Sunday, November 21, 2021

Pyun at HIFF ’21: Captain America (1990)

The Spiderman movie notorious wheeler-dealers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus tried to produce at Cannon is easily one of the most famous unmade movies ever, up there with Jodorowsky’s Dune. However, Golan eventually realized his Marvel superhero ambitions when he took the rights to Captain America to his 21st Century Film Corporation. Who did he turn to bring Cap to the big-screen? It was Hawaii’s own Albert Pyun, who directed Van Damme’s second film, Cyborg. Quite fittingly, Pyun’s Captain America screens online as part of the Hawaii International Film Festival’s Pyun filmmaker-in-focus sidebar.

To atone for her unwilling role in the creation of the super-fascist villain, the Red Skull, defector Dr. Maria Vaselli oversees the U.S. Super Soldier program that transforms Steve Rogers into Captain America. Unfortunately, her double-secret process dies with her when she is assassinated by an Axis mole. Therefore, Rogers will be the only Super Soldier deployed to stop the Red Skull’s missile attack on the White House. He succeeds, but cruel fate consequently freezes him in suspended animation for decades.

Once Rogers revives, old school journalist Sam Kolawetz eagerly seeks him out, hoping to gain insight into the Red Skull’s identity. Of course, agents of the super-villain are also on his trail. Meanwhile, the fascist mastermind is hatching an evil scheme to brainwash and enslave Pres. Tom Kimball (from Springfield, Ohio).

Admittedly, the special effects are totally cheesy in the 1990
Captain America, but that also makes it feel human. In all honesty, it represents the sort of grungy Marvel adaptations Gen X grew up with and still love nostalgically. Despite the superior effects of the films, Nicholas Hammond’s TV Spiderman is the one we love in our heart of hearts. When it comes to guilty favorites, Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher is tough to beat. Pyun’s Captain America shares a kinship with both.

Matt Salinger certainly looked the clean-cut part of Captain America and his unflagging earnestness is sort of refreshing (you really don’t see that in Marvel movies anymore). Ronny Cox (
Robo Cop, Total Recall) and Ned Beatty (Network, etc.) are totally great as Kimball and Kolawetz, who happen to be old childhood friends, with a contrived (but in a likably old fashioned and outlandish way) connection to Captain America.

Scott Paulin is respectably villainous as the Red Skull, but his Euro super-model hench-women have no personality and are obviously linguistically challenged. Frustratingly, the great Darren McGavin is wastefully under-employed as traitorous Gen. Fleming and the character is an annoying defamation of the American military.

Still, this Captain America is unapologetically patriotic and ultimately optimistic. Give location scouts credit, because the Balkan filming locales are often quite striking. Plus, Ivan Neville (Aaron Neville’s son) sings the closing title tune, “Home of the Brave,” which could have been a perennial staple alongside Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” if it had been promoted properly.

Regardless, you cannot hold the tantalizing early development plans against the film it turned out to be (at one point Michael Dudikoff and Steve James were supposed to play Captain America and the Falcon, which would have made it the greatest superhero movie ever). What we have is a little corny and more than a little ragged around the edges, but it is fun. Recommended as Gen X Marvel nostalgia,
Captain America (1990) screens online through 11/28 as part of HIFF’s focus on Pyun.