Review: Captain America (1979)


The history of live action Captain America begins with a television serial where district attorney Grant Gardener and his tubby tummy is wrapped in star spangled black & white for no reason and shoots just about everyone he sees regardless of the consequences. At the conclusion of its first chapter, a skyscraper falls on Mr. Gardener. Nope, don’t think I’ll be reviewing that. It’s a series anyway and that’s not our jive.

Instead, we’ll skip ahead to Captain America (1979), a slice of Americana that’s about as tasty as convenience store apple pie would be thirty years after the expiration date. What we’re dealing with here is a hazy home video memory backed by a budget south of The A-Team. It features motocross pro Steve Rogers (well at least they got his name right) learning of his father’s legacy but resisting it until his country calls. Really, the call never comes. It’s just one guy who works in a lab less outfitted than a community college’s, who mentions that he’s friends with the president a lot.

This biologist of bull works on lots of important government projects but his favorite is FLAG! (Full Latent Ability Gain). Oh, and it’s about this point where I realize it’s not World War II so we might as well ignore the mythology. The scientist and his foxy assistant have been experimenting with FLAG!, but the test rodents keep dropping cold after exhibiting uncanny abilities. The only survivor of FLAG! was Steve’s own father, who harnessed the process from his own adrenal glands, but that would mean he was born with it, would have passed it on genetically to Steve in the first place, and another thing, he’s dead. That kind of puts a wrench in your whole survivor theory doesn’t it? Maybe I just don’t know enough about adrenal glands.

The Sentinel of Liberty is here played by the superjacked Reb Brown. Who’s Reb Brown? Well shame on you. A quick internet search would have reminded you of the blond thespian set at the center of modern masterpieces Yor: Hunter from the Future, Space Mutiny, and Robowar – Robot da guerra. Ironically, behind a performance that can sometimes look like he’s tuned out, Reb is the closest approximation to comicbook Steve Rogers to have played the role. He’s not considerably bright, nice to the point of absurdity, does the right thing just because, and has more love for his fellow man and the peaceful existence of painting and road trips than all of his honorable victories.

Problem is, the very thing that makes those qualities compelling is absent from the adaptation. It works when he’s cast from another time, unfrozen after an accident. Without that dynamic to support the Norman Rockwell persona, he just seems kind of like an over satisfied ponce gifting charcoal sketches to everyone he comes into contact with.

Anyway… where was this going? Oh, right. A family friend had been taking pictures of linear time formulas (as opposed to chronojigsaw normality) until he was murdered. Taking those photos to begin with is illegal but Steve sets out to clear his name by proving that his friend took them and hid them. You can read that sentence again if you really want to. On team badguy is the Andreas Oil Company. They can’t complete their neutron bomb without the hidden roll of film. Why is an oil company developing a neutron bomb? Well that’s simple; they plan to level a chunk of urbanity so they can access a missile… or possibly one hundred million dollars in gold bullion stored in the same room. It’s mentioned that a one point four billion dollar vault is also available but… ok I’m definitely lost.

To prevent Steve’s interference, he’s driven off the road twice. The only way to save him is to inject the powers that he previously refused. Shortly after waking, Captain America is “reborn,” his father being the original Cap, who fought crime they say. Can I just point out that I watched this entire thing to contribute to your afternoon reading? I’m accepting gifts.

Big blonde patriot is convinced to work for the government scientist when he’s given a costume based on an impromptu sketch drawn on the beach. There’s also the incentive of a Japanese made bike. The comic Rogers would have dismissed it as cheap foreign trash, but it’s designed to launch out of the back of his van, run in silent mode (which except for one scene is really loud), and rocket up strategically placed ramps in the middle of a California desert. That turns out to be convenient when he needs to get airborne to stop a helicopter shooting at him… from behind.

After convincing the FBI to let him engage in his own stealth mission, which consists of cycling over the front gate in a red, white, and blue outfit, Captain America *SPOILER ALERT* puts an end to the Andreas Oil Company plot mostly because the bomb is hidden in a truck marked “Andreas Oil Company” and seems to find little use in his flimsy plastic “bulletproof” shield. It flaps in the wind while he’s driving.

What the character learns is that he wants to be more like his father, who he barely knew, and that means wearing his original costume. This design is closer to the original Cap outfit, and is nearly identical to the sketch Steve coincidentally drew in the first place.

Considering adding this to your collection of cult? You might want to hold off. These things are becoming collector’s items because they never made it to DVD, and if you’re gonna blow the money, it should probably be on the inconceivably worse Captain America II: Death Too Soon. Having secured that one from the last Boston video store as it sunk into the asphalt, never to appear again, I’ll be reviewing it tomorrow.