Captain America is old school. Real old school. One of the very earliest generation of superheroes who has managed to remain not only relevant but arguably more popular than ever…
Where is everyone?
“C’mon guys, we got a review to do!”
“Fuck you, mazerunner!”
“We don’t review movies on April 1st. We told you this.”
“Yeah dawg, this mo-fawkin day is like your personal “Friday 13th done knocked up Halloween and this here’s there ugly-ass day baby.” day”
“We all know what’s going to happen. Horned King or BluCatt or one of the bajillion evil dudes you’ve managed to piss off will make you review something terrible and who suffers?”
“US! So I refer you my previous “Fuck you mazerunner!” Good day!”
“I said “good day” sir!”
Guys c’mon. That was the old Mouse. This blog has become a lot more serious since I started reviewing Marvel movies. As the movies have become more mature, I say, so too has Mouse. Look, today’s movie is Captain America: The Original Avenger. It’s a great film, nothing bad’s going to…
“Don’t you mean “first” Avenger?”
“No, look, it says here right on the cover…”
Wait. That’s not Chris Evans and his boyish blue eyes that would melt your heart.
“Mouse. Sit down. Our game is about to begin.”
“Please. Please. Red Skull is fine. I have come to collect on that favour you owe me.”
“I owe you a favour?”
“Of course. I allowed you to review How to Train Your Dragon and now you must do something for me. You must review 1990’s Captain America, one of the worst Marvel movies ever made!”
“Shock! Gasp! That thing you said would never happen happened!”
“Skull. You forget who you’re talking to. I’ve reviewed Foodfight. Your nineties Golan-Globus schlock has no power over me.”
“Then come. And let us see if this snark of yours is stronger than my hate.”
So I hope no one will object if I skip the historical overview and earnest analysis of Captain America as a character until the next review? When I review a Captain America movie that wasn’t assembled by meth-addicted gibbons? Brilliant, let’s crack on.
So in the eighties Stan Lee went to Hollywood and like many a young wild-eyed innocent eager for movie success, they fucking ate him alive. Most of the movie rights for Marvel’s main properties were snapped up for chump change by various studios which is why Marvel don’t own the rights to roughly two-thirds of their most profitable characters to this very day. The rights to Captain America were acquired by Cannon films, a B-Movie studio. Sorry, correction. THE B-Movie studio. If you’ve ever watched a VHS of Chuck Norris shooting everything until only freedom remains, chances are it was made by Cannon. They specialised in cheap action flicks and were incredibly prolific, churning out movies at a pace that would make Roger Corman proud. But while they remain most famous for their action movies, Cannon had a lot more going on than mindless gun and muscle flicks. Like many B-movie studios, they were often far more inventive, daring and even artistically relevant than the major studios. As far as I’m concerned, any studio that can put out The Delta Force, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and a film version of Verdi’s Otello directed by frickin’ Franco Zeffirelli himself in the same year should be lauded for versatility if nothing else. So, while a Cannon produced Captain America probably wouldn’t have been an all time classic, a fun, competently made actioner with a large serving of cheese would certainly not have been out of the question. But then, disaster struck. And, appropriately enough, it was at the hands of DC comics.
See, Cannon owned the movie rights to another superhero who’s inextricably linked to good old fashioned American values.
Yes. This was them.
Superman IV: What the hell am I even watching just whaaaa?!, bombed so badly that it pretty much took Cannon down with it, as well as inspiring so much critical and audience loathing that it almost killed the superhero movie genre dead right there and then. Fortunately movie studios have learned since then and that could never happen nowadays.
In the fallout, one of the two heads of Cannon, Menahem Golan, left Cannon and was given a small production company, 21st Century Film (the films of the future!) and the Captain America rights as part of his severance package. 21st Century Film died an ignominious, bankrupt death a few years later but it did, in its short life, create a movie so unique, so bold, so culturally relevant that it is now preserved in the National Film Registry by the US Library of Congress.
No, I was not talking about Captain America but your optimism is downright touching.
So the movie certainly doesn’t begin the way you’d expect of one of the legendary train wrecks of the genre. In fact the opening scene is downright…prestigey, to the point where the main titles seem jarringly inconsistent with the tone of the film we’re watching.
This should be called Tears for My Beautiful Vittorio or something.
We begin in that most American of countries, Italy (did I steal the joke from someone? I feel like I stole that joke from someone. I just got a surge of joke paranoia). It is 1936 and a young boy plays piano while his family listens enraptured and his performance is recorded on a tape recorder. Which I’m pretty sure they got from the future because in the thirties tape recorders were only found in radio studios and were around the size of Luxembourg. Suddenly, Italian fascists burst into the room, kidnap the boy and then force him to watch as his entire family is gunned down.
“This will ensure your loyalty to us!”
This scene is head and shoulders above everything that follows. I suspect the Italian actors think they’re in a serious American WW2 epic because they ‘re just really giving their all. It also helps that the fact that they’re listening to piano music means that this is one scene that’s not ruined by awful, sythny elevator music.
The soldiers cart the boy away and bring him to a fortress where some Nazis are being given a demonstration by the leader of the Italians who I think is supposed to be Mussolini even though this is a little below his pay grade
Micromanagers. The real fascists.
Mussolini shows them some footage of a perfectly ordinary rat and then shows them what happened after they used their new secret weapon on it, turning it into a hideous, hairless red mutant rendered through really bad stop motion animation. And Mussolini says “We can do this to people!” and they’re all “Where do we sign up?”and can you believe these guys lost the war?
So they bring in the boy and strap him to the machine as well as the scientist who created the process, Doctor Abraham Erskine, who in this movie is not Jewish, not German, a woman and named Maria Vaselli. Vaselli is horrified when she realises what the bad guys are about to do because apparently she thought the Axis just wanted to be at the forefront of ugly rat making technology? Anyway, she flees by jumping out the window while the poor Italian kid’s screams echo through the night fortississimo.
Okay, seven years later, General Exposition is explaining to Roosevelt that Vaselli has defected to the United States and that she’s helping the Americans build a super soldier programme and that their first volunteer is a Californian polio sufferer named Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger). Yeah. In this version Steve isn’t the product of a hard-scrabble working class upbringing in Hell’s Kitchen, he hails from sunny Redondo Beach, where the people are tanned and the tax incentives are generous to low-budget movie productions. The camera pans around Steve’s house, introducing to his massive extended family who we’ll never see again before pausing on a newspaper with possibly the most redundant headline in history.
Remember that war we told you about? It’s still a thing.
Steve’s mother gives him a medal that belonged to his father who was killed at Guadelcanal that has a picture of him inside it and…
Couple of issues here.
- You can put photographs in medals like a locket? Did not know or believe that.
- Steve’s Dad kept a photograph of himself in his medal? He probably thinks that song is about him.
- Guadelcanal? This scene is set in 1943. Guadelcanal is quite possibly still being fought. Which brings me to point four.
- In the picture Steve’s Dad doesn’t look that much older than him meaning that he must have fathered him when he was around eight.
Anyway, Steven says a mawkish farewell to his family and girlfriend Bernie, and he’s picked up by the military and Doctor Vaselli who drive him to a secret military base where WHAT THE FUCK?!
STEVE ROGERS IS SMOKING!?!
My God nineties, what did superheroes ever do to you?
Anyway, so Project Rebirth is being overseen by Lieutenant Colonel Louis, the kind of tough military man who’s constantly levelling with people. Like, all the time. He is never unlevel in his dealings.
“Colonel, you want some coffee?”
“Mouse? I’m gonna level with you. If I don’t get some French roast, black, with two sugars we may not win this war.”
Louis says that Steve was the best candidate out of 600 volunteers and considering he can hardly walk with polio I can only assume he interviews amazingly well. Louis says that “Codename Captain America” may not be Superman but that he’ll still represent everything great about America. Back in 1990, that line would have sounded pretty damn pathetic. Nowadays I’m more inclined to feel sorry for Superman. They begin the process and we actually see Steve’s muscles expanding like someone’s pumping fluid into them and it’s pretty darn gross but what do you know, it works and America has its first super soldier. Vaselli is introduced to Richard Erlich, an observer from the White House and waaaaaaait a minute “Erlich” is a German name!
Shit. So Erlich shoots Vaselli and then Steve who still manages to throw him into a generator which electrocutes him because workplace safety in the forties was just not there yet. Vaselli tells Steve to never give up and then dies in his arms. Steve is rushed to hospital and Louis asks the doctor when he’ll be ready for service. The doctor is all “Um…yeah, dude’s just been shot and had surgery?” and Louis levels with the Doctor, telling him that they need Steve to shut down a German site that’s going to launch a rocket at the United States in five days. Louis turns to see Steve standing in the doorway, asking when they leave. And then of course he keels over and bleeds to death because he still has massive internal injuries and he hasn’t had a chance to heal yet.
No, that wouldn’t be manly enough, so when we next see Steve he’s in costume and in a plane over enemy territory. Louis explains that he’ll parachute down and be led by two resistance fighters to the German’s base. He asks Steve if he has any questions and Steve is all “Yes. What the fuck am I wearing?” and Louis levels with him, saying the Vaselli designed that costume herself. In her own spare time. Because she loved America so damn much. And she’s dead now. Ass.
Steve asks Louis when he’s going to get some more troops in his battalion and Louis levels with him, saying that since only Vaselli knew the super soldier formula and she’s dead, Steve will be the only super soldier.
“Well…okay. But could I just get some regular soldiers? With guns?”
Cap parachutes down and attacks the base and finds himself face to face with the Red Skull who it turns out is the little boy from the opening scene and…
Firstly. Another nitpick. Age related again, sorry, I know. The kid we saw was maybe, eleven at most? So if this kid is the Red Skull that means that he’s now maybe just about eighteen. Captain America’s arch nemesis should at least be old enough to drink in America. Secondly. Look, I’m all for diversity and thinking outside the box when it comes to casting. But I have my limits. And one of those limits is that the Red Skull, one of the most iconic and terrifying representations of the Nazi menace, SHOULD BE FUCKING GERMAN.
“Quite. You see my objection.”
Why are all the major villains in this Italian? Why am I watching a movie about Captain America going up against the bumbling comedy sidekick of the Axis powers? Well, if I was a conspiratorially minded rodent I might think it had something to do with the fact that Menahem Golan’s departure from Cannon was a result of the studio being bought up by an Italian financier and convicted fraudster named Giancarlo Paretti . Perhaps this was Golan’s subtle way of getting revenge, by using his movie to dramatise a meta-narrative, casting himself as a champion of all-American values against the corrupt and nefarious Paretti? Or maybe Italy’s cheaper to shoot in than Germany and Italian actors work for less. Who can say? Anyway, despite his opponent having a red head it is Captain America who is beaten like a red-headed stepchild and tied to a missile which the Red Skull informs him is aimed at the White House. Captain America grabs hold of the Skull’s arm and says “Two can travel as cheaply as one, you sick bastard!”
Okay, so our potty mouthed hero has a grip on the Skull who whips out a dagger and tries to cut off Cap’s hand. But Cap yanks him forward so that instead he cuts off his own hand and…and that’s not how…anything works. No.
The missile blasts off towards Washington DC. We now meet a little boy named Tom Kimball (Garette Ratliffe) who’s staying in Washington DC with his parents and can’t sleep because he’s so excited to be near the White House.
He sneaks out of his hotel room and goes down to Pensylvania Avenue to take pictures of the White House in the middle of the night which is totally a sensible thing to do in war time. The rocket with Steve tied to it flies overhead and Tom is able to snap a picture of Cap’s terrified gurning as it passes by at supersonic speed sure why not? But then, Cap kicks the rocket hard enough that it misses the White House and instead hits Alaska which of course is immediately adjacent. Seriously. Cap gets frozen in the ice and so ends the glorious war time career of Captain America.
Later, Tom shows his picture to his friend Sam Kolawetz (Thomas Beatty). I was actually flabbergasted that they were able to get a kid who looks so much like Ned Beatty (who plays the grown up of Kolawetz) until I realised that Thomas Beatty is his son. Both kids are…very nice young gentlemen who are trying their best but Beatty in particular is…look, IMDb says he’s quit acting and is now working as a Manny. We wish him well.
Anyway, Tom and Sam muse as to who the masked man could have been, and Sam says that since he didn’t have a trident and wasn’t on fire so he couldn’t have been the Sub-Mariner or Human Torch.
If we can all take a minute to shake off the waves of panic induced by that hint of an interconnected 21st Century Film Cinematic Universe, I would like to huff and puff in an aggrieved manner about something that’s always bothered me. See, in the very first issue of Captain America it makes clear that in Cap’s world the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner are comic book characters and not actually real. That is, they’re fictional in the universe Captain America lives in. And this makes perfect sense when you think about it. If you assume that all three characters exist together in the same world then that means at point this conversation happened.
“Mr President, we have prepared three possible options for our superhero detterant.”
“Let me hear them, sonny.”
“Firstly there’s an Atlantean superman with a grudge against Germany. Our boys in Naval intelligence believe he could destroy the Nazis’ entire armada within a few weeks if recruited to our side.”
“Then there’s the Human Torch, an android who can fly and shoot flames from his hands. We’re ready to send them into mass production and reckon we can have all of Germany reduced to ashes before the year is out.”
“And lastly we have a really buff guy who throws a round shield. He will make little to no impact on the ultimate course of the war.”
“Alright. Let’s go with the shield fellow.”
“Sir? You’re sure we’re not going to go with the gods of fire and water?”
“General, what would Herr Hitler expect me to do?”
“Well obviously he’d expect you to…ooooooohh…”
“See? That’s why I sit in the big chair.”
“ACH! I did not expect zis!”
Okay, the movie now does something that I don’t know whether to mock or applaud. It shows us time passing with a series of newspapers blasting headlines of the major events of the twentieth century. So far, so hacky. However, each newspaper also has a minor story about Tom Kimball as he grows up, becomes involved in politics and finally becomes president of the United States. Which, okay, it’s still hacky but there is an economy of storytelling there that I can’t help but admire. We then cut to a newsreader telling us that President Kimball (Ronny Cox) is going to announce a multi-lateral treaty to ban all enviromentally hazardous industrial practices. In a press conference Kimball says that millions of new jobs will have to be found for people working in “plastics and toxins”. Man, I hope Kimball’s not running for re-election, because the attack ads write themselves.
“Toxinville was a thriving community, until President Kimball shut down the local toxin factory. Tom Kimball. Bad for toxin workers. Bad for America.”
Kimball levels with America, saying that if they don’t stop polluting “we’ll all die. Slowly. But we’ll die”.
“And in business news, markets reacted negatively to President Kimball’s “You will all die slowly” speech, dropping roughly a bajillion points by close of business.”
JESUS. Clearly Kimball wasn’t elected for his sunny optimism. Guy makes Carter look like Reagan.
In the White House, Kimball meets with General Fleming who tells him that his new enviromental policies won’t work. Kimball tells the General that the rules stand and that neither “you nor the Pentagon have enough senators in your pocket to change them”.
Whoever wrote that line gets how the US government works. Let there be no doubt about that. That person has had significant, hands-on experience with US policy making at the upper most levels to craft a line so utterly plausible and convincing. Probably a one-time White House staffer, maybe even a former president. In fact, Clinton was that you?
“Aw shucks, you got me!”
Fucking knew it. Bill Clinton. Man of hidden talents. Anyway, Fleming says that the Pentagon can’t cut down on their solid waste by 90% in six months and…yeah, actually that does sound incredibly unrealistic. Especially since most of the Pentagon’s waste wouldn’t even by toxic it would just be, I dunno, paper and soldiers’ crap. Kimball tells the General that his boys had better just learn to hold it in and Fleming wishes him a pleasant flight to Rome.
Later, in Italy, Fleming meets the Red Skull (Scott Paulin) who is now an Italian mob boss who’s had surgery so that he no longer looks like a skull who is red.
“Imbeciles! This is an outrage!”
“I agree with you totally!”
“Except about all the Nazi stuff, obviously there we’re going to have to agree to disagree.”
So around a table of eeeeeevil men smoking eeeeeeevil cigars Fleming says that they have to kill Kimball before all their hard pollution creating work goes down the crapper. Seriously, these guys have all the nuance and plausible motivation of Captain Planet villains. The Red Skull…no, why the fuck am I calling him the Red Skull? They’ve systematically stripped away anything that this guy has in common with the comics character. I shall give him a new name. Henceforth he shall be Binky.
Binky. The terror of Europe.
Binky says that they’re not going to kill Kimball because assassinations are really expensive and just create martyrs like what happened when they killed JFK, RFK and MLK and yikes… that’s in poor taste. Those were real life tragedies for God’s sake. This would be like if the modern Captain America movies claimed that 9/11 was actually the work of HYDRA.
Instead of just heavily implying it. Because they got class.
Binky instead suggests that they kidnap and brainwash Kimball to do their evil bidding.
Meanwhile, in the arctic, some researchers find something buried in the ice and dig it up because they’ve never seen The Thing. Fortunately, it’s not The Thing but Captain America who breaks out of the ice and goes running out into the snow but not before one of the researchers manages to get a photograph of him.
This photograph ends up in the papers where it’s seen by President Kimball who instantly recognises Cap as the guy he saw for literally a split second roaring overhead at supersonic speeds fifty years ago. Man has the memory of a Vulcan. He of course calls upon the almost infinite resources he commands as commander in chief of the largest military in world history…to telephone his old school friend Sam (Ned Beatty) who’s now working as an investigative reporter. Kimball tells Sam to head up north to find Captain America and Sam says “fine I’ll get my long johns.” and he should probably get his “wide johns” while he’s at it, yuk yuk yuk.
Aaaaaand that’s my one fat joke for 2016. I think I chose well.
It’s a fairly slow news day (hey, it was the nineties, not much happened between the Soviet Union ending and Al Qaeda showing up) which means that Binky also sees the picture of Captain America on the front page of his newspaper and tells his daughter Valentina (Francesca Neri) to take care of it. Valentina is the head of the Skull’s bodyguard, a group of young, perfect Italians (seriously, they’re called the Perfect Italians in the script) who wear sunglasses and lounge around the pool all day long, no doubt spending their days idly destroying each other with their sexual power games.
Meanwhile, Captain America makes his way through Canada, staggering and weakened as the entire nation is basically his kryptonite.
“Can’t breathe…air…smells like…socialism!”
Canada being the small, pokey nation it is, Stan and the Perfect Italians both find Captain America at the exact same time and Stan manages to rescue Cap and they drive off. Stan tells Steve everything that’s happened but Steve doesn’t believe it’s really 1990 and, seeing that Stan’s car and equipment are German and Japanese made, decides that he must be a Nazi operative. He pretends to be car sick and asks Sam to pull over and then he doubles back and steals the car. Our hero, ladies and gentleman.
Okay guys, real talk time. My internet connection all this week has been moving with the speed and grace of a legless gazelle and I have have pretty much run out of time so I’m just going to have to speed run the rest of the movie. Sorry. I really am. I didn’t want to do this, especially since this is my one hundredth review, but it looks like this April Fool’s day the joke was on me. A rather tiresome joke, played by an internet provider that really should have a more mature outlook. Anyway. The beat goes:
- Steve returns home to California and finds that his girlfriend Bernie is now super old and super married to another guy.
- But she also has a daughter who just so happens to be young and hot because she waited so long for Steve to return that Bernie literally waited until she was down to her last good egg.
- The hot daughter, Sharon (oh fuck you movie, if that’s Sharon Carter I’m Mighty Mouse) helps Steve investigate those Perfect Italisn who were trying to kill him but oh no!
- Sam shows up at Bernie’s house and is followed by the Perfect Italians who proceed to kill him and Bernie.
- Bernie’s husband is also injured and while they’re waiting in hospital Steve and Sharon see a newscast telling them that Kimball’s been kidnapped in Rome and they’re all “well, the script clearly wants us to go to Italy, why not?”
- They go to Italy, have a few car chases, get shot at, catch some sun, enjoy the cheap wine, you know how it goes.
- They uncover the truth about Binky’s origins and even find the tape recording of his family being gunned down at his piano recital.
- They break into Binky’s fortress, and free Kimball. Binky’s got a nuclear bomb that he claims will decimate all of southern Europe. Cap plays the recording for him, hoping to reawaken the last shreds of his humanity from beneath decades of cruelty and hate. It doesn’t work, so Captain America cuts off his head with his shield.
And then the movie ends, I swear to God I am not making this up, with a fade to credits while an offscreen voice telling us:
“In Rome today, one hundred and sixteen nations agreed to an environmental protection treaty. In a brief statement after the signing, President Kimball asked that we remember the many people who have gallantly sacrificed all to make our world a better place to live. The president closed his statement with this odd message: “To Captain America, wherever he is. We’re all back in the fight.”
“Stock markets took another dive today, as President Kimball’s increasingly erratic behaviour sends panic through the global economy. Money has become worthless, viewers are advised to trade beads and sexual favours in exchange for food.”
Oh, and the movie ends with the greatest song ever recorded in the history of mankind. It’s called Home of the Brave and it’s so patriotic it’s like Freedom Ain’t Free from Team America only played COMPLETELY STRAIGHT. Listen to it . Listen to it now. Thank me later. Cash is fine.
Not much worse, mind.
Our Heroic Hero: 04/25
Salinger’s actually not as bad as you may have heard. If nothing else, he looks arguably more like Steve Rogers than Chris Evans does. But the costume is laugh out loud ridiculous and this Cap is neither corny enough to be endearing or badass enough to be worth rooting for.
Our Nefarious Villain: 06/25
Here’s the thing. Scott Paulin? Damn good actor. Brings real menace and knows how to make the clunky lines sound better than they deserve. And in fact, if he was just playing another villain like Count Nefaria he would easily be the standout. But this movie gives us a Red Skull who is not German, not a Nazi and for the vast majority of the film doesn’t even have a RED GODDAMNED SKULL!
Supporting Characters: 03/25
Some of the worst acting I’ve seen by mammals.
Steve Rogers returns home to find a mysterious eye patched man waiting for him. He introduces himself to Steve as Nick Fury, and tells him that he’s crossed the barriers of the multiverse to kill him and wipe all trace of him from existence. Then, he quotes Ezekiel 7:26 while holding Steve at gunpoint and fixing him with a piercing, pitiless stare.
“When did that happen?”
In my mind.
Hey was that Stan Lee?!
Brother, there are things even Stan Lee will not stoop to.
Any names of comic book characters clunkily worked into dialogue that no one would ever say in real life?
No. Hang on, let me rephrase the question.
names of comic book characters clunkily worked into dialogue that no one would ever say in real life?
Everything that’s not music, sound effects or silence.
Hey, what’s Thanos doing?
Thanos is sitting on his chair.
There are still constants in this universe.
FINAL SCORE: 15%
Next update: 14 April 2016
NEXT TIME: Okay, for reals this time.