Captain America (1979)

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I wouldn’t call this the worst film I’ve ever reviewed, because the cast appear to be able to act, and the cameras are by and large pointing in the right direction. But I’d say it’s right up there with the dullest, as it resembles and feels like a below average feature-length episode of “Quincy”, with a star who’s more hippie Evel Knievel than American superhero.

I don’t have a patriotic bone in my body, and that “my country, right or wrong” attitude feels dangerous to me, so I was never the biggest fan of Captain America growing up (showing how different our national discourse has been, Captain Britain is a mostly forgotten embarrassment). The recent films have been a lot of fun, though, and while I’m unlikely to start reading his comic, he’s okay by me; but this isn’t anything about them. Marvel have had a few goes at doing “Cap” – once in 1944, a TV series in the 1960s, another film in 1990, and two TV movies in 1979, of which this is the first, starring Reb Brown as Steve Rogers, possibly most famous to bad film fans as the star of the MST3K episode “Space Mutiny”.

Steve is fresh out of the Marines and is driving a van down the West coast of America, generally being mellow (he actually says this). Visiting an old friend, he gets sucked into some police investigation about scientists getting murdered and secret papers going missing; while this is happening it appears someone’s trying to kill him too. Turns out his Dad invented a super-serum and spent his life helping people out with his super-strength, agility, vision and hearing, and his old colleagues are trying to replicate its effects. It doesn’t work, of course, because it’s keyed to Pa Rodgers’ specific genetic makeup. Guess who shares it? Impressively, Steve refuses at first, wanting to “look America in the face” rather than work for the Man any more, but after the villains nearly kill him, his friends need to dose him to save his life and Captain America is born.

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Get ready for lots of scenes of people in brown suits standing around offices discussing the details of a pretty boring-sounding crime. I’m yawning just thinking of it again…it’s 38 minutes before the words “Captain America” are uttered and 49 minutes before he gets the super-serum. It’s so slow! I don’t think it even counts as an origin story, it’s more a guy getting a new job story. What it also is, is the thing we know and love, the pilot that crashed. Check the list – sidekicks get lots of backstory, plus they have skills the star doesn’t; none of them die; the villain also survives; and there’s irrelevant world-building detail (although this one was so dull it forgot most of the last one).

 
After a bunch more standing around, Steve gets his Captain America gear. They fit his van out with a special bike, which manages to be far less convenient than his old bike-rack (there’s zero clearance, so he’d have to crawl into place to drive it out of the van). It has a “silent” mode, to which the only reasonable question is “why doesn’t he use silent mode all the time?” (perhaps it’s tough on petrol consumption, is the only answer I could think of). He’s given a bullet-proof plastic shield which also doubles as his bike windscreen, and then there’s the outfit. I wasn’t joking about the Knievel thing – he was a much bigger deal than some boring old superhero at the time, and I’m positive that’s how the movie was sold. I doubt it was sold as “it’s like the most boring elements of a lot of already boring things”.

Cap has to stop a neutron bomb and a plan to steal some gold (I think, I was seriously struggling to pay attention by this point). He takes a helicopter ride to the scene of the “action”, and the ride goes on for what feels like days. I said, after a really long time had passed “well, they’ve finally established he’s in a helicopter”, but then it just kept on going, making my poor attempt at a joke feel terribly sad. Anyway, he defeats the villain in perhaps the most hilariously low-key, low-stakes ending a superhero movie has ever had.

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None of this makes any sense, even if you assume it’s the first two episodes of a potential TV show. Captain America would never exist if the villains of the piece didn’t try to kill him – he was ready to drive away from it all, which would have made it a great deal easier for them to complete their nefarious plans. Anyway, imagine you’re a youthful comic reader in the late 70s, surely the only possible audience for this trash. You’re excited about a movie featuring an iconic character, ready for the guy you’ve seen take on supernatural foes to kick some ass, but what you actually get is a tedious police procedural with a good half of its running time devoted to middle aged men having conversations. Who thought this was even remotely a good idea? Who was this supposed to entertain?

Rating: thumbs down

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2 thoughts on “Captain America (1979)

  1. Pingback: Youtube Film Club: Prophecy (1979) |

  2. Pingback: Youtube Film Club: Robowar (1989) |

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