As we continue our look at the history of Captain America in film and we say good bye to the 1960s. It is hard not to mention the significance of the name Captain America in the classic 1969 film Easy Rider.
Peter Fonda plays Wyatt, a freewheeling biker hippie who wanders the roads of America with his buddy Billy (Dennis Hopper). Fonda wears a leather jacket and motorcycle helmet that are adorned with the American flag. Hopper is dressed more as a Native American-styled buckskin pants and jacket.
Fonda’s character is nicknamed Captain America for his attire but what is interesting about this reference is that it also trickled into the comics and well the two 1979 TV movies that would follow a decade later.
Captain America roaming America on a motorcycle fighting for Truth, Justice and the American way. The image really didn’t take root in the comics until the 1980s and 90s during the now legendary Mark Gruenwald Captain America run.
But in late 1977 Marvel once more tried to bring their pantheon of characters to mass media. The CBS network commissioned two Captain America films to be filmed back to back. CBS had faith in the Marvel name after they were having a huge hit with their series The Incredible Hulk starring Bill Bixby and of course Wonder Woman starring Lynda Carter. CBS was in the superhero business in the late 1970s.
The 1979 original film Captain America and the sequel Captain America 2: Death Too Soon would star Reb Brown as the hero. The movie would follow Steve Rogers, whose father was a secret agent during World War 2 and Rogers was a former Marine.
After an accident, Rogers injected with a drug known in the film as FLAG (not the Super Soldier Formula) which is supposed to enhance his abilities. It turns out Steve was supposed to have died in the accident so after his discovery he retro-fits a van and create a super-powered motorcycle to exact vengeance on his would-be assassins.
Captain America’s origin in this TV movie is actually very similar to that of Knight Rider who three years later would become a huge success for NBC. Capt’s motorbike actually has some similarities to the car in Knight Rider except for the artificial intelligence.
The costume Reb Brown wears in the movie isn’t even close to the costume in the comics until the last part of the film but he does wear the closer looking costume in the sequel film.
The costume was the standard super hero leotard but his mask was a motorcycle helmet with eagle wings on the sides. (That cod piece is utterly hysterical) He also wore goggles to cover his eyes and his shield was fastened to the front of his motorbike for protection. (something adapted in the comic and the 2011 film)
What is interesting with the sequel film is that it co-stars Christopher Lee as Cap’s nemesis and the movie ends with a cliffhanger that looks like Captain America may have died. There were speculation that this film was going to lead to a potential series thus why it ended the way it did. The series never materialized and we never know what happened to the Captain.
During the 80s, Captain America would remain pretty solid in the comic but would only make appearances on other Marvel animated series.
In 1989, super producer Menaham Golan, famous for turning Chuck Norris into a mainstream action star, set out to produce a Captain America film.
The film would be directed by B-Movie director Albert Pyun and follow Captain America (Matt Salinger) as he fights the Red Skull (Scott Paulin) and then is encased in ice and wakes up in 1989.
The movie really worked when it was in the past and it was vintage Captain America but when he wakes up in 1989 a hero lost in time, the movie gets really, really dull. He falls in love with the granddaughter of his former love and the Red Skull returns. So it is up to Captain America to forget he’s a some forgotten legend and spring back into battle.
The movie was shot on a small budget of $10 million dollars and during test audience screenings there was lots of complaints that there wasn’t enough action. So more action scenes were added in reshoots. But seriously that was the only complaint about the film from test audiences? No one talked about just how utterly horrid the middle of the film is? The forced love story?
I actually blame the screenwriter Stephen Tolkin on this film. The writing is really awful. Tolkin, who had done some rewrites on 1987’s Masters of the Universe, really had no idea what he was getting himself into.
He had written some dramatic work on television which was shown in his forced love story. Not to mention the ridiculous upset stomach scenes and Cap actually stealing a friend’s car.
Tolkin’s experience really lacked in many ways story structure and the action sequences were just the tip of the iceberg.
Director Pyun had worked with Golan-Globus on the their surprise hit Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Cyborg.
But Tolkin just had no idea how to sculpt an Albert Pyun directed-movie or write a Golan-Globus production.
In an interview, director Albert Pyun claims he liked the script but says there were other frustrations of making the film.
First of all, the rights to Captain America were running out so Golan-Globus rushed the film into production without the full financing upfront. Also during production, they physically ran out of film on the set and couldn’t buy more.
The movie never made it into theatres even though trailers and movie posters were created to coincide with Captain America’s 50th Anniversary and the 1990 release of the film. Instead it debuted on VHS and cable two years later.
The movie was released on DVD but only for the first time ever did the sequel see a home video release when Shout Factory! released the two movies in the same collection in 2011.
Pyun has also released a director’s cut of the film which can be purchased at http://www.pyun.com.
This version is longer and expands Captain America’s struggle to adapt in 1989. Like we need more of those scenes.
I think it was smart to structure the 2011 Captain America film more during World War 2 because that is where he debuted and was more relevant.
As the 1990 movie taught us bringing him into the present was kind of silly but with establishing a Marvel hero universe before bringing Cap into the present makes him more believable in our time period.
So there you have it a journey of Captain America on film. I only suggest seeking out these materials if you are huge fan of the hero or need a silly nostalgia fix. So Says the Soothsayer!