Captain America (1979) Review

Rating: 1 Star

The following review contains spoilers.


Every superhero movie adaptation from this era was built around the idea that maybe audiences would want to see this person fight some low-budget mad scientist or foreign spy or group of gangsters in a weekly TV series, and the 1979 Captain America feels cut from that same cloth. Sentient bale of hay Reb Brown plays Steve Rogers, who recently left the Marines, and whose only plan for the future is tooling around America in his sweet van, drawing lots of pictures, and giving those pictures to friends with the smug gravity of someone gifting you a check for $10,000. One day a scientist friend of the family reaches out to him and asks for a meet, and on his way there Rogers is run off the road by a sinister oil tanker. He’s completely unharmed, and I don’t know why this scene was even in the movie. By the time he makes it to the friend’s house, he finds the man murdered.

Another associate of his father’s, Simon Mills, is investigating the crime, and wants Rogers to agree to take his father’s FLAG (“Full Latent Ability Gain”) serum and become a super-crime fighter for the government. Apparently the serum only works on someone with Rogers DNA, and his own father used it on himself to act as Captain America before he was killed by unspecified “enemies.” Mills said that “Captain America” was a derogatory nickname given to Rogers Sr., but by the end of the film, they reveal he apparently had a costume and everything, so whatever. Rogers initially refuses, but after yet another road accident, Mills gives him the FLAG serum while he’s unconscious to save his life.

The bad guys now believe that Rogers knows the secret to inventing a neutron bomb since he was in the room with his scientist friend when he died, and they chase him around for a bit, including pursuing him via helicopter when he’s testing out his new Captain America Motorcycle. For some reason the dirt road he’s testing it on just happens to have a bunch of bike ramps, and he uses one to launch himself into the air and grab the copter, in the closest thing this movie has to an exciting action sequence. Eventually the head bad guy, an oil executive who wants to use the neutron bomb to rob a gold reserve, reveals himself by kidnapping all two of the actresses in this movie, even though nobody suspected him and he could have easily gotten away with it.

The evil executive is dumb enough to call Mills and warn him not to interfere while a PA system at his company is basically announcing his location, and Rogers, now having fully embraced the Captain America identity, goes in alone to save the girls. He misses the executive, however, and it ends up in a highway chase, though a bit one-sided as the bad guys never even realize they’re being chased. Rogers catches up to their truck on his motorcycle and climbs onto the roof, diverting the exhaust pipe into a vent, poisoning the executive and forcing the truck to stop. Once Rogers enters, however, he realizes the executive is wearing a dead man’s switch for some reason and the bomb will explode if he dies (though those kinds of things are really only effective if the good guys, you know, are actually aware you have it on). So the thrilling conclusion to this “action” movie is the revival of a middle-aged man with a mild case of carbon monoxide poisoning. Oh, and then at the very end they find out the dead scientist friend’s wife was being held prisoner in Europe after a faked plane crash. And if that sounds abruptly inserted, yes it sure was.

Best Parts:

I watched this movie in the early afternoon after eating lunch and never fell asleep.

Hey, at least he (sort of) has the costume.

The serum also gives him enhanced vision and hearing, which is a good and sensible idea, and I can’t recall it ever coming up in the comics or other Captain America films.

Worst Parts:

Captain America, like all superheroes who have stood the test of time, is flexible, but at its core it’s the story of a sickly young man so determined to fight for what’s right he agrees to an experimental serum that grants him superhuman abilities. The 1979 movie Captain America is about a huge bodybuilder-looking dude who just wants to be left alone and constantly refuses to get involved or help people, who is essentially tricked into taking a serum that grants him superhuman abilities after accidentally driving his motorcycle off the side of a cliff. It’s not exactly an inspiring take on the source material.

Reb Brown is godawful. I guess he looks like a superhero type, but every other aspect of his performance fails. His Steve Rogers is also, as indicated above, kind of a jerk. At one point he spends almost a full minute laughing at a bunch of hapless security guards that he tricks into slipping in a big pool of oil. Also, everyone else in the film is constantly talking about how amazing he is, which made me like him even less.

It’s just boring. The shield looks like cheap plastic (it flaps and bows in the wind when strapped to the front of his motorcycle) and he never once throws it at anyone, even after Mills makes a special point about how aerodynamic it is. Rogers wears the Captain America costume to disguise his identity, but the headpiece is just a motorcycle helmet with clear goggles, and doesn’t disguise his face in any way. We’re told Dr. Wendy Day is the head of the FLAG project, but all she does in the movie is wear a bikini and get kidnapped, and the only other woman, dead friend’s college-age daughter, has to be hospitalized for hysteria after she learns of her father’s death.

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