Captain America is one of the most well-known superheroes in the world. Considering that the recent Avengers film has been successful in a way that can only be described by lottery winners and Moses, no one has an excuse to not be familiar with him. He’s an icon of the comic page, a symbol for truth, justice and punching fascists until they surrender their power and teeth. However, despite his image now, non-comic readers didn’t always have the best when it came to how they knew Steve Rogers. For a little while, all they had to go on was Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon, and I think it is this group that they’re referring to when people speak of “the lost generation.”
In the late 70’s, two made-for-TV Captain America movies were put out, with the titular hero being played by a very restrained Reb Brown. And when I say restrained, I mean it. Half the films budget must have gone into the morphine necessary to keep Reb’s personality in check. Whether in Yor: The Hunter From The Future, Robowar, Cage or Street Hunter, Reb made a career out of being absolutely nuts on screen. If you called Reb Brown crazy, he’d take it as a racial slur. You have to wear ear plugs when he does sign language. Reb Brown thinks CPR is yelling at someone until they wake up. Reb usually does his acting like a man coming to terms with his eminent transformation into a gorilla.
But not here. Here, Reb couldn’t look less concerned with what’s going on around him. He acts like he knows a surprise is coming and doesn’t want to jump at the “boo!” In other countries, his dialogue in Captain America is dubbed with someone yawning. Reb is usually so awesome that the movie quite literally can’t contain him. In Captain America, he seems to be method acting as someone who is trying to take a nap standing up.
The film starts off with the credits playing over Steve, a former marine, driving his van to the beach, because if anything gets a viewer pumped for an action movie, it’s a long drive while some of the most inadequate hero theme music plays in the background. If you put this music in an elevator, elevators would be the first things to revolt in the upcoming Man Versus Machine apocalypse. It feels like they picked music from an archive at random and just happened to get “Theme From Spreading Jelly On Toast.” I might also add that this credit sequence lasts forever, so if you started Captain America in 1979, you’d just now be at the scene where the director’s name appears and Steve pulls his van up to the beach for a little moping around.
Steve gets a phone call from Hayden, an old friend, before driving away abruptly. We see that Steve’s being watched by a mysterious figure, who follows Steve subtly by tailing him as close as possible before aggressively pulling ahead. It seems the mysterious figure has hired a road crew to re-direct Steve away from the main road and onto a precarious mountain pass. It’s here that you start to see that every shot in this movie lasts far too long. The camera lingers on certain expressions and actions like there’s a pistol pointed at the cinematographer’s son’s head.
While Steve is driving, an oil truck starts a slick that goes on for at least a half a mile before Steve hits it. Steve swerves until the film’s editor was discovered to have passed, and then rolls off the side of a hill. Steve appears from the wreck relatively unscathed and seeming only slightly inconvenienced. Reb Brown has a trend in his films, of being in life-threatening situations and coming out un-harmed and unflappable. If you struck Reb’s neck with an axe, he’d tell you that you were too old to be giving wet willies. In Captain, he just simply looks at his van, as if he’s disappointed that it didn’t explode.
Steve then, completely unaware that he just rolled down a hill in a van, goes to the lab of Dr. Mills, who proceeds to show him mice that have been injected with a super serum that Steve’s father invented. In greeting Dr. Mills, Steve reveals that he was a former pro Motocross driver, which is action movie lingo for “watch out for kickass motorcycle stunts later.” Dr. Mills wants to give Steve the serum because it was derived from the elder Roger’s cells and wouldn’t kill Steve, which is apparently what it’s been doing to the mice. This is the film’s first brush with science, and you can tell that the writers thought “biology” was when you compared two words to two other words.
Steve won’t have any of it though. He delivers a monologue about wanting to just ride out alone and draw that’s so boring, you’d swear it was the rest of the movie. After this, Steve gets back to the plot, and goes to meet Hayden, who he reaches just before the man dies. Hayden whispers some cryptic somethings to Steve and then croaks, leaving Steve to, once again, stare off at things and pretend that he’d have normal, non-robot eyes if he peeled his face off.
At the Andreas Oil Company, evil is afoot, because it’s revealed that Brackett, an oil tycoon, is the one who set up Hayden to be killed. The man who killed Hayden was a guy named Parker, who was chosen by a guy named Harley, who seems to be Brackett’s right hand man. None of this information is useful, though. This entire scene plays out like the audience is waiting for some dramatic punch line that never comes. They talk about Steve for a little bit, which makes sense, considering nothing. Then Brackett goes to Lester, a scientist, to talk about the completion of his Neutron Bomb, which requires the microfilm that Brackett thought Hayden had. And it is at this exact point in the film where everyone who is watching stops caring. The film has all the momentum of a cube rolling on a flat wooden floor, and is as interesting as guessing soup flavors by their color.
Steve talks to Dr. Mills about Hayden’s death, and they are then joined by an FBI agent to talk some more about what Steve saw. Reb Brown tries really hard in this scene to look like he’s giving a shit. He paces around the room. He puts his hands on his hips. He looks around nervously. And never once does he look like he’s acting. Rather, his facial expressions lend you to believe that all he’s thinking about is how these puny mortals have ruined his life.
Steve goes upstairs to tell Hayden’s daughter that her father is dead. He does this by staring at her coldly, revealing no emotion, and by constantly putting his hand on her back while following her around the room. You could almost edit this together into a Reb Brown Dating Advice Video and call it How To Kidnap A Woman Without Surprising Her. Right before Reb Brown prepares his body for what we can only call “Prime Injection Directive 1”, Steve gets a call from Harley who tells Steve to meet him out at a gas station, alone, for information about how Hayden died. Dammit. I was really hoping that Steve and Hayden’s daughter would hook up, in a scene that the selection menu would title “Hayden’s Daughter Fights Caveman.”
Steve goes to the gas station, realizes that it’s a trap, and then engages in the worst vehicle chase you’ve ever seen. It’s like the director put a camera in a few locations in the middle of nowhere, and then only gave the drivers clues as to where they were supposed to hit their marks. It’s neither fast-paced, nor tense, and it ends with Steve narrowly avoiding another truck and then plummeting off a cliff, again. We end Act 1 with the driver of the truck that Steve avoided looking down on his lifeless body, concerned. And when it comes to this movie, he’s the only one who is.
We cut promptly to Steve Rogers lying on an operating table, being worked on by Dr. Mills and his assistant, Wendy. Mills decides that, since Steve is about to die, they might as well use the super serum on him, under the pretext of “saving him.” While the heart monitor beeps loudly in the background, Mills tells Wendy that “Medically, he’s dead now,” and you realize that the second third of this movie is going to be even dumber than the first third.
Steve appears to have died, but, after the serum starts to work, he grabs Mills’ arm suddenly. Here we can tell that Reb Brown is acting, because, if he wasn’t, the next scene would concern a hasty explanation as to how Mills suddenly lost an arm. When Steve wakes up, he talks about how he feels something is wrong, considering that, in the space of a day, he’s been set up in two automobile accidents. Mills doesn’t care about this at all, and he quickly changes the subject to passive-aggressively letting Steve know that he’s had the super serum put into him. Steve does what any man who’s been saved from dying and now has super powers does: he whines about it. This movie is so bad that if you showed it to Hitler, he’d wonder who was giving him that excellent, invisible handjob.
Steve is then kidnapped from his hospital room by Harley, who takes him to a meat freezer with two other goons (but not before allowing Steve to dress up in a blue turtleneck sweater and black vest), to intimidate Steve. They do a poor job of this by punching him, once in the stomach and once in the back, and by poking him lightly. I apologize, Harley, but a slight fist to the gut by a dumpy henchman isn’t going to faze a man who looks like he creates a new lumber yard every time he’s blocked by a fence. Harley demands to know where the microfilm is. Steve breaks his rope ties and the worst shit ever follows.
I don’t know whether to call this an actual fight scene or “an intricate ballet of poorly performed shoves.” Either way, the first time you see Captain America using his powers is when he pushes two middle aged men and then pushes meat on chains against those same middle-aged men to knock them down for a second time. That’s it. There’s no huge revelation about the new gift that Steve has. It’s just a fight scene that was choreographed by lazy mountain goats and Reb Brown is smiling the whole time, as he surely imagines that, in a more perfect world, he’d be turning the men’s torsos into couch cushions right now. Also, the music here is abominable. I can only describe it as it sounds: ch-ch-ding-ding-BWYOOOO.
Steve calls an FBI agent to take care of Harley and the goons and he then meets Dr. Mills at the beach, where he draws and complains about the dangers of his own strength. This is a necessary conversation for the plot of this film, as Steve has shown his two abilities to be A) whining and B) doing this thing that kind of looks like he’s pushing people. We also learn that Steve’s father was nicknamed “Captain America” and soon after, Steve gives Mills a picture of a very Captain America-looking superhero that he drew. This is a mistake though, as the picture shown is infinitely cooler than the costume we see Reb Brown dress up in later. Also, the film makers manage to build Steve into even more of loser, and rather than put him up in something fitting for, say, fucking Captain America, they put him in what looks like an aborted Old Navy ad campaign.
Mills also tells Steve that only they, Wendy and the President know about Steve’s powers. That’s right. The President was made aware that the lamest man alive had been given a super serum, in a conversation that I imagine went like this:
Dr. Mills: Finally, I got through! Mr. President, how are you?
President: Who is this?
Dr. Mills: Oh, haha, you’re so funny.
President: Seriously, who the hell is this?
Dr. Mills: It’s me, Mr. President. Dr. Mills. From the banquet.
President: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. The boring guy. What do you need?
Dr. Mills: I’d just like to let you know that we gave Steve Rogers the super serum.
President: Wait, the handicapped bear?
Dr. Mills: He’s a human, Sir.
President: Oh, Christ. *click*
Dr. Mills: Hello? Hello?
Steve and Wendy then go to the beach again, play in the ocean and stare at each other, while Wendy hints that she may be being used to lure Steve into being more cooperative. Steve shows that he will be persuaded by no one and kisses her. Mills then drives Steve out to the middle of nowhere to show him his old van, the one that he rolled down the hill in. The van, however, has been refitted to hide a supped up Ameri-cycle in it. Because if there’s one thing that Steve Rogers is known for, it’s hiding a motorcycle in the compartments of his shitty van. Mills also gives Steve a shield, which fits on the front of the bike, because, dammit, it just does.
Steve takes the bike for a ride, and the crappy theme music plays again, sabotaging any chance that you’ll enjoy it. Steve then sees that he’s being pursued by a helicopter. Then, a guy in the helicopter starts to shoot at Steve and a chase ensues (and this is the last time that I’ll use the term “chase” in this crippled pudding of a movie. In Captain America, you could consider it a chase when there’s more than one car in frame.)
The helicopter chases Steve to a ramp, which Steve uses to gain the air necessary to jump from his bike, to the helicopter. He throws the sniper out of the chopper and then, in the most iconic American hero way possible, holds the pilot at gun point and forces him to land. Mills greets him by saying that he’s dreamed of this moment, to which I responded “Bullshit, Dr. Mills.”
Meanwhile, Brackett has gone to Tina, the dead Hayden’s daughter, and is trying to play mind tricks with her in order to find out where the microfilm is. This scene has so much sexual tension that there’s no way that it wasn’t on purpose. There’s enough of it that if you suddenly saw gimp masks and BDSM outfits rain from the ceiling, nothing would appear out of the ordinary. Brackett manages to find the microfilm, just as Wendy arrives. He then pulls a gun on them and decides to kidnap them both, because, in Captain America, why not?
This is the closest thing to tension that this movie has created thus far and I’ve been more in suspense waiting for a microwave to count down to zero. We see Mills and Steve talking about it at the lab, a few hours after Wendy has gone missing. I’m extremely glad that the writers decided to increase the pace by making a few hours happen without the viewer actually experiencing the few hours. This movie is about four days long in total, and I’m not talking about the length of the plot. It’s such a maliciously created movie, that if you gave Captain America to a child as a gift, the kid would immediately be able to talk to snakes. You have to take a shower after watching it, because, if not, your friends will ask you why you smell so much like Hell.
Luckily, Brackett has Mills’ number and decides to call them and let them know that, if Mills and Steve want Tina and Wendy to live, than they won’t interfere with his plan. But asking Reb Brown not to interfere in a Reb Brown movie is like shooting bb pellets at a lion and then using a casual jog to escape. We see that the neutron bomb is finished, and we get to hear Brackett explain his itinerary to the scientist who built the bomb because, when you’re making a bomb, schedules can wait. This is also good attention to detail, as after test screenings of Captain America, people clamored for “more bullshit of no importance.”
Steve reveals that he has super hearing and that, in the background of the phone call, he heard someone talk about an oil truck. Steve decides that he wants to go alone, and Mills seems more than happy to, considering that, throughout this entire movie, Mills has practically set up Steve to be killed every single time it’s nearly happened. However, Mills has a disguise for Steve to wear that will “make it impossible for them to recognize or remember you.” The outfit he’s made does its job in exactly neither of those areas, as the visor in the helmet is transparent, allowing you to see Steve’s whole face, and I doubt that the security guards at the oil company will ever forget a Terminator dressed like Evel Knievel’s flamboyant cousin. Mills asks Steve to “jam Captain America down their throats” and we see Steve think for a little bit. If I’d turned on subtitles at this point, they would’ve read “internal monologue of roars.”
Brackett attaches a device to himself that will detonate the bomb if he dies. This plan is almost full proof, considering that his men have failed three times to kill the same idiot and probably spend half their workday waiting for someone help them after they’ve locked themselves out of their cars. Steve drives up close to the oil plant in his big, dumb van and then rockets out, in full costume, on his bike. Some guards almost immediately notice him, probably because he made sure to do a killer jump off a ramp before speeding directly into the complex. Steve does what any Avenger would do, and runs away from the guards. He then uses an oil slick to make them trip and fall. That’s Captain America’s first dramatic display while in costume. It’s like hiring Batman to come entertain at a birthday party, and he shows up dressed as Robin and then pukes on the kid’s cake.
Steve interrogates a scientist, who he identifies immediately due to the scientist wearing a white coat, similar to the way that Reb Brown knows to stop chewing when his teeth go through the fork. Steve has the scientist lead him to Brackett’s “confidential papers” and then calls the scientist “little man.” If you’ve ever called an adult male “little man,” it’s pretty much the same thing as a woman breaking up with someone because his penis is “too shriveled.” Steve saves Wendy and Tina and then bullies the scientist some more, eventually making him pass out. In the deleted scenes, Reb Brown beat his chest when the scientist goes unconscious, before his trainers entered with stun guns and a bowl of sweet flavored candies to calm him down.
Rather than go after a neutron bomb immediately, Steve takes the time to change into a nice, cream-colored polo shirt. Mills, Wendy and Steve talk about the neutron bomb before some machine gives them all the answers that they need. After this, Brackett is seen just hanging out in the back of an eighteen-wheeler, reading a book, sitting next to a neutron bomb. Little does Brackett know though, that Steve and Mills are sneaking up on the truck in a helicopter, a ride that takes what can only be described as a “good god” amount of time.
Steve then follows the truck on a motorcycle, and our worst fears are realized, as we’re treated to the montage of a character being forced to drive something for the second time in a row. At this point, I imagine that the director was sadistically laughing so hard that he didn’t have enough breath to yell “Cut!” Steve sneaks his giant, blue body across the truck as badly as he humanly can and then bends an exhaust pipe so that it sends fumes into the trailer, causing Brackett to have a heart attack. What follows, even if you’ve never seen the movie, will piss you off.
The final confrontation is Steve describing to Mills what Brackett’s condition is, until Mills can come and revive him. There’s no hand-to-hand fight on top of the truck, and there’s no countdown to detonation for the neutron bomb. Steve doesn’t get a single speck of dirt or blood on his costume. The end of the movie, Captain America, is Captain America making a fucking 911 call. I’ve never been more dissatisfied with anything in my entire life.
Some plot twist happens, which I won’t get into, because it makes a special attempt to not matter at all. It, like ninety-five of the ninety-seven minutes of the film’s running time, have no bearing whatsoever on the important two minutes, and those two minutes are probably wasted on someone driving. In the end, Mills and Steve shake hands after Steve rides around in some field on his damn bike, as if they’re congratulating each other on how much they’ve successfully screwed over everyone who watched this garbage.
Captain America returns in Captain America II: Death Too Soon!