Like many people, as a child, I couldn't differentiate between good and bad movies. There are a fair number of movies that I loved as a kid that I've since realized are just terrible. It's hard to believe I loved them so much. I remember seeing 'Captain America' on television for the first time. My brothers and I excitedly sat on the carpet and watched it in its entirety. Surprisingly, out of all the bad movies that I watched over and over again, 'Captain America' was not one of them. It didn't do anything for me as a kid, and it certainly doesn't do anything for me now.
Before 'Captain America: The First Avenger,' there was simply 'Captain America' (along with several other renditions). Filmed in 1989, 'Cap' was planned for a 1990 release. It turns out the studio deemed it bad enough that they didn't release it theatrically in the United States, so it had a very short limited release overseas, but nothing stateside. Instead, domestic Marvel fans had to wait until 1992 when it debuted on television and video. It wasn't until Marvel Studios was about to release 'The First Avenger' in 2011 that 'Captain America' finally appeared on the silver screen in the U.S. - and even then it was still an exceptionally limited release and was done just to appease the geeks while promoting Joe Johnston's film. The B-movie was finally placed on DVD in 2011 and is only now available on Blu-ray.
'Captain America' isn't an awful film, but it's definitely not a good one either. People treat it like it's the worst movie ever made, but I don't find it similarly revolting. Truthfully, it feels like every other generic action movie of the late '80s early '90s – only the hero is dressed head-to-toe in latex.
Matt Salinger stars as Steve Rogers/Captain America. If the only Cap you know is Chris Evans, then expect Matt's version to be quite different. In this rendition, the Supersoldier Serum is still used on people with physical defects – here, Steve walks with a limp as a result of having polio as a child – but it's also said to be used on the mentally challenged. Salinger is a rather tall and fit-looking guy, so the limp is his character's only hindrance. What I can't understand is why the villainous Red Skull character was chosen for the original experiment. The film opens in 1936, seven years before Rogers is chosen for the U.S. version of the Supersoldier experiment. We see Nazis raid an Italian home. What they're looking for is a young boy, whom they immediately kidnap, take back to a mountainous hideout and throw into the painful experiment. From what I can tell, the young boy Red Skull doesn't have a physical or mental disability. This is odd because Rogers was chosen by the same lead scientist for the experiment because of his limp, but pre-teen Red Skull seems absolutely normal.
When Rogers becomes the lab rat, he immediately turns into Captain America and heads to Europe to defeat Red Skull. Before he can get to the villain and his terrible make-up, we have to watch Cap fighting in a few terrible World War II action sequences that expose the budget-less movie's low production value. Upon meeting Red Skull, due to his lack of training and skill, Cap loses a fistfight and is strapped to a missile that's pointed at Washington D.C. The iconic scene from the comics isn't done much justice. You might expect this scene to happen at the end as opposed to the beginning, but it seems like the producers could only keep up the period piece schtick for so long due to the financial state of the movie. (Director Albert Pyun has explained that there were many times where they literally had no money while filming.) Just seconds from the White House, Cap damages the rocket and both careen northward, crashing landing in a snow-covered field where Cap is frozen for 40-something years.
Cap just-so-happens to awake from his chilly slumber decades later when Red Skull is about to attempt another world takeover. What Red Skull has been doing in the meantime is a mystery. The serum has somehow allowed him to keep his youth and vigor, but he can't let the recently returned Captain America foil his plan, so he sends all of his henchmen and women to put Cap on ice for good. With the help of his high school fling's '80s-tastic daughter, Cap has to stay alive and finally defeat Red Skull.
Re-watching 'Captain America' now reminds me of everything else that I was watching at the time this was made – 'Fall Guy,' 'The A-Team,' 'Knight Rider.' Perhaps it would have worked better as an '80s television series. I see it as functioning on that same level, so considering that some of those series are now deemed guilty-pleasure classics, 'Captain America' really isn't as bad as the negative hype might lead you to believe.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout Factory has placed 'Captain America' on BD-25. The disc is housed in a blue Vortex keepcase that, when open, reveals a blown-up and washed-out frame from the movie printed on the back of the cover art sheet. You might think that Marvel wouldn't want their logo attached to this movie, but it's featured on the cover art too. When the disc is inserted, nothing plays prior to the main menu save a FBI warning and a Shout Factory vanity reel. Audio and subtitle options are not presented in the main menu because there's only one audio track and no subtitles. For those wondering, no - this is not the Director's Cut that appeared on DVD a couple years ago.
It's surprising that any work was actually put into cleaning up 'Captain America' for this Blu-ray. I expected nothing more than a bad VHS transfer and was surprised to see that the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode was mostly clean, clear and detailed.
For the most part, 'Captain America' has been cleaned of any aging flaws. Considering that it was only shown on a small number of screens around the world, I can't help but wonder if several reels of this transfer were prints that never saw the light of day. Scratches are non-existent. Specks of grime and dirt do not show up until the 22 minute mark. They don't last long and only appear during a few other moments through the movie.
I didn't expect fine details to be visible, but for the most part, they're always there. Apart from some scenes being shot softly (it's obvious that these scenes were shot with mild focus because the subtitles that appear over them have crisp edges), the only occasions where textures are missing are the ones brought down by Digital Noise Reduction. Luckily, it's not often that DNR is used.
Black levels have the tendency to be deep and consuming, but a few instances lean of the crushing side. I cannot tell if this was a directorial decision or not, but the volume has been cranked up on colorization. All colors are bright and cartoony, which would make sense as being intentional due to this being a comic book movie.
The only audio option presented is a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track. As much as I typically cringe at the thought of something less than 5.1, the 2.0 of 'Captain America' is actually pretty good.
'Cap's sound is clear – perhaps too clear. This cleaned-up mix is so good that it actually reveals the flaws within the original recording. The raw nature of the poorly recorded audio is painfully obvious. The echo of voices within stage walls, vehicle cabins or other enclosed areas is audible. The cleanliness actually lessens the quality of the original mix.
Effects, vocals and music (as terrible as the cheesy, television-esque score may be) are well mixed. A handful of brief occasions cause the vocals to be trumped by the music, but the vast majority of movie shows off proper balance.
There are only two flaws that I could find with the mix, both of which may very well have originated with the source. The first happens early in the movie when Steve is about to report to the military for the first time. His sad girlfriend runs away so that she won't have to say goodbye, so he heads off to find her. When he locates her at their favorite beach spot, the audio drastically cuts as if a scene was removed and the audio was never mixed to make the transition smooth. The second error occurs when a character finds that a family member has been murdered in cold blood. The resulting shriek/scream is distorted and blown out. But aside from those two flaws, 'Captain America''s 2.0 mix isn't bad at all.
'Captain America' isn't the worst movie around, but it's still hardly worth watching. It's on par with the popular television series of the '80s. By watching the only special feature – a retrospective look back on the movie's production with the director and star – you'll understand exactly why it's as mediocre as it is. The video and audio qualities are much better than the movie deserves. This isn't a Blu-ray that's in my collection because it's good; it's there because of nostalgia and my love of the character. There's a reason it wasn't included in Marvel's Phase One set – because it's not worthy of being included with the worthwhile releases – but it has gone Blu just for the fans who appreciate despite its many obvious flaws. If people can enjoy bad '80s action movies, I see no reason why 'Captain America' couldn't be a guilty pleasure for many. Still, this is for fans only.