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Captain, My Captain: One Hero’s Bumpy Film History

[UPDATED] Captain America: The Winter Soldier made an impressive $200 million worldwide during its opening weekend, and the Marvel Age of comic book movies continued unabated. (See our review here.) The movie proves that the star-spangled franchise has legs; it was also Cap’s eighth live-action appearance (including Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers). Don’t feel out of the loop if you didn’t already know that — those early appearances have been forgotten for a reason. Here’s a quick look at past Captains America:

Captain America (1944)
The Captain: Dick Purcell
The Villain: The Scarab (Lionel Atwill)
The Plot: Cap battles an arch-villain called The Scarab, who steals a device capable of destroying buildings with sound vibrations. The first time a Marvel comic book character appeared on film, this 15-part serial portrays the hero as a crusading district attorney instead of a stalwart G.I. (an odd choice for a wartime production) and ditches the hero’s sidekick, trademark shield, and super abilities.
The Verdict: It takes too many liberties with the source material, Purcell is way too flabby for an action hero (he died of heart attack shortly after filming completed), and the Scarab’s schemes are bizarre even for a ’40s-era super-villain (his secret weapon is unfortunately named the Giant Vibrator). Good luck making it through all 244 minutes.

Easy Rider (1969)
The Captain: Peter Fonda
The Villain: The establishment.
The Plot: Captain America and his friend Billy (Dennis Hopper) drive across the country in search of the American dream, and get killed by shotgun-toting rednecks.
The Verdict: Okay, so maybe he’s not the Captain America, but his star-spangled Harley and leather jacket are pretty cool.

Three Mighty Men aka Captain America and Santo vs. Spider-Man (1973)
The Captain: Aytekin Akkaya
The Villain: Spider-Man (actor unknown)
The Plot: Cap and legendary Mexican wrestler/superhero Santo team-up and travel to Turkey to take down a mass-murdering Spider-Man. Seriously.
The Verdict: Ah, Turkish cinema, where a little thing like copyright infringement rarely gets in the way of filmmaking. Every fanboy who has ever griped about the liberties Hollywood takes with their beloved characters is advised to watch this dog (or the Turkish Star Wars) and be glad the insanity stopped at nipples on the Bat-suit.

Captain America (1979)
The Captain: Reb Brown
The Villain: a mundane corrupt businessman (Steve Forrest)
The Plot: When commercial artist Steve Rogers is nearly killed by spies seeking his late father’s formula for a super-steroid, he’s saved by surgery and a dose of said formula, granting him super abilities. A government agency equips him with a high-tech motorcycle, bulletproof shield, and flashy Evel Knievel-esque costume.
The Verdict: A made-for-TV movie that was undoubtedly intended as a backdoor pilot for a series, it’s hamstrung by a thin plot, generic villains, and an ill-conceived rewrite of the character that’s more Six Million Dollar Man than Sentinel of Liberty.

Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979)
The Captain: Reb Brown
The Villain: General Miguel (Christopher Lee)
The Plot: Freelance terrorist General Miguel uses an accelerated-aging chemical to hold Portland hostage for a $2 billion ransom, and Cap must save the day in between stomping muggers who target senior citizens for their Social Security checks.
The Verdict: This unwarranted sequel to the aforementioned TV movie is more of the same, only less painful — in the sense that getting trampled by a bull is arguably less painful than being gored by one.

Captain America (1990)
The Captain: Matt Salinger
The Villain: The Red Skull (Scott Paulin)
The Plot: Scrawny Steve Rogers (played by J.D. Salinger’s grandson) is turned into super soldier Captain America during World War II, frozen during his first mission, and revived decades later to finish his battle with the evil Red Skull (here re-conceived as an Italian fascist rather than a Nazi).
The Verdict: Unlike the others, this version retains many of Cap’s key character details; however, the cheap production values, bad writing, and worse acting sent this one straight to the home video bargain bins.

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About Gary Dowell

Professional film critic, journalist, Byronic hero.

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  1. Pingback: Movie review: ‘The Avengers’ « movie ink™ - May 2, 2012

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