It probably won’t amaze many of our readers to learn that I became a tremendous comic book nerd as a teenager. I was more of a Marvel fan, although I did read my share of DC books, especially after people like Alan Moore and Grant Morrison starting doing work there. That was later, though, and you always remember your first loves with the most fondness. So you can fairly call me a Marvel man.
I read a good dozen or more comics a week. At the end there, maybe ten or twelve years ago, I was spending upwards of two hundred bucks a month on the hobby. And that was while using a discount subscription service. I enjoyed most of the mainstream characters, and particularly liked group books, especially The Avengers.
My predilection, however, was for more minor characters: Ghost Rider, Luke Cage, Wonder Man (particularly in his safari jacket days). It’s hard to explain what particularly drew me to these guys, especially since they were seldom handled by top talent. This meant that many of their adventures were rather lame in nature, both in the writing and in the pencils.
Wonder Man probably fared the best of the three. He was a member of the Avengers, and thus often ended up being written by people like Jim Shooter and drawn by the likes of George Perez. And John Byrne drew a mean Ghost Rider during his stint on the short-lived Champions series. (To my mind, Perez and Byrne in their primes easily remain the best artists for ‘group’ books. Since I’m been out of that scene for a while, though, I’m not sure how controversial that opinion is.)
My all-time favorite super-hero, though, is Captain America. Cap was never as big a seller as Spider-Man or Daredevil or The Hulk, but he holds a special place in the hearts of many fans. For me, it was partly his most obvious aspect, which was the Cap loved America. While never a jingoist, Cap unabashedly believed in his country.
He was also the most morally centered character in the Marvel Universe. In a way, Cap was Marvel’s analog to Superman, another character often dismissed as a one-dimensional boy-scout type. Whenever superheroes congregated, Cap was afforded a natural respect from his peers that no one else garnered. And let’s admit it: The Fantastic Four might have battled Galactis, but Cap fought Hitler. When it came to the big boys, Cap was right up there.
Moreover, Cap maintained this position while lacking Superman’s awesome powers. Superman was not only the most moral of DC’s superheroes, he was the most powerful. In this he had all the advantages. Cap, meanwhile, had no powers that could properly be called ‘super.’ Instead, he represented the very acme of human perfection, as strong and as supple and graceful as anyone in human history. What he really embodied, however, was America’s fighting spirit.
Cap was always ready to fight the good fight, not matter what the odds. This is what generated such respect from associates so much more powerful than he was. Cap should have appeared a somewhat puny character amongst many of his fellow Avengers, but he never seemed that way. Far from seeming a second-stringer like other low-power heroes like Ant-Man or Hawkeye or Tigra, it seemed quite natural that Cap should be in the front ranks with the mightiest ones, Thor and Iron Man and The Hulk.
If Cap drew real love from a hardcore cadre of fans, he also garnered it from many writers and artists. John Byrne particularly seemed to have a special affinity for Cap. Even as a silhouetted background character in a panel full of superheroes, Byrne’s Cap always drew the eye: Ramrod straight, freakin’ big (although rather smaller than Thor or, especially, The Hulk â€“ Byrne was one of the best artists at differentiating the comparative sizes and builds of his various subjects), always assuming a balanced stance, his shield canted at an angle designed to bring it into play at a moment’s notice if the need arose.
Fans like me will always remember when Byrne and writer Roger Stern took over Cap’s book for an all-too short run of eight issues. One story concerned Cap being offered the Presidential nomination by both major parties, and the reactions of both his peers and himself to the situation. With any other superhero this would have been truly silly; with Cap, it seemed almost inevitable. Who wouldn’t want Cap leading the nation?
America’s Star Spangled Avenger first hit the scene in 1941, in Timely Publishing’s Captain America #1. 1941 was a big year for Timely, the predecessor of today’s Marvel Comics. Aside from Cap, that year’s Marvel Comics #1 also introduced both Namor, the Sub-Mariner and The Human Torch. (Not the same one from The Fantastic Four, Johnny Storm being a reconfiguration of the character introduced when Marvel started bringing back superhero comics in the ’60s. Cap and Namor, the original ones, were also soon to make their reappearances.)
Steve Rogers was a puny 4-F joe (it’s been conjectured that his health had been ruined by a bout of polio) who desperately wanted to serve his country in WWII. Unable to join the armed forces, he instead takes part in a top-secret experiment, which he is aware may kill him.
A scientist has developed a ‘super-soldier’ serum, which promises to turn even the scrawniest subject into a physically perfect specimen. Rogers is chosen because he’s about the scrawniest guy they could find. The serum works, but the scientist is killed by an Axis agent. The formula for the serum dies with him, and Steve becomes the sole Super Soldier.
The government assigns him a secret identity as Captain America. Aside from his awesome physical skills, Cap is equipped with a prototype bulletproof shield. After one appearance he was given a revised round version of the shield, which he uses to this day. The shape allows the shield to be both thrown with great accuracy and to boomerang back around to it owner. Thus it’s the both the perfect defensive and offensive weapon. Being a superhero in the ’40s, Cap soon found himself with up a young teen sidekick named Bucky.
Cap became the first Timely/Marvel character to make the leap to any of the electric media. In 1944 he appeared in a self-titled serial. This was a typically lackluster affair, with paunchy actor Dick Purcell fighting an uninspired supervillain named the Scarab. Unsurprisingly, the character was totally screwed up. Rather than a soldier, Cap was in real life a District Attorney. His uniform was altered and he carried a revolver rather than his shield (!). They even changed his name (??) to Grant Gardner. Was ‘Steve Rogers’ too ethnic or something?
In the ’60s, Cap joined a parade of his fellow Marvel characters in a very poorly animated series of TV cartoons. These remain most famous for their nifty little theme songs. From Cap’s we learn:
“When Captain America throws his mighty shield,
All those who choose to oppose his shield must yield!
If he’s led to the fight, and the duel is due,
Then the Red and the White and the Blue will come through,
When Captain America throws his mighty shield!”
In the ’70s, superheroes became popular live-action TV and movie fodder. Marvel seemed in too much of a rush to have their characters brought to both the silver and small screens, whatever the quality of the result.
While DC had a successful couple of decades, with the Wonder Woman TV show and the Superman and Batman movies, Marvel fans consistently saw their favorite characters mauled in translation. The Hulk maintained the most dignity, mostly because of the solid acting of TV pro Bill Bixby. Dr. Strange had a somewhat lame but not awful TV movie appearance. Spider-Man was awarded a truly weak series; a decade later The Punisher became Dolph Lundgren. As well, a Namor/Aquaman knock-off was provided in The Man From Atlantis.
Meanwhile, Marvel’s old stand-by Captain America was given a couple of TV movies. These, as was prevalent at the time, functioned as well as de facto pilots. It’s probably for the best that no TV series resulted. It surely would have been an anemic effort and a short-lived one as well.
(Cap also infamously returned in a typically awful Albert Pyun direct-to-video effort in 1991. This one followed the traditional history of the character somewhat more closely, although for some inexplicable reason the Nazi agent The Red Skull, Cap’s archenemy, was changed into an Italian. [?!] At least Cap’s costume was correct, at least for the five minutes he ended up wearing it. And his shield looked right.)
We open on a scenic shoreline as mellow John Denver-esque music plays on the soundtrack. The film’s title appears in the Good Captain’s standard red, white and blue striped font. Unfortunately, this looks a tad goofy superimposed over the generic travelogue footage.
A helicopter shot begins tracking one particular vehicle driving along the coastal highway. (If you keep your eye on the left side of the screen, you’ll briefly see a bit of the pilot’s head as he mistakenly moves into shot.) We descend until we can see that the object of our attention is a van; moreover, a groovy ’70s van. Dude!
Only a Free Spirit, naturally, would own such a rockin’ mode of transport, a fact confirmed by the motorcycle attached to the vehicle’s back. This sequence continues long enough to mosey through the credits, and isn’t exactly kicking thing off with a bang.
And so we watch the van and listen to the Muzak and, like, chill out. After a while I found myself humming “Me and You and a Dog named Boo,” and you know that ain’t good. Eventually we cut inside the van to see its driver, a rather muscular dude with curly ’70s hair.
Following this we arrive at a beach â€“ and yes, a buxom girl in a red bikini does walk through shot â€“ which appears to be inhabited by surfers dude and dudettes. Hopefully Captain America will soon spring out and lay some whupass on these damn hippies. Otherwise, I really don’t know where they’re going with this.
The van driver gets out, confirming that he is a body builder type. He greets a guy who’s (three guesses) waxing his surfboard. “Steve-o!” Surf Guy cries. Uh-oh. Since Steve Rogers is Cap’s real name, I’m fearing this lummox will be our hero. Suddenly Matt Salinger starts looking pretty good.
Anyway, it’s time for the mandatory bushel of clumsy exposition. “I figured you got out of the Marines two weeks ago,” Surf Guy continues. Steve smiles. “I’ve been coming down the coast, slow and easy,” he replies, in a rather girlish voice. “You know, kickin’ back.” Kickin’ back? Dude, Captain America’s supposed to be kickin’ ass. What the hell? We also learn that Steve’s “mellow set of wheels” is “going to be my home on the road for the next few years.” And that he has ambitions of being an illustrator.
Yawn. Let’s speed things up. Steve’s being watched by some suit-wearing Narc-type with a radio in his car. He’s also been getting, and ignoring, telegrams from a Dr. Mills. See, he’s not looking for any Big Plastic Hassle. He just wants to cruise around in his bitchin’ van and find America.
Unfortunately, a letter he’s received seems to be chillin’ his buzz. He uses the phone and calls an old friend named Jeff Hayden. Hayden needs to see him, and invites Steve over to his house that evening. Meanwhile, Hayden keeps glancing around nervously. In ’70s TV-speak this flags him as an imminent victim, as anyone who’s ever seen a Quinn Martin show knows. So my guess is that he won’t be keeping the appointment.
Steve drives off, planning to see this Dr. Mills. As he leaves, the Narc Guy begins trailing him. Ominous Music plays, just in case we’re complete idiots and thought, I don’t know, he was planning to give Steve a brownie or something. Instead, he pulls off the road and alerts a fake road crew (!) that Steve’s on the way.
Soon Our Hero is redirected to a detour “over the old mountain road.” Narc Guy then radios a man in an idling tanker truck. The trunk starts down the road. The driver hits a switch and *gasp* gallons and gallons of oil start spraying onto the pavement. I can only assume that Steve’s death is mean to look accidental. Otherwise, Narc Guy shooting him with a pistol would seem a lot simpler. And, yeah, boy, no one’s going to think it odd there was a long, neat, evenly spread oil slick down the middle of this treacherous mountain road.
Steve hits the slick, flies off the mountain, and is killed. Oh, sorry, just projecting. Uhâ€¦he hits the slick, spins around for about a mile of road â€“ seriously, this bit just goes on and on and on — and finally flies off onto an area only about fifteen feet lower than the road. (Who planned this moronically elaborate assassination plot and then picked a section of road where Steve could even conceivably land safely?)
His van’s banged up, but Steve survives intact. Hey, ever notice that the movie’s hero is the only person who ever can crash a vehicle and not have it hugely explode into flames? The wreck’s sole fatality is Steve’s shirt. This boasts the sort of artful rents that Captain Kirk’s uniform top always displayed after he was in a fight.
We cut to the United States Government’s National Security Laboratories. Or so the sign says. This is where Dr. Mills works. We see him staring intently at something off-camera â€“ he’s a scientist, you know â€“ when Steve is brought in. He explains that he used to be the assistant of Steve’s father, who was apparently a major-league scientist of some sort. “I used to get daily reports on his son the motorcycle racer and motorcross expert,” he laughs. Wow, artist, motorcycle racer and motorcross expert, ex-Marineâ€¦Steve’s a regular Renaissance man.
Steve admits he knew nothing of his dad’s work. Mills reveals that his greatest creation was “the ultimate steroid.” Looking at Steve, you have to wonder if he did a little home experimenting. The elder Rogers called this “super-hormone” FLAG (!!) â€“ Full Latent Ability Gain. (Oh, brother.) Man, we learn, seldom uses more than a third of his physical and intellectual abilities. With FLAG, it’s close to a hundred percent.
Mills shows Steve a lab rat wearing a harness attached to a weight. (!!) “In human terms he’s lifting something over twenty-one hundred pounds.” Meanwhile, a rat in a wheel is “running the human equivalent of fifty-seven miles an hours.” Do you realize what this means? America can finally produce that army of super-strong, super-fast rats it’s always wanted! (Actually, I think we already have those in Chicago.)
There’s a fly in the ointment, though. The test subjects uniformly become vastly stronger and faster, but they also die off within two weeks. The cause of death is “cell rejection,” as the subjects’ bodies reject the serum. “[Dr. Rogers] developed the serum out of his own cells,” Mills explained. And it’s the original cultures that they’re still working with today.
I’m sure you’ve seen where this is going, but Steve, sharing his father’s genetic makeup, would be the perfect test subject for FLAG. I’m not scientifically adept enough to know whether any of this makes sense, although my BS detector is definitely going off.
Entering the room is Dr. Wendy Day, who’s currently in charge of FLAG research. She is, big surprise, your typical twenty-something Beautiful Scientist. Mills asks Steve if he realizes that the death of his father represented a national tragedy.
“Maybe I don’t,” Steve replies. “But he was my dad, and I loved him. And then one day he was gone, and all I had was a letter from the President, a man I didn’t even know.” Yep, page 57 of the Screenwriter’s Handbook: “To flesh out your main character and evoke audience sympathy, have that character reveal his or her secret pain.”
Mills proceeds to reveal that Rogers Sr., actually *gasp* used Flag on himself. (Not surprisingly, really, since he made it from himself.) Now possessing powers greater than that of other men, he “dedicated his life to helping the little guy in our society. To righting wrongs that The Law couldn’t, or wouldn’t touch.” Steve blandly takes this in, largely because ‘bland’ pretty much sums up his general demeanor. “So you mean,” he blandly replies, “he was some kind ofâ€¦ super-crimefighter?”
Mills wants Steve to take his father’s place. Wendy just wants to run some tests on the serum and see what happens. This is Reb Brown’s big thespian moment, which, as you may have deduced, is not a good thing. He’s given a big Dramatic Monolog here, revolving around how his life has never been his own. First a series of military schools, then the Marinesâ€¦
“I think I’ve paid my dues,” he explains. “Now I just want to get out on the road. Look at the faces of America.” I see why I’m having problems with this film. I thought it was about the Captain America from the comic books; instead, it’s the one from Easy Rider. Anyway, the speech rambles on from there (“I just want to find out who I am,” he inevitably asserts at one point), but I’ll spare you. Long story short, Steve refuses their offer and leaves.
Cut to that evening. Cue a blare of Flunky ’70s Music: TV Movie-style. In other words we’re not talking Isaac Hayes here. In fact, ’70s television fans will quickly recognize the musical licks of Mike Post, the John Williams of the TV world. Steve rides his ‘cycle over to Hayden’s house. Finding the front door unlocked (!), he enters, calling out Hayden’s name and walking around and generally eating up a minute of running time.
Eventually he comes to Hayden’s den, where he finds his dying friend laying behind his desk. “Catherineâ€¦Steve, pleaseâ€¦” Hayden whispers before he croaks. Later, Steve will maintain that this was referring to the death in a plane crash of Hayden’s wife. Steve theorizes that Catherine’s death wasn’t an accident, as had been thought.
We cut to the headquarters of Andreas Oil. We know this isn’t a good sign, because that’s a *gasp* corporation. The company’s president is Mr. Brackett (“Special Guest Star” Steve Forrest, best known as the leader of TV’s SWAT), and he’ll be our Bad Guy for the Evening. He meets with his Two Murderous Henchmen, Harley and Rudy.
I want to take a minute here — Ken Begg, the most discursive writer since Herman Melville — to mention the guys playing these two. They are the sort of familiar character actors who made a living back then playing non-recurring bad guy roles on seemingly hundreds of different TV shows.
You know what I mean; one week you’re menacing Jim Rockford, the next the Cartwrights, then on to Barnaby Jones. These guys functioned as did the members of the Hollywood stock companies did back in the ’30s and ’40s. In other words, they were actors who specialized in certain types of characters. Put them in generic and underwritten ‘bad guy’ roles and their solid competency seemed to fill the parts out and make them more credible.
It’s kind of interesting. There are now so many more producers of TV programming than in those days, when it was basically just the Big Three networks. Yet you don’t really have such a pool of actors anymore, drifting from episode to episode of various TV shows. Yes, you’ve still got your Ed Lauters and Terry O’Quinns and such, but there used to be dozens of guys like this.
Harley is played by Lance LeGault. Aside from various cop, private eye and action shows, LeGault had quite a history in horror and sci-fi series. He appeared in Land of the Giants, Logan’s Run, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Battlestar Galactica, Knight Rider, Voyagers! and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
He also had a recurring role in Werewolf, the first show on the fledgling Fox Network that could even remotely be called a hit. There he played “Alamo Joe” Rogan, the bounty hunter perpetually chasing the title character.
The craggy-faced Joseph Ruskin plays henchman Rudy. Ruskin’s career extended further back than LeGault’s, and he appeared in most of the big Western series in the late ’50s and throughout the ’60s. He also played numerous bad guys on The Untouchables.
His genre show appearances included The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Wild, Wild West, Man from UNCLE, Mission Impossible, The Time Tunnel, Star Trek, Land of the Giants, Night Gallery, Planet of the Apes, The Bionic Woman, Knight Rider, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Spider-Man, Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to have appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation, denying him a clean sweep. He came close, though, appearing in the Next Generation film Star Trek: Insurrection.
Anyway, I just wanted to tip my hat to these two, and to the many other journeymen actors like them.
Brackett is upset because Hayden’s killer didn’t get a hold of the film’s MacGuffin. Here it’s a strip of film, which, Brackett avers, “has to be in the house somewhere!”
Why? Let me give a little lesson for those too young to have seen much ’70s TV. There was an informal contract between the producers and the viewers. Statements like this weren’t meant to be questioned, they were to taken at face value to advance the plot. Therefore there’s no reason to know why Brackett thinks the film’s there. The line merely fills the viewer in that this is where it will be found later.
Let’s call this a TOWFI moment, or Take Our Word For It. Much of ’70s TV writing was like this, purely expositional in nature, whether in regards to plot points or characterization or motivations. Eventually, of course, viewers noticed that a lot of shows were treating them like idiots, and the writing did in fact start getting (generally) somewhat smarter.
Haley, the Narc Guy from earlier and Brackett’s lead henchman, also explains that Steve showed up on the scene. “I thought we took care of him on the road we dumped oil on,” Brackett snarls. Do me a favor. Read that last sentence aloud. Pretty awkward, isn’t it? Even actor Forrest, an old hand at clunky ’70s TV dialog, has trouble getting that line out smoothly.
Still, it does its job, which is too make absolutely double sure that we get that these guys were behind the attempt to kill Steve earlier. I’m not sure how we would have missed this, unless we had gone to the kitchen for a sandwich or something. Still, better safe than sorry.
Anyway, they know that Hayden told Steve something before he died. Thinking it might be the location of the film, Brackett orders them to get their hands on him and find out what he knows. “And then arrange an accident that works,” he barks. “Sooner or later Rogers is going to be given that FLAG serum, and I want him out of our hair before that happens!” How the hell Brackett would know about the FLAG serum, much less who Rogers is, is left to our imaginations.
OK, they do intimate that Brackett was an old friend or sponsor or something of Hayden’s. This might explain how Brackett knew of the work Hayden was doing (despite that meaning that Hayden was seriously breaching national security), but Hayden didn’t have anything to do with the FLAG project. Even though Mills is the director of both of the projects, even the most elementary of security protocols would keep Hayden from knowing details of projects he wasn’t attached to.
Again, this is prime ’70s TV plotting. We aren’t supposed to ask where Brackett got all this information. The important thing is that he does and that this provides him with ‘motivation’ to keep trying to kill Steve.
Brackett goes to “tell Lester the bad news.” Lester is a scientist working on a large shiny Ominous Device in a clean room. Brackett enters and explains the situation. “Without that last film sequence I can’t proceed,” Lester expositories. Yep, that’s a MacGuffin, alright. “There’s no way I can measure that neutron link without Hayden’s linear time equation.” Yes, that sounds right. “All we have now is an exceedingly expensive and very accurate timepiece,” he concludes. “Not a neutron bomb.” Bum bum bum!!
Back at Hayden’s house. The cops are there, and so is Mills. Hayden was in charge of America’s neutron bomb research, Mills was project overseer. (And Mills worked for Steve’s father, but never met Steve, but became Hayden’s boss, who’s an old friend of Steve’s, etc. This kind of plotting makes everything easier, since every character has some connection to everybody else.) We also meet an FBI agent, but he really doesn’t have much to do with anything. Anyway, they question Steve, providing an opportunity to provide a little exposition and waste a little screentime.
Steve learns that Hayden’s pretty teen daughter Tina has arrived. He goes to tell her about her father, allowing us to see his ‘sensitive’ side. The actress playing Tina isn’t really up to the histrionics the scene requires, and neither is Reb Brown up to his role as comforter. He basically just blandly wrinkles his forehead, which is how he registers any negative emotion.
Tina leaves. Following this, Steve is told by Mills that Hayden’s having had the film at all indicates that he may have been a traitor. Steve refuses to believe this, thus providing him with his own paint-by-numbers motivation to look into things. With this accomplished, Mills can leave too. Steve is now all alone in Hayden’s house. (??) He immediately receives a call from Haley, who presents himself as a friend of Hayden’s. He offers to meet with Steve and give him information.
Now think about what a massive security breach all this represents. Hayden was in charge of America’s neutron bomb research, and there’s reason to believe he was selling off classified information. Despite that, no exhaustive search of his house is being conducted, no agents have been left in his house, and they aren’t even tapping his phone. (Which is pretty convenient, since Haley is calling from Brackett’s office!) Again, this is all pretty typical stuff for television productions of the period, as if they took place in a universe where human logic is slightly off-kilter from our own.
Steve, of course, dutifully motorcycles out to the rendezvous, accompanied by his semi-funky theme music. Haley and Rudy arrive, although they park a bit away and stupidly reveal who they are before they actually capture Steve, or even draw their guns. This gives Steve the chance to ride off, resulting in the inevitable car chase. Cue semi-funky music again.
Eventually Steve rides off another incline. He rolls to a stop partway down, but his bike continues all the way down to the bottom. Since he’s not on it, this, unlike his van earlier, is allowed to hugely explode, as per convention. Wow, look at that baby go up. Yep, another movie vehicle fueled with Atomic Gasoline.
Cut to the hospital. Steve’s in surgery, and things look bad. Mills, looking upon the comatose Steve, remarks that “Medically speaking, he’s already dead.” (?!) Here it becomes all too evident that they’re turning the storied Captain America, a character extant since 1941 and with his own rich, concrete history, into a totally obvious clone of The Six Million Dollar Man. Government handler with ties to hero’s past, dying hero with military background, experimental procedure that will not only save his life but make him better, stronger, fasterâ€¦blech.
Mills decides that FLAG is Steve only chance, Wendy argues that they don’t know enough about the drug’s effects, etc., etc. Mills â€“ duh — ends up giving Steve the serum, and it saves his life.
A fact the recovering Steve is unhappy to learn. Despite what’s occurred, he resists assuming his father’s role. This provides us with, in theory anyway, dramatic tension. Gosh, what if Steve continues to refuse to become the new Captain America?!
In any case, he tells a bitterly disappointed Mills that he won’t take part in any experiments to test his new skills. He intends to live life as if none of this had ever happened. One thing that does work here is that Mills is kind of a prick, without being a complete one. He obviously relished having the opportunity to go against Steve’s wishes to inject him with FLAG. One gets the idea, too, that while Steve’s grateful to be alive, he equally enjoys telling Mills where he can stick his experiments.
Steve is soon pronounced well. After all, he now has heightened healing abilities. Before he can leave the hospital, though, Harley appears with a gun and kidnaps him. (This sort of gets back to what I was saying earlier about lax security.)
Soon they arrive at a meat packing plant, which is one of those places where bad guys always hang out. Harley, accompanied by two lesser henchguys, hauls Steve inside for some interrogation. Steve takes a couple of punches â€“ they might be suggesting his surprise at his new resilience, but if so, they could have done it better â€“ before he breaks his bonds.
Remember before when I said it was obvious they were ripping off The Six Million Dollar Man? Well, here they start slapping you in the face with it. See, each time Steve uses one of his heightened abilities, they insert a sound cue all too reminiscent of the che-che-che-che we hear whenever Steve Austin jumps up to a second floor balcony or tears off a car door. This is just appalling. I mean, it’s so naked you can’t even believe they’re doing it.
Anyway, this is followed by a scene of the bad guys stalking Our Hero. Steve, in turn, does some mildly ‘super’ stuff, such as pushing heavy sides of beef into the thugs. In the end, Harley and his guys are strung up on hooks â€“ through their clothes, of course — while Steve calls the authorities.
Cut to Steve on the beach, doing some sketches. Mills joins him. Steve reveals his fears about mistakenly using his new strength and hurting someone, blah blah. Mills goes on further about Steve’s father and how, fighting for the little guy, he ended up with the moniker Captain America. Basically, he brought down so many crooks that they started mockingly referring to him that way. You know, Steve’s father seems to have been pretty well known for somebody’s whose existence has remained such a secret.
Steve reacts with some incredulity to this tale and jots off a sketch of a superhero character as a jape. He must have been using his superabilities while his hands were off-camera, given the elaborate drawing he whips up in about twenty seconds. Despite Steve’s joking intentions, Mills is impressed with the sketch and asks if he can keep it. He also offers Steve a job with the government, working for the OSI. (Oops, wait, it was Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers who worked for the OSI. This is completely different.) Steve agrees to think it over.
There’s a time element, I guess because the Screenwriter’s Handbook says you should always have one. So Brackett’s got to get the missing film that evening. He again asserts it must be in the house, because Hayden “was tailed every minute, has to be there.” This might be more believable if Hayden hadn’t talked to Steve that afternoon from his office. You’re telling me Hayden couldn’t have hidden a teeny piece of film where he worked? Again, though, we’re to take this as gospel. Brackett also tells Rudy to make sure Steve’s out of the picture.
Cut to Steve and Wendy cavorting on the beach. Wendy’s wearing a one-piece black swimsuit, very low-cut in the back and exposing a downright surprising amount of dÃ©colletage for a ’70s television movie. Of course, this was the ‘jiggle TV’ era of Charlie’s Angels and such. The pair sits down on the ground with Wendy leaning forward so the camera can get a good look as they converse. Then the kiss, which seems to have happened pretty quickly between the two, but then this was the ’70s.
The mood is broken, however, when Mills inevitably makes an appearance. The only thing that comes out of this is that Wendy agrees to go see Tina. The idea being that, in the relaxing company of another woman, she might remember something. Uh, isn’t Wendy a research scientist? Whatever. If I were cynical, I’d say this was a plot contrivance so that she and Tina could get kidnapped by the bad guys at the same time. However, if there’s anything I’m not, it’s cynical.
Mills tells Steve he has something he wants to show him. As they leave the beach, we see Rudy watching them. He radios in, saying that the helicopter should be made ready. Meanwhile, Mills and Steve head out to a military training range. Steve is surprised to see his bitchin’ make-out van there, completely restored. Duuude!
Looking it over, he notes that it looks the same as before, despite Mills’ hints. The latter, though, hits a switch and the big interior storage unit â€“ in a van? â€“ pops open. It’s merely a faÃ§ade, and inside is a goofy-looking red, white and blue motorcycle. Steve looks all impressed, letting us know that in this universe this is a bitchin’ ride.
The bike has a rocket propulsion thingee so that it can fly out of the van. (In the second film this is accompanied by a big cloud of smoke — apparently because it looks ‘cool.’) It also has a jet assist for quick acceleration and a stealth mode switch to make it almost silent. So why not leave this on all the time? They don’t say.
Finally, affixed to the front is what all the Captain America fans have been waiting for: The introduction of Cap’s trademark bulletproof shield. Amazingly, they completely screw this essential element up.
First of all, instead of having red and white stripes, it’s got red and clear stripes â€“ because instead of being composed of metal it’s made of transparent plastic. (!!) Second, when tossed it makes a slow, lazy arc back to its owner, rather than zipping around like a supersonic boomerang. Third, it’s obvious that the thing weighs about four ounces.
“It’s a rather deadly weapon,” Mills declares. He then tosses it so that it completes a leisurely circuit. When it eventually returns, it bounces off of Steve’s chest with a very flimsy plastic sound and actually wobbles! Some deadly weapon!! Hard to imagine this thing smashing up a mad scientist’s death ray machine, or even knocking the gun from a guy’s hand. (Even if he stood around for thirty seconds until it got to him.) Frankly, it’s about as good as the shield you’d expect to get with a Captain America Halloween costume from K-Mart.
Steve heads into the van and pretends he’s going to be able get on the bike. Once we cut away, they show see it flying out of a mock-up van with a higher roof. This is very quickly done so that we don’t see what’s going on, and if they hadn’t shown the top of the bike practically scraping the ceiling of the van before, I probably wouldn’t have caught on.
Anyway, cue theme music again, as a series of ‘cool’ helicopter shots show Steve trying out his new toy. Mills have provided a track with Evel Knievel ramps and such for this purpose. This is all played as very exciting, although it really isn’t. Still, the sudden noodling on an electric guitar over the theme music does provide a good deal of amusement.
Eventually, the aforementioned bad guy’s helicopter shows up. A sniper in the ‘copter starts taking potshots at Steve. Considering that he’s speeding around on a motorcycle, though, we remain unsurprised when he fails to get hit. (Actually, the helicopter keeps dipping so low that you wonder why the pilot doesn’t ram Steve with the landing strut and knock him to the ground.) Eventually, Steve doubles back to the ramp. He rides up it as the ‘copter passes overhead and leaps from the bike, grabbing hold of the strut.
This would actually be a pretty cool stunt, except that once on the strut Steve moves way too slowly and awkwardly for a guy who supposedly has these enhanced abilities. A little judicious editing would have made this a much better sequence. Anyway, he quickly gains control of the ‘copter and orders the pilot to land. Mills shows up with some MPs to arrest the occupants. Steve reveals that he’s found that he also has telescoping-vision (like Steve Austin) and super-hearing (like Jamie Sommers). No bionic dog, though.
Cut to the Hayden house. Tina’s there, and the house still unguarded and unsearched, because that’s what the film requires. Brackett has stopped by. (Remember, so far as anyone knows he was just a friend of Hayden’s.) He tells her that if they find the missing film it will prove her father wasn’t a traitor. That makes no sense, but whatever. Let’s get moving here.
Brackett is able to make her think of a game she played with her Dad when she was a kid, and this leads them to the film. (TV logic.) This sequence is longer than I’m telling it, but believe me, it’s not worth going over. Anyway, right after Brackett gets the film, Wendy shows up. This allows the bad guy to conveniently kidnap both her and Tina at the same time. Go figure.
Cut to that night. Mills and Steve are at the FLAG labs and rapidly becoming concerned about Wendy and Tina. They then get an anonymous call from Brackett. (How do he and his henchmen know all these phone numbers? No matter where anyone is they’re always getting phone calls from these guys.) Brackett tells them to lay off or blah, blah.
However, Steve uses his super-hearing to discern a public address announcement in the background of the call. This allows him and Mills to figure out that the call originated from an oil company, and they finally figure out that Brackett is the bad guy. Now they need to formulate a plan to thwart him while saving his hostages.
Brackett, meanwhile, is overseeing the final assembly of the bomb. Here we get a sketching of their ultimate plan. Not all of it, though, so we can watch Our Heroes figure it out. Anyway, Brackett has arranged for “the time-locks” to open at twelve noon exactly. (But how did he do that? Don’t ask. TOWFI.) Rudy will drive Brackett and the bomb in a trailer truck, “the others will arrive by helicopter.” (More on this later.) Brackett tells Rudy to make sure to remember the radiation suits. Yeah, it you’re going to set off a neutron bomb, that’d probably be a good idea.
Mills and Steve try to figure out what to do. They reject going in to Aegis in force, for fear that Wendy and Tina will be killed. (Yeah, sure, Brackett has a city-killing neutron bomb and they’re going to shape their response to the fact that the guy has two hostages.) Steve decides that he’s the man for the job. Mills agrees, but has a surprise for Steve.
It’s a costume he had made up from Steve’s sketch. (!!) A Red, White & Blue uniform might not be the best idea for guerilla work, but hey. There’s some guff about how the costume will protect Steve’s secret identity, although I don’t remember Steve Austin ever worrying about that sort of thing.
Here’s the real problem: They’ve changed Captain America’s costume. (!!) Here’s a character that’s had the same uniform for nearly forty years and they have to muck around with it. Plus, despite the fact that the purported purpose of the outfit is to disguise Steve’s identity, the revised costume no longer covers his face (!). Instead, the best he’s given is a motorcycle helmet and a totally transparent set of goggles.
Steve drives his van out to the company plant the next morning. Soon he rockets from the rear of the van, dressed as Captain America (sorta) and riding his bike. As his generic theme music blares, he rides around and uses his jet assist to jump a fence and whatnot. Then he uses his stealth option, for no real reason, just because it’s cool.
Once inside he parks the bike, grabs his shield and starts running around and eluding guards. At one point he makes a twenty-foot leap to do so â€“ something the ‘real’ Cap wouldn’t be able to do â€“ accompanied by that bionic man noise. This goes on for a couple of minutes. At one point he blocks a bullet with his shield, and the bionic man noise is heard again. Huh?! Finally, he breaks a pipe and sprays oil on the ground, causing the guards to ‘comically’ slide all over the place. Ho. Ho.
Steve sees Lester the Scientist, who’s walking around because, er, Steve needs to see him. For the same reason, Steve captures him. Why he would assume this guy would have any information is left to our imaginations. Perhaps it’s because he’s the only guy in the installation who isn’t a security guard.
He takes Steve to Brackett’s office and shows him where girls are. However, he won’t rat out Brackett. (Despite the fact that he’ll be looking at conspiracy charges for killing hundreds of thousands of people.) He only provides a couple of vague clues before passing out, including “at noon they’ll all die.”
Later, Steve, Mills and Wendy are hashing things out. “Brackett’s no mad dog killer,” Mills asserts. “He must be after something.” (How the hell would Mills know anything about Brackett’s motives? TOWFI.) Since Lester used the phrase “pulled out,” they assume that the bomb’s on a truck. This limits where it can go before noon. Mills decides to “find out from National Security what the prime secured targets are” in the appropriate radius. In about ten seconds Wendy’s computer is spitting this list out.
The list of secure sites within five hundred miles of Los Angeles is surprisingly small. Twelve missiles (twelve !!), four “mini-missiles” and two gold depositories. The Los Angeles Depository has ninety-two million on hand, but the Phoenix, AZ one has a billion and half. (Huh?) “Simon, that’s gotta be it,” Steve declares. (??) He notes that if they were going to the Los Angeles Depository “they would have been there by now.” Well, yesâ€¦but so what? You know the plan isn’t to detonate the bomb until twelve, not whenever they get to the depository. So that’s a moot point.
Wendy also asks why you’d go after a hundred million when you can get a billion and a half. Actually, I answer that below. Soâ€¦TOWFI. It’s Phoenix. Anyway, they have only two hours left, and they can’t risk blowing the truck up because it’ll set off the bomb.
OK, let’s take a minute here. Have any of you guys seen Goldfinger? When Auric Goldfinger tells Bond of a scheme similar to this one involving Fort Knox, he scoffs. You could never move that much gold, he points out. The idea is ludicrous. That’s true, Goldfinger admits. That’s why he intends to use a small nuclear device to contaminate the gold. The world economy will go haywire and his already vast holdings of gold will surge in value. (Actually, the theft idea is in Ian Fleming’s novel, so the movie’s plot is actually much smarter, not to mention rather more elegant.)
Brackett has no such scheme here. How much would a billion and a half dollars â€“ in 1977 dollars to boot â€“ of gold weigh? Uhm, a lot. More than his truck and the aforementioned helicopters could carry off, certainly. Even moving a fraction of that amount would require hundreds and hundreds of men, all of them sanguine about a plan to murder an entire city. This answers Wendy’s question: Why go after a hundred million when fifteen times that much is available? Probably because you couldn’t carry off the whole hundred million either. So why not?
Still, on the movie’s terms we’re just to believe (TOWFI) that Brackett can haul off all the bullion. We’re also to believe that he thinks he can go somewhere and live with this money after killing off the entire population of Phoenix, AZ. I know there are countries without extradition agreements with the United States, but c’mon! Are you telling me they’d let this guy stay there, probably drawing a U.S. military incursion of some sort? And who’s he going to sell the gold to? Who’d touch it, even among the criminal set, after this?
And what’s with Brackett, anyway? Talk about a sketchily drawn character. Let’s see: He owns Aegis Oil, he somehow manages to learn all sort of national secrets, he has killer henchmen and a scientist â€“ one guy! — willing and able to build him a neutron bomb, he can arrange for the time locks at the Phoenix Gold Repository to open at a certain timeâ€¦and that’s about it. I especially like when Mills asserts that Brackett isn’t a “mad dog killer.” After all, he’s only killing everyone in Phoenix because he’s getting money out of it. Why, that’s entirely sane!
There follows some downright hilarious scenes of the truck. The bomb’s swaying in a harness in the back. Aside from that there’s a rack holding four or five radiation suits. Brackett’s also there, sitting in a chair in his three-piece suit and tie and reading a book. Yep, just another day in the life of your average supervillain.
A helicopter appears. Mills is piloting it â€“ that’s handy â€“ Steve’s in the passenger seat and the bike’s in the back. They cruise around a good long while before Steve sees the truck. Super-vision you know. They fly ahead and drop Steve off. Suddenly Steve, in his Captain America suit, rockets out from some rocks. (I know he has to launch out of his van, but why do so here?)
Theme music blaring, Steve speeds down the road, eventually catching up to the truck. Grabbing hold, he clambers aboard, making his way to the top of the trailer. Stopping to radio Mills that he left his bike behind â€“ doesn’t he have bigger things to worry about right now?! â€“ he continues on.
Looking through a ventilation window, he sees that Brackett has an intercom set up to the truck’s cab. He then grabs a hold of the truck’s vertical exhaust pipes and bends it towards the window. Brackett quickly begins to choke, and intercoms the cab, telling the driving to stop. They pull over, but not before Brackett collapses. Rudy and the other guy unlock the trailer and Steve knocks them out by smacking them with the door.
Steve finds that Brackett has a dead man’s switch attached to his chest. (This was set up before.) If his heart starts beating, the bomb goes off. They milk this for a little ‘suspense,’ but c’mon. Like the bomb’s actually going to go off and kill our entire cast. Fat chance.
Not to shock the hell out of you, but the day is saved. Time for the epilog. Here they finally get to the whole plane crash thing with Hayden’s wifeâ€¦remember? No? Don’t worry about it. Anyway, she’s not dead, the crash was faked, this was how Brackett was able to get Hayden to pass him secrets. In TV logic this means Tina will be fine. Before her Mom was dead and her Dad was alive. Now her Dad’s dead but she gets her Mom back. So she’s all even-steven.
Watch closely here. Mills asks Steve if he’s ready to become Captain American permanently. (Or for one more movie, anyway.) Steve agrees, but all of the sudden he’s speaking what is very obviously looped-in new dialog.
See, after the first film was telecast it was decided to make another one. However, most everyone, viewers and critics alike, complained about how they’d changed Cap’s trademark uniform. (Gee, who’d thought?) So they decided to go back to the original design for the second film.
Moreover, for repeats and the video, they shot a short new scene where they introduce the new, original suit. (My little joke. See the note below about the Wonder Woman TV movies.) That’s why they (very badly) overdubbed the original dialog in this scene, to create a bridge to this brief new sequence.
Unfortunately, the new ending utterly violates the events of this movie! “I want to be the same Captain America my father was,” Steve asserts. “I not only want to do the things he did, I want to look the way he did as well.” The problem being that this film’s clearly established that his father wasn’t the comic book Captain America. He was a guy who fought crime sans any sort of costume or disguise. Steve only ended up with the suit because he jokingly drew Mills that sketch. Helloooo!!!
Anyway, we cut to a field. Steve is tooling around on his bike, only wearing the real Captain America uniform. He even has a mask to cover part of his face. The only change, and it’s not a good one, is that the head cowl is still replaced by the bulky motorcycle helmet.
This looks wrong, even with the traditional wings coming off of it and the big white ‘A’ over the forehead. As well, it’s kind of funny to imagine Cap running around with a helmet on all the time. What next, red, white and blue kneepads? A star spangled mouth guard? And the shield’s still wrong. Still, despite these caveats, the new (old) suit looks ten times better than their redesign. Which is maybe why it’s lasted for sixty years â€“ you freakin’ morons!
Hollywood’s always screwed around with source material when adapting it to the movies. TV only exacerbated this tendency. Fans of comic books have suffered more from this habit than most. Due to limitations in special effect technology and budgetary concerns, it wasn’t until Richard Donner’s 1979 Superman â€“ The Movie that a superhero character came even close to being brought to live-action reality.
Moreover, since comics were so looked down upon, the inclination to ‘put your mark’ on a project by uselessly changing elements was all the more prevalent. Again, this was especially true on TV.
The most defensible changes involved downgrading the character’s superpowers. Obviously, the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno version of the Hulk wasn’t going to be making hundred mile-leaps and tearing up buildings from their foundations. He wasn’t going to engage in battle royals with entire Army units.
In fact, he wasn’t even bulletproof. The invulnerability he had in the comics, where he generally fought other massively-powered super-beings, would have ruined the sense of drama on the TV show. There had to be at least a pretty good chance that the Hulk would get killed.
In other word, it was possible to make only that changes that made genuine sense. Unfortunately, this was not generally the case. Let’s look at Wonder Woman. In 197??, ABC (I think) telecast a Wonder Woman TV movie/pilot. However, the character was radically changed, both in big and pointlessly small ways. Wonder Woman was suddenly blonde, her trademark uniform, decades old, was altered. Her powers were changed and downgraded, even when they didn’t have to be.
Why? Again, hey, if you’re a network exec, the changes you make to a project are what make it yours. And reallyâ€¦a comic book characterâ€¦who could care? Well, the fans could. And with this being a sizable chunk of your projected audience, you’d better have a damn good show if you’re not planning to cater to them.
Oddly, one of the other networks (NBC?) decided to take another shot at it, and thus was broadcast a movie/pilot called, campily enough, The New, Original Wonder Woman. This one starred Linda Carter as a much more traditional take on Wonder Woman. It was even set during WWII.
Any changes that were made were logical ones, for instance the famous Wonder Woman spin where Carter would rotate at super-speed and somehow end up in costume. It didn’t make much sense, but it made ‘TV’ sense, and in a good way. And it was a neat effect. Anyhoo, this more regulation take on Wonder Woman was rather more popular â€“ the increased bustiness of Carter’s version probably didn’t hurt either â€“ and the pilot became a TV that lasted for a couple of years.
Of other TV pilots/series, Dr. Strange didn’t fare too badly. There were some changes, but nothing too radical. Besides, he wasn’t all that famous a character anyway, although that makes it odder that they didn’t screw around with him more.
Spider-Man suffered from a severe limitation in special effects technology. His wall-climbing was awkward, his ‘webs’ were nets, and he wasn’t even afforded super-strength. (How you would climb up and down skyscrapers without it was left to our imaginations.) Pedestrian scripts didn’t help either. Plus, as usual with these shows, budget limitations made it unusual in the extreme for Spider-Man to face a superfoe instead of some pedestrian crimelord. Of the actual series characters of the time, only Wonder Woman regularly faced more outrÃ© villains.
The one who got it was the worst was, as we’ve seen, Captain America. OK, so they had to update the character. Fine. Understood. The thing with Steve already being a body-builder type is worse, but you could live with it. Changing his powers, though, is pretty pointless (except in that ‘ripping-off the Six Million Dollar Man’ sense).
However, once you start getting the lame “your father fought crime and they laughingly called him Captain America” backstory you really wonder why they bothered. This was made in 1977, a little over thirty years since WWII ended. Why not make Steve the son of the ‘real’ Captain America instead of this rather lame revised one? Then his wearing the costume would make much more sense. There also would have been all sorts of interesting story-lines tying in with the original Cap, had this actually become TV series.
Speaking of a real hair-tearer, why change his costume?! (Especially since the alternations, while being major enough to annoy fans, are minor enough to make them ever more senseless.) This is the kind of thing that’s just so completely pointless that you can only imagine it was purposely done to piss people off. And guess what â€“ it worked. That’s why they went back to the original â€“ and much better looking, to boot â€“ costume design in the second film. Yet the fact is, as noted before, that there’s another, much more likely scenario: Somebody’s nephew was given a busy-work Associate Producer credit and, bored, suggested they redesign the costume. Meanwhile, the people actually making the film said, yeah, whatever, just stay out of our hair (and, no doubt, thinking that no one could possible care if the uniform was changed or not).
Also annoying was the fact that they came nowhere near doing justice to Cap’s trademark, his shield. This is too important an element of the Captain America mythos to just shrug off, and to make it almost an afterthought to his nifty new motorbike is just depressing.
Reb Brown, meanwhile, is all wrong for the part. Yes, he’s got the TV lead looks thing down. In appearance, he reminds you of popular ’70s movie star Ryan O’Neal on steroids. Presumably they choose him because Cap should be a pretty big dude. However, as noted, this film’s Steve Rogers was big before he took the serum. (A major mistake.) So, if the serum doesn’t change your appearance, there’s no real reason for this Steve Rogers to be so huge. The serum could have altered the density of his muscles instead of their size.
Another concern is that Brown doesn’t move right. He’s properly big, but Cap should also move like a gymnast. Brown isn’t a clod, but neither is ‘graceful’ the word that comes to mind when watching him. In this I’d have to say that the Matt Salinger of the notorious Cannon Captain America movie is, at least, a better pick than Brown. He’s quite tall but isn’t overly bulky, and he moves a lot better. In a perfect world you could have both massive and graceful. Cap should be built like Schwarzenegger but move like Jet Li. If you have to choose, however, the latter is a better idea.
The main problem, however, is that Brown is largely devoid of screen presence. Cap should be a character of immense charisma. Brown has none of this. It’s not that his acting here is laughable or anything. Yet, as noted in the review, ‘bland’ is the word that best sums up his performance. Worst of all is his voice. Brown affects a very soft voice in this picture, which diminishes the natural command that Cap should exude no end. If this Cap were in an Avengers strategy meeting (not that he would be, of course), he’d have to speak three or four times before anyone would notice he had something to say.
Jabootu Correspondent Rick Luehr aptly sums the oevre of Mr. Brown — a surname so appropriate that it’s practically Dickensian — by noting: “Someone once said, ‘When he stops talking, he stops acting.'” (I’m assuming this was during a MST3K appearance, as it sounds like something they’d say.) And it’s true. Like a kid in a high school play, Brown will often speak his lines and then relax, visibly waiting for his next turn.
Brown would go on to become a cheesy movie mainstay, most famous for his roles in Yor â€“ Hunter From the Future and Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf and the perennial MST3K favorite Space Mutiny. From that standpoint his work here is pretty good.
Captain America II: Death Too Soon
Wow, ten seconds in and it’s already embarrassing. We open with what is obviously designed to be the opening credit sequence if a series had resulted. This involves a succession of still photos under the non-familiar, if still utterly forgettable, Captain America theme music.
This is a really bad idea, because it’s obviously a rip-off of the classic opening credits of The Rockford Files. Especially since the same guy wrote both pieces of theme music. However, if Rockford received one of Mike Post’s most inspired themes, Captain America has gotten one of his lamest. Which is fine, actually, because each show got what it deserved.
During these credits we learn that Connie Sellecca (!) has replaced Heather Menzies as Wendy. Also, the special guest villain for this one is Christopher Lee. Certainly a step up from Steve Forrest, but poor Chris! He’s playing ‘Miguel’, because really, if any actor screams ‘Hispanic’, it’s Christopher Lee. Am I right?
We also learn that Lana Wood, Natalie’s sister, plays ‘Yolanda’ here. According to the IMDB, she played this role in the first film too. If she did, though, I have no memory of it. And I just stopped watching it like two hours ago.
Ms. Wood began her film career auspiciously. She first played the younger version of, yes, Natalie Wood in The Searchers, Citizen Kane‘s most serious rival as the Great American Film.
From there, however, her screen career went nowhere fast. Her other most memorable role was as Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds are Forever. Approaching Sean Connery’s James Bond in a casino, she introduced herself with “I’m Plenty.” Connery glances at her ample cleavage and dryly notes, “Of course you are.”
The final credit is for director Ivan Nagy. If the name seems familiar, it’s because he was Heidi Fleiss’ boyfriend, or something like that, and part of that whole Hollywood Madam thing.
We watch a series of shots of Steve Rogers driving down a seaside highway in his Bitchin’ Van. Hilariously, these shots are entirely lifted from the first movie! You can tell, Steve’s wearing the same shirt, despite it being ruined in the earlier film. Well, waste not, want not. Apparently they had to make up for the extra five thousand dollars they blew getting Lee.
Eventually we cut to footage that was, you know, actually shot for this film. It’s a small California seaside town. Young people ride bicycles and skates and play Frisbee. It’s a Wonderful Day to Be Alive.
Amongst the revelers is Steve, drawing a portrait of Mrs. Shaw, a Kindly Old Lady. She almost gets trampled by one of the Frisbee players, but Steve pops up and redirects the guy. This is very sloppily edited: We first see the guy running blindly at Mrs. Shaw, then a shot of the Frisbee going over his head and he turning to chase it, and then back to him running at her. In other words, the second shot should have preceded the other two. Nice job.
Steve sees the Mrs. Shaw has responded badly to the near collision. She explains that all the elderly residents hereabouts are on pins and needles. There’s a gang that preys on them, targeting them especially when they cash their monthly social security checks. The cops are having trouble doing anything, because the area’s too big to police easily.
Now, I’ve been having some sport with Reb Brown’s acting in the first picture, and I’m sure I’ll do so again with this one. Yet fairness compels me to say that he’s really pretty decent in this particular scene. He seems honestly concerned about Mrs. Shaw plight and in wanting to help her and her fellows. Personally, I’d have preferred more of a “Man, that pisses me off and somebody’s getting their asses kicked” reaction. But this one works, largely because Brown is successful in selling it.
We cut to a group that has “’70s motorcycle gang” written all over them: Beards, sunglasses, jeans, shirts with the sleeves torn off, bandanas tied around their heads, mixed-raced, etc. (By gum, they may steal from and brutalize senior citizens, but they aren’t racists!)
Nearby, Mrs. Shaw emerges from a store, having apparently cashed her check. As she walks past a number of youths â€“ including, why yes, fetching young things in sparse clothing â€“ we see one thug trailing behind her. We also see Steve’s van close by.
Seeing the thug moving in, Steve ducks into the back of his van. The miscreant grabs Mrs. Shaw’s purse and runs off. Captain America (it pains me to actually call him that â€“ although at least he’s more or less wearing the correct uniform now â€“ but it’s clearer to do so when he’s in costume), on his rocket bike, shoots out of the rear of the van.
My first thought was that there was no way in hell he could change into his uniform in what is literally three seconds. Second, isn’t it kind of lame for Captain America, especially this souped up one, to use his motorcycle to chase down a purse snatcher? You don’t exactly see Batman breaking out the Batwing for this kind of action, or Spider-Man that funky wall-climbing dune buggy with the web cannons he used to have.
Another Gang Dude in a wacky little yellow streetcar â€“ man, it’s hard to look dangerous in that thing â€“ drives along and signals for Running Dude to toss him the purse. Man, that’s one organized street gang!
Running Dude does so, but Captain America â€“ I’ll call him that, but ‘Cap’ is out of the question â€“ intercepts it. He then hits the ‘rocket thrust’ feature on his bike (!!) and zooms back to hand Mrs. Shaw her purse. (Hasn’t Steve sort of blown his secret identity here? Especially after rocketing out of his van in a public parking lot?) I want to Mills’ face when he wonders why Steve blew four hundred dollars in rocket fuel to thwart a purse snatching. Good thing there’s not a cat up a tree in the area, or the whole department would be over budget.
The purse snatcher returns and threatens Captain America with a switchblade. As with the use of the motorcycle, I was somewhat mortified for Our Hero’s sake that he bothers to use his shield here. In fact, just as I wrote that, he tossed it. The thug smiles, thinking it missed him. But no. It’s just doing one of it’s slow, needlessly huge arcs.
After about thirty seconds it finally tails around and smacks the guy in the back. The shield, obviously on wires at this point, connects with the less than awesome sound that a really big, thin, wobbly Frisbee makes when it collides with something. Plus when it hits him it rather noticeably bounces off his back. (!!) This is not exactly conducive to our suspension of disbelieve, even if the actor does gamely throw himself to the ground in response.
The guy in the yellow car tools off, perhaps fearing that Captain America has a bubble blowing kit or hula-hoop waiting in reserve. Hell, if he had a Corn Popper he could probably chase organized crime from the entire state. What’s this? OK, when Captain America chases a running purse snatcher, he uses his rocket bike. Yet when a guy drives away from him, he sets off on foot. You are indeed a Man of Mystery, Captain America.
Suddenly, through the miracle of bad editing, the car is racing along a beach. (Well, if you call going like five miles an hour ‘racing’.) He thinks he’s escaped, but he hasn’t counted on Captain America’s awesome, Benny Hill-like ability to speed up the film when he’s running. Actually, I have the Benny Hill theme saved as a sound file on my computer, and went back and watched this sequence again while playing it. It was something I probably enjoyed a little too much.
Our Hero pulls the guy from his wacky racer and tosses him into the surf. He warns him about again risking the wrath of Captain America, blah blah, and demands the names of his fellow gang members.
Mills is at a secure government facility, checking up on Prof. Ilson, a scientist who hasn’t poked his nose out from his lab in three weeks. He walks down a hallway arguing with another guy as he heads in. This is shot with a handheld camera, fostering an out-of-left-field cinema vÃ©ritÃ© feel for some inexplicable artistic reason. Quick, someone, get Ivan Nagy an Emmy!
Ilson’s lab is secured with steel doors. Since they don’t have the keycode, Mills orders the guard to “blow it.” (!!) This involves putting what looks like a blank quarter into a coin-slot, whereupon the lock goes boom. Whatever.
Inside, the laboratory has been trashed, and Ilson is nowhere to be seen. Mills orders Steve Rogers to be call in. Then he notices a clue: Ilson has etched the name “Migu” on a pane of glass with hydrofluoric acid. Or some damn thing. Maybe he didn’t have a pen on him. Anyway, Mills looks unhappy.
Steve, Mills and Wendy get together for some expositional dialog. Much of this, unsurprisingly, falling into the TOWFI category. Important details include Ilson being “the top microbiologist and immunologist in the world.” (I thought that was Steven Seagal in The Patriot. No, wait, he was merely “the best damn immunologist in the country.”)
Mills then produces the glass sheet from Ilson’s lab. “M-I-G-U?” Steve asks. “E-L,” Mills adds. “Miguel?” Steve asks. “The revolutionary?” Mills nods grimly. “The man behind the airport slaughter at Copenhagen, the massacre at the World Cup track meet, and most of the kidnappings and executions of diplomats all over Europe.” Ah, but does he have a neutron bomb?
We cut to the Waterford Federal Penitentiary, an old style stone prison. Inside, we see that a nattily dressed Miguel is using it as his headquarters. A neat trick for a European terrorist, but then, this is the man behind the airport slaughter at Copenhagen.
He checks in with his flunky Kramer and we learn that Ilson isn’t producing whatever Dire Thing Miguel wants on schedule. Miguel goes in to threaten Ilson and we get a bit more exposition and whatnot. At least if this were a forty-five minute regular TV episode it would move faster.
Yet as lame as this thing is, Christopher Lee’s natural presence and sense of command raises it up a couple of notches. Even sleepwalking through an inane part like this, Lee classes up the joint significantly. The depressing thing is that he was being regulated to playing the villain in Captain America TV movies. A career slump, sadly, that lasted for over twenty years, and which he only recently has started coming out of.
Thank Tim Burton for giving him a showy cameo in Sleepy Hollow. This appearance obviously reminded Hollywood that Lee was still amongst the living. Since then, he’s gotten juicy gigs in such high-profile projects as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and Star Wars: Revenge of the Clones.
Lee is given a wad of TOWFI exposition. This includes dubious facts and premises such as:
Mills is showing Steve the six known photos of Miguel. Steve notes that they appear to be of six entirely different men. We aren’t shown these photos, for obvious reasons. After all, there aren’t many 6′ 6″ Masters of Disguise in the World. (Let’s hope they don’t put Lee in disguise, because there’s no way we’d buy it.)
We also learn that Ilson had been working on a process to stop aging (!!), but abandoned the work as hopeless. They wonder if Miguel is aware of that. Then, to advance the plot, we’re told (TOWFI) there’s a shipping dock that might be hiding an illegal shipment of some chemical Miguel needs. Sounds like a job forâ€¦Superman! Unfortunately, he’s unavailable. So they’ll probably just send Captain America.
We cut over to Miguel and Kramer. Kramer is played by familiar ’70s character actor Stanley Kamal. His specialty was playing sleazy yuppie-types. For instance, the son of a Mafia don who gets into trouble trying to prove he’s tougher than he actually is.
To modern viewers he has a bigger problem, which is that he looks like Chris Kattan’s older and just slightly more formidable brother. This makes him even harder to take seriously as a menace. Kamal still does TV work, and in his time has appeared on such genre shows as The Incredible Hulk, The Phoenix, Knight Rider, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Beauty and the Beast, Dark Skies and Dark Angel.
Since Lee himself probably has rather less than ten minutes of screentime here, you can guess how important Kamal’s role is to things. Anyhoo, they are planning to do Something Nasty to a medium-sized Unidentified City. Meanwhile, they send a sample of the aging compound to the President (!) to show that they aren’t bluffing.
Cut to the shipping dock. Steve appears outside and parks his van. Hampered by the fact that the area is off-limits to the general public, he takes the directs route: He dons his Captain America outfit, rockets his bike out of the van and smashes his way through a chain link fence. (!) In broad daylight!
He then rides around for a longish ‘action’ sequence wherein he puts out of commission various dock workers. Much of this, needless to say, recalls a typical Steve Austin brawl: Tossing guys into crates in slo-mo, people getting knocked out but not seriously hurt, etc. There’s also a great moment when Captain America is supposedly pulling himself up a steel cable with his hands. Actor Brown pantomimes this action, but it’s all too clear that he’s actually just being raised on an off-camera platform of some sort.
I guess we’re to assume (TOWFI) that every one of these guys are smugglers â€“ even the security guards â€“ because otherwise Our Hero is just beating the hell out of regular working joes. The ‘comic’ violence here is predictably lame. One guy runs straight into his wobbly plastic shield and has to pretend that he’s been rendered insensible. Ho ho.
Meanwhile, in an especially ludicrous bit, a worker uses a forklift as a weapon. Captain America stops its progress with his bare hands, then lifts the forward portion of it off the ground. (!) Just how strong is this guy, anyway? The bit ends when he tears open a suspicious crate â€“ via some a couple of really bad ‘super strength’ moments — and finds it loaded with baggies of some powder. Smiling, he tucks one in his belt and reseals the crate.
In retrospect, I just have to wonder is he couldn’t have handled that situation a little more smoothly.
Oh, and the caper of the bit is when we cut to Wendy’s car in a parking lot. We hear Captain America’s ‘bionic strength’ noise, and then the baggie comes sailing over the top of a two story building to land right in the front passenger seat of Wendy’s convertible. First of all, why is Wendy doing fieldwork? Isn’t she a scientist? (Is it because Mills’ super-secret organization consists of only three people?) Secondâ€¦c’mon, what, can Captain America see through buildings now? Even if he knew where she was supposed to park, hitting her passenger seat from the other side of a building seems a bit much. And what if the baggie broke and scattered the material all over the place?
The chemical is identified as being the correct one (duh) and Steve is assigned to follow the rest of the drugs when they’re picked up. This is possible due to one of the film’s most inane bits, which is that Miguel’s henchmen don’t call off picking up the chemical as a result of Captain America’s little rampage. That’s because the dock workers he beat up shrug the incident off as an run of the mill attempted theft. (!!) “Half the stuff on these docks gets ripped-off before it’s loaded,” one fellow laughs.
Yes, now the whole thing is entirely believable. Guy in garish red, white & blue monkey suit, rides a rocket bike, leaps twenty feet into the air, lifts up forkliftâ€¦obviously your average sneak thief. Making this even dumber â€“ which is quite a feat â€“ is that Captain America has apparently become a famous figure since the first movie. Later on, whenever somebody sees him they instantly know who he is.
The bad guy’s black van leaves the docks. As soon as they pass the gate, Steve’s entirely more bitchin’ van pulls in right behind them. Yes, good tailing technique, Oh Stealthy One. Eventually, though, he drops back a bit. Long after the bad guys would have seen him, but still. This has its own problems, however. The bad guys radio a second team of miscreants and arrange a rolling pass off. As they drive by a parked jeep they toss out a black garbage bag containing the chemicals. The jeep team retrieves this, the van continues on into the town of Belleville and Steve is none the wiser.
You know, having super-strength doesn’t really help you conduct a solitary tail. (Super-vision does, though, so let’s just not think about that.) Too bad Mills’ operation, which is currently hunting down a terrorist threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of American lives, doesn’t have, oh, four people working for it. Then maybe they could have worked a double tail and followed the chemicals.
The bad guys park the van in some obscuring bushes and leave it. A couple of minutes later Steve cruises by. Seeing the van, he parks and gets out to investigate. To his chagrin, he sees the remains of the packing crate that once held the chemicals he hoped would lead him to Miguel. Suddenly, he finds himself without a clue about how to proceed.
Or so you would think. Now, remember, the bad guys went to some little trouble to relay off the chemicals to another vehicle. This was a precaution, just in case they were being followed. This accomplished, they abandoned the van and disappeared. Result: An utterly cold trail.
Logically, one would imagine this to be the point of the whole exercise. So the last thing you would expect is that the bad guys would come back the next morning to collect the van. (!!) Amazingly, though, that’s exactly what they do. Which is lucky for Steve, who’s doing undercover stakeout duty in the park across the. As the bad guys return, they see Our Hero painting a portrait of a cat he’s somehow gotten hold of. Where’d the cat come from, you might ask? Uhâ€¦the script. It said that when the bad guys saw him he should be painting a cat. Steve also makes asides to the posing pussy, calling it Heathcliff. This is ‘funny.’
Yeesh, this piece is getting out of hand, and we’ve still two-thirds of this one left to go. OK, let’s just hit the highlights:
- Bad guy, upon seeing Steve: “Let’s check this turkey out.”
- The bad matte work for the helicopter and it’s cargo, and
- The fact that the populace, presumably in a panic because they’ve been told of the aging compound (this was established to be the case) are just nonchalantly walking and driving around instead of choking the streets. The explanation? They just took a city stock shot and matted in the helicopter and the fume trail. Good work, you guys.
And so, after Steve gives Pete a puppy (!!), our movie ends.