Marvel movies: Captain American (1979) might be the corniest Cap' ever
Remember when I said the 90s were not terribly kind to superhero films? Well, the 70s weren’t much better. The decade that brought us disco certainly didn’t do Captain America any favors. If you thought Captain America (1990) was weird, just wait until you see Captain America (1979).
Sit back, folks, because this ain’t Kevin Feige’s Captain America.
There’s no World War II, no Nazis, and no Red Skull. Instead, the movie is set in the ‘70s (the present day when it was made). Steve Rogers (played by football player/actor Reb Brown) is indeed Captain America, but not the Cap’ you’re used to. This Steve was never frail, sickly, or had any sort of injury or disability he needed to overcome. No one’s going to even give him an obligatory limp. This is a hale and hearty Steve Rogers with no trace of physical imperfection.
When the movie starts, Steve Rogers has just gotten out of the Marines and returns home to California (again, WHY are we still setting a Captain America movie in California? The man is from Brooklyn. BROOKLYN).
Freed of his military duties, Steve has a new plan for his life. You see, Steve Rogers is an artist, and he just wants to live, man! So, he’s going to pack up his sketchpads and pencils and cruise around in his van for the next few years. Hey, it was the ‘70s! This was the decade that created van living.
But before he can set out on his van adventures, Steve has to check his mail first. Hey, he might be a free-spirited, mellow kind of dude, but he’s not irresponsible. It turns out Steve has two letters, one from his deceased father’s former colleague and another from an old family friend. Steve plans to see both of them that evening.
On the drive to his first visit, Steve is met by some suspicious-looking road workers who inform him that the road is closed he’ll have to take the highly narrow and dangerous mountain passage instead.
Steve cheerfully accepts and drives his hippie van up a precarious mountain road. The road workers who resemble hitmen (and probably are) send a message that signals a truck to start dumping oil along the entirety of the mountain path.
Steve loses control and drives over a cliff. His van is a bit smashed up (but not so much that he can’t use it just a few scenes later), but Steve appears without major injury, other than a strategically yet tastefully ripped polo shirt to highlight pure Reb Brown muscle.
Steve manages to find a new shirt and rides his motorcycle over to the lab of his father’s old associate, Dr. Simon Mills, who shows him the project that he’s been working on, an incredible steroid called the FLAG serum (feel free to snicker). FLAG (or “Full Latent Ability Gain” so we sound all science-y) can significantly increase strength, agility, hearing, etc. And it works great given how well the lab rats are performing! But there’s one small problem. The rats, despite their enhanced performance, always end up dead within two weeks.
So, where does Steve Rogers fit into all this? Dr. Mills explains that Steve’s father was the one who originally developed the super steroid using his own glands. He then tested the serum on himself and it successfully gave him enhanced abilities which he used to help stop criminals. See, kids, steroid enhancements can be awesome as long as you use them for crime-fighting!
Well, the serum was successful in the sense that Steve’s father didn’t drop dead after two weeks like the lab rats. However, the steroid was not enough to keep his father from dying due to murder (we’re never told by whom or by what method). Dr. Mills has been trying to perfect the FLAG serum ever since, but his test subjects always end up a tad dead-ish. Mills has a theory that since Steve’s father created FLAG from his own cells, then it might work on the only other person who shares his DNA.
That’s you, Steve! Do you mind if we just experiment on your body for science? Nothing major, we just want to poke, prod, take some fluid samples, and then inject you with this stuff that’s definitely not FDA approved and has roughly a 50/50 chance of killing you!
Steve is understandably very weirded out and politely declines. He’s got one more visit to make, and then it’s time for the open road. Despite sounding like a mad scientist, Dr. Mills honors Steve’s decision and lets him leave.
Steve has one more stop to make, and that’s to see family friend Jeff Hayden. However, when he arrives, there appears to have been a ruckus at the Hayden household. Steve finds the critically injured Jeff Hayden, who dies in his arms.
The person behind Hayden’s murder turns out to be his associate, Lou Brackett, who runs a major oil company.
Hayden had been working with Brackett on a neutron bomb and was holding onto some film pertaining to the project, but Hayden was starting to have second thoughts. The film is needed by one of Brackett’s scientists in order to complete the bomb, and the plan was for Brackett’s men to retrieve the film from Hayden. However, negotiations went poorly, leaving Hayden… unalive.
Brackett and his men were also behind Steve’s accident on the mountain road. Because… well, we don’t really know why. It doesn’t make sense that Brackett should want Steve dead so early in the movie. Does Brackett think Steve and Hayden are working together despite Steve only getting into town today? Does he assume Steve knows about the film? In that case, why wouldn’t they try to question him instead of killing him right off the bat? This guy’s logic doesn’t add up.
Brackett and his men see Steve at Hayden’s house and they are convinced that he knows something about the whereabouts of the film. When Brackett’s men question Steve, he starts to suspect something is not cool with these guys and takes off on his motorcycle. The hitmen pursue Steve in their car. In the midst of the chase, Steve swerves, falls off a cliff, his motorcycle catches fire, and Steve is severely injured in the crash. So, fall off a cliff in a van, it’s all good. Fall off a cliff in a motorcycle, you’re practically dead. Got it.
With Steve in critical condition, Dr. Mills decides this is the perfect time to test out the FLAG serum! He ethically determines that since Steve is already unconscious, why not shoot him up with a poorly tested steroid? If he lives, great! If he doesn’t, well it can’t be completely be blamed on Mills since Steve is already near death. It’s a win either way!
The FLAG serum appears to work and Steve is revived with enhanced abilities. Dr. Mills is thrilled and excitedly suggests that now Steve might want to stick around for experimentation! But Steve basically says, “Yeah, thanks for saving me with your unauthorized drug without my consent, but no way, dude.”
Steve is still justifiably concerned about what’s going to happen to him now that he’s been pumped full of super steroids. All he knows is that the other test subjects except for his father have turned up dead within weeks. So, he may be okay today, but for all he knows, he might be living on a very limited timeline. This just inspires Steve to want to get on with his van life even more because he doesn’t know how much time he has left.
But the oil guy’s henchmen show up at the hospital and kidnap Steve at gunpoint because they’re still convinced he knows about the film and the bomb. Luckily, Steve is able to use his new abilities to break free and pummel the bad guys.
After seeing what he can do, Steve agrees to stay and test out his powers with Dr. Mills. I can only assume that Dr. Mills is rubbing his hands together and cackling gleefully offscreen.
Dr. Mills tells Steve that his self-experimenting father was a true American patriot who used his powers to do good in the world. His enemies gave him the nickname “Captain America” as a joke, but Steve’s father took it as a badge of honor. That’s a weird way to insult someone, but we’re not exactly dealing with the most creative of bad guys here.
Steve decides to model himself on his father and take on the moniker of “Captain America!”
Oh, wow. I think we may have found the silliest-looking Captain America yet. And I thought the shield from the 90s movie looked like plastic.
I do give this movie some credit. At least they let Steve get some Captain America practice before sending him out to fight any more bad guys. His van and motorcycle are both re-outfitted to look more “America,” and Cap’ gets to test out his new abilities by doing motorcycle stunts.
While all the training is going on, Lou Brackett has manipulated Jeff Hayden’s teenage daughter into revealing where Hayden hid the film. Once he has the film, he takes Hayden’s daughter and Steve’s lady scientist friend hostage. Now Brackett can finish his neutron bomb and fulfill his evil scheme! Which is to blow up Phoenix, Arizona!
No, seriously, that’s the whole plan. Brackett wants control over a heavily guarded gold mine, so he’s going to detonate this neutron bomb (which is supposed to just kill people, not inanimate material), wipe out all of Phoenix, and take the gold for himself.
This sounds like extreme overkill, even by bad guy standards. It’s basically the equivalent of using a nuclear bomb to take out a wasps’ nest.
Captain America finds out his lady friends have been captured and takes off to save them and stop the bomb. Cap arrives ready to take on the bad guys where he heroically uses his powers to…spray oil on them?
The ladies are freed, but Brackett and the bomb are already in transit. Cap hops on his America-cycle to catch them up. Brackett is sitting inside the truck next to the bomb, so Cap decides to smoke him out via carbon monoxide poisoning using the truck’s fumes.
As Brackett loses oxygen, Cap realizes that Brackett’s hooked up the neutron bomb to his heart, meaning if his heartbeat stops, the bomb goes off. Seems a little extreme, but ok.
Dr. Mills and Cap are able to revive Brackett long enough for the FBI and the bomb squad to catch up. Oh, and Jeff Hayden’s reputation has been cleared because it turned out Brackett had been holding his supposedly dead wife hostage in order to force Hayden’s cooperation. So, yay? Steve recommits himself to being Captain America and upholding his father’s legacy, and that’s the end.
The whole movie is a mess. It’s very lazy and slapped together. There’s little consistency and there are no memorable or compelling characters. We don’t even have an entertaining villain to watch. And honestly, it can be really boring at times, even if we are treated to probably the goofiest looking Captain America ever.
There’s not even that much action, and the fight scenes we do get are pretty boring to watch. It’s mostly a lot of talking and throwing out exposition to the audience without ever showing them anything. Cap himself barely punches anybody, mostly he just throws stuff at the bad guys. Seriously, spraying them with oil was probably his best combat move.
Maybe things get better in the sequel? But either way, do yourself a favor and skip this Marvel movie that time forgot. Clearly, it was forgotten for a reason.