PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

'Captain America': It's Not That Bad

This much maligned film captures enough of the spirit of Captain America that Marvel fans will probably want to own this odd piece of ephemera from before the age when Marvel movies became a juggernaut.

Captain America

Director: Albert Pyun
Cast: Matt Salinger, Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty, Scott Paulin
Distributor: Shout! Factory
Rated: NR
Release date: 2013-05-21

"It's not as bad as you’ve heard" doesn’t constitute a ringing endorsement. On the other hand, you’ve heard some very bad things about Albert Pyun’s 1990 film version of Captain America. Sometimes touted as the “worst superhero movie ever made,” Shout! Factory has released a blu-ray “Collector’s Edition” of the effort that gives Cap fans a chance to see if it lives up to its lousy reputation.

Keep an open mind. Captain America has some pretty good moments, but its effect sours overall. Filmed in Yugoslavia on a shoestring, the action sequences are generally absurd and the dialogue feels at times like bad dubbing. Nevertheless, it captures enough of the spirit of Captain America that Marvel fans will probably want to own this odd piece of ephemera from before the age when Marvel movies became a juggernaut.

Captain America opens somewhat promisingly, beginning the story during the Second World War and with Cap’s arch nemesis, Red Skull. Here, Pyun at least improved over the horrific 1979 made for TV films, with which his effort sometimes gets confused. Pyun’s work is vastly, and I mean vastly, better… not that that’s a great accomplishment since the TV Captain America used the super soldier serum to help an old lady catch some muggers stealing her social security checks (I’m not kidding).

Once, the story leaves the '40s, we’re pretty much done here. Captain America ends up frozen in ice just like in the comics and finds himself reawakened in the '90s. This middle part of the film slows to a crawl, with the bright spot being Ned Beatty showing up as the best friend of the current President of the United States. Unfortunately, he’s in exactly three scenes before the Red Skull’s henchmen kill him off so he can pick up his paycheck and get the hell out of there.

This segment also contains an atrocious action scene in a warehouse so darkly lit that the high-def transfer just seems to make it look darker. Cap’s not wearing his costume and, adding insult to injury, using a garbage can lid in place of his shield. His search for the Red Skull in Italy includes a poorly choreographed shoot 'em up at a café where, again, Cap’s out of costume.

Meanwhile, Cap’s old enemy has kidnapped the President. The Red Skull has had plastic surgery and no longer sports a spiffy Red Skull, primarily because of the real villain of this film: low production values. Why has he kidnapped the President? Its some kind of Manchurian Candidate plot but we don’t learn much about, other than that there’s some high-ranking general in the Pentagon who has allied himself with Red Skull because the President is pro-environment. Or something.

There are other weird elements, too. Iconic scenes and ideas from the comics that are perfect for film never appear. We never get to see sickly Steve Rogers apply and be rejected when he tried to join the army to watch Nazis. We’re just told in the beginning that he’s become a part of some super secret project. Meanwhile, Roger appears to be in his mid-30s during the WWII portion of the film, and an avid smoker. He also has a penchant for stealing people’s cars, Grand Theft Auto-style. And then there’ the aforementioned refusal to just put on his damn costume and be Captain America.

But again, it’s not all rubbish. The action sequences early in the film are not too bad, including the battle with the Red Skull. Scott Paulin as the Red Skull plays up the nefarious really well and his look matches up serviceably with the comic book villain.

And yes, when he finally puts it on, the Captain America costume look silly. But it also looks like Cap from the comics. No substituting a red white and blue army helmet for those iconic, ridiculous looking little wings popping out of his cowl. They went full on cartoony. He looks like something out of a comic book, in other words, and why is that a bad thing?

In fact, the suit sums up the one redeeming feature of this failed project. Director Albert Pyun and Matt Salinger seem to have loved this character and put as much of his spirit into an underfunded film as they could. This counts for something, and earns the blu-ray a place in most every comic book fan’s collection.

The single special feature is really only a series of interviews with Matt Salinger and Albert Pyun. In general, the very short featurette (about 20 minutes) tries to explain everything that went wrong with the production. Salinger claims that he thought the script was excellent. Its not. It contains lines like “When we get to the Red Skull’s castle, I want you to stay out of the way and let me do my job.” Otherwise, Pyun and Salinger talk about how great it was to work together and more or less give the impression that with more money and more time they could have put together a better movie.

This is not a good film and doesn’t even achieve the “cult status” that it claims, but it's a film worth owning for genre fans.

Is it the worst superhero film ever made? No way. Think about all the other candidates for that title a moment. I would watch the 1990 Captain America before I’d watch Batman Forever. In fact, there are just as many bad ideas in Spider-Man 3, bad ideas globbed over with enough expensive CGI that fans offered more forgiveness than they should have. Pyun’s Captain America may be a bad film, but its true to the source material and its creator is clearly respected.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.