Joshua Reviews Albert Pyun’s Captain America [Blu-ray Review]


Before the turn of the most recent century, superhero comic books were not only often mediocre, but save for the occasional Superman or Batman film, a complete laughing stock within the world of cinema. As campy as a Roger Corman picture, various attempts at films based on characters like The Punisher and Fantastic Four failed to ever reach the potential of the central characters (and still haven’t) and even the ‘90s Batman pictures have become considered some of the worst feature films made during that decade.

However, the likes of Bryan Singer, Sam Raimi, Marvel Studios and Chris Nolan have helped usher in a new golden age of comic book films. Characters as big as Batman and as “minor” as a Hellboy have become fodder for some truly great films, and it doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon.

And yet, here we have Captain America. Ostensibly one of Marvel Comics’ most iconic characters, he has had one of the oddest cinematic trajectories for any of these comic book characters. Today seen as one of Marvel Studios’ most important characters, he was a complete non-factor with regards to cinema prior to the rise of Marvel’s “Phase One.”

Back in 1990, director Albert Pyun brought the character to the big screen, and it’s obvious to see why a big screen adaptation could have seen troublesome a handful of years ago. Starring Matt Salinger as a young man named Steve Rogers, the film follows Rogers, a soldier who is given the opportunity to become the first in a potential line of super soldiers for the US military. However, when he runs across the evil Red Skull, their battle takes a turn, only to find Rogers ultimately frozen in ice. But then years later, he is discovered and still very much alive. Truly the man out of time, Captain America not only has to adapt to a new time, but take on an old foe once more.

With the most recent Captain America picture being one of Marvel’s best cinematic outings, Pyun’s Captain America is now available on Blu-ray for the first time, and oddly enough, it’s kind of an entertaining, if completely empty and in many ways dreadfully dull watch. Campy as all get out, Pyun (better known for films like Cyborg and the Nemesis series), brings almost nothing to this film. Visually dull, the film is best viewed as a time capsule from a time where comic book adaptations were more cult than cash. With some actors taking on multiple roles (I’m thinking specifically of Kim Gillingham who plays both the mother Bernice and the daughter Sharon), the film has a dated aesthetic that is as tactile in its effects work as it is dull in its photography and direction. Action set pieces are comedic at best, and the film is chock full of entertaining lines and cartoonish performances.

Scott Paulin steals the show as Red Skull here. Basically Pacino’s Scarface in need of a dermatologist, Paulin’s Red Skull is a hilariously over the top take on the character, that is as laughable and entertaining as it is cinematically odd. Salinger is almost a non-issue here, as his Captain America could not be further from Evans’ of today. Charisma-free, Salinger brings little to the film other than an All-American frame and a strong jaw that looks rather good in a truly laughable costume. His chemistry with his romantic lead is equally free of life and vitality making for a film that amounts to little more than just a curio for fans of the character or for those who need an example of where these type of films have come from cinematically.

The Blu-ray itself is solid, though. The transfer is fine, keeping the film’s warmth and it ultimately looks and sounds better than it has possibly ever, even counting its original release. There isn’t much in the way of supplements here, but the interview with Pyun and Salinger is entertaining enough, and an intriguing look into the making of the picture. However, it’s missing that one reason why anyone would ever go back to this film for a second time. No commentary is found here, and with a film that is simply enjoyable as a funny cult picture that is low on cinematic quality but high on comedy, there isn’t much in the way of a reason to watch this Blu-ray for a second time. Only roughly 90 minutes in length, it is a breezy watch, but it’s one that’s ultimately unrewarding and nothing more than a campy time capsule from a time when these types of films were seen as nothing more than B-level action projects. Shout Factory should be commended for nabbing this film out of obscurity and giving it to us on Blu-ray, but for those who may only be a casual fan of the character, this will be a tough watch.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.