude throw people around and toss the shield, kinda like CAPTAIN AMERICA! THE MOVIE YOUR FILM IS ABOUT! Maybe they thought a guy beating up evildoers was too violent. I mean, they couldn’t get the costume right until the end, threatening us with a sequel.
With the lack of faithful character adaptation, boring score, sleepwalking performances and lack of any action makes this a bad, cheesy flick to even sit through. Even for the 70’s this film is too mellow. If you’re trying to fall asleep, I highly recommend it. I suppose we should Thank Shout! Factory for bringing this to DVD, but why should we. Otherwise, do your country a fair service and skip Captain America. But that sequel… you don’t think… they wouldn’t… did they?