Friday, August 21, 2015

Both 'Captain America' TV movies reviewed

How can you pass up a double feature on DVD for $3.74?

When you're a Caphead like me, you can't. I figured I couldn't go too wrong getting the two 1979 made-for-TV movies "Captain America" and "Captain America: Death Too Soon" in one collection.

Actor Reb Brown sports the first Captain America
costume designed by Steve Rogers in this
packaaging for the the first TV movie.
Awright, it's time to be honest. They aren't terrible and are fairly enjoyable. And the movies aren't as corny, cheesy or as cringe-inducing as one might expect or even remember.

How can I say that, you might ask. Most Capheads probably cringe at the storytelling and/or the low-budget special effects. Some diehard fans may have a sentimental attachment to these movies.

But, as you well know if you've read plenty of my reviews here at Cary's Comics Craze, I'm dedicated to seeing each side of each project I view or read. So I can't just blast these movies just because I can in this blog.

Reb Brown's Steve Rogers is completely plausible. I completely bought into the casting.

Rogers is an artist (who actually does plenty of artwork in both movies — unlike Chris Evans' version, in which he only doodles backstage after a vaudeville show in "Captain America: The First Avenger.") This Rogers is instrumental in creating the first version of the Captain America costume he wears for the finale of the first flick. Aside from his infamous wings on the side of a motorcycle helmet, Cap dons his original duds for the last moments of the first movie and the entirety of "Death Too Soon."

Better yet, Brown brings a true humanity to Rogers. He cares for people and stands up for the underdog — all essential characteristics to the man who makes the Star-Spangled Avenger who he is.

Brown also is as big as a house. His big arms are every bit as muscular as Evans' or even Chris Hemsworth's. With broad shoulders and an equally massive frame, it's easy to believe Rogers was a Marine.

(You'll note this incarnation of Rogers doesn't start out as the sickly and wimpy-sized version before he's injected with the Super Soldier Serum (more on that later!), likely due to restrictions on the story and certainly the special effects available at the time. We meet Rogers as he wandering the country as a free spirit in his van, going from place to place and trying to find his direction in life after serving his country.)

Now why the TV Rogers is a one-time motorcross expert might leave some fans puzzled. It's simply a convenient plot device as that history provides a rationale for Captain America using his biggest weapon — not his bullet-proof shield, but his turbo-charged motorcycle that often goes off-road.

That's right, Capheads; Cap barely uses his shield. Sure, he flings it a couple times and uses it to deflect some gunshots, but it's not instrumental to this TV version as it is to Evans' Cap. While the TV version also is indestructible and designed like its comic-book counterpart (aside from the blue star), this shield is clear where the comic-book version has white stripes.

The biggest head-scratcher is why Rogers is injected with the Full Latent Abilty Gain serum (aka F.L.A.G.) instead of the Super Solider Serum. Indeed, the F.L.A.G. name is much more patriotic sounding and doesn't wreak of military ties, but I have to assume the creative team just didn't think primetime TV audiences could deal with the Super Soldier Serum's military background.

Steve Rogers (right) tries out the bullet-proof shield as his mentor,
Dr. Simon Mills, looks on. Note the Captain America motorcycle
 stored in the back of Rogers' van — an exciting place from which
Cap jumps into action.
Most likely, the writers and producers were too lazy and/or not interested in developing a World War II story and wanted to set their movies completely in contemporary times.

Dr. Simon Mills (a viable and serious-minded Len Birchman) doses Rogers with "the ultimate steroid" as he's on his deathbed. Rogers is hospitalized with little hope for recovery, having been involved in a bad bike crash after being pursued by some toughies. I'm not sure which is more questionable — Mills' questionable ethics and obsession with seeing F.L.A.G. used to its full potential or why Rogers simply couldn't be given the Super Soldier Serum — albeit one with a different history.

Come to find out, F.L.A.G. is the brainchild of Rogers' late father and the serum only worked on his body. After his death, Mills, who was the elder Rogers' doctoral assistant and good friend, experimented on rats with the serum, but they die after exhibiting enhanced strength and stamina.

Mills works out of the National Security Laboratories (another creation for these movies) with Dr. Wendy Day, who is first played by the very attractive Heather Menzier-Urich and then upgraded to Connie Selleca in "Death Too Soon." Mills tells Rogers his father was inspired to be a "super crime fighter" and donned the Captain America guise — all new information to Steve Rogers who apparently didn't know his father well. The scientist encourages him to make the identity his own and legitimize what the bad guys made fun of during his father's day.

So, yup, the Captain America mantle is a hereditary thing in this continuity. It's kinda hokey, but these movies are products of their time and such a history must have seemed like the easiest way for the creative team to avoid flashbacks and such if Cap had his original WWII backstory.

Fans of "The Six Million Dollar Man" who have great ears may notice that each time Cap uses his super strength, there's a sound effect quite similar to what we've heard time and time again every time Col. Steve Austin used his bionic arm, legs or vision. This isn't just an homage to the popular series that went off the air one year earlier. Again, it's a sign of the times and was a signal to the audience that Captain America was using his enhanced abilities (which also includes a type of super-hearing just like Austin has).

The many looks of Captain America in the movies. (Image courtesy of youtube)
Given the budget constraints of TV movies, the battles aren't very exciting. The plot lines and motives of the villains are even more lame. A tractor-trailer transporting a nuclear bomb (to be detonated for a murky reason) and a rapid-aging chemical must have seemed like the best the creative team could do for a TV movie.

But on the other hand, Mike Post and Pete Carpenter wrote a snazzy Captain Amercia theme that kicks in whenever Cap jumps into action. The quality of the movies certainly are dated, but the original music is a keeper. Grade: B-

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