Marvel Movie Reflections, Issue #35: Captain America (1990)

Written by David Holland

There are some movies that are so bad, they’re good. Movies that you can’t help, but enjoy despite their glaring flaws. The “Captain America” movie released in 1990 is not one of those films. It’s basically “Threat Level Midnight”, but worse because it is an hour and a half long and doesn’t involve Michael Scott.

Captain America (1990 film) - Wikipedia
Those ears on the side of his mask are fake because the uniform material was so uncomfortable. That’s what we’re working with.

What Worked:

I guess some credit goes to Marvel for getting one of their most well-known superheroes on the big screen. Well, sort-of on the big screen. Although “Captain America” was released theatrically in some countries, in the United States it went direct-to-video. And the star is Matt Salinger, son of “Catcher in the Rye” author J.D. Salinger, which provides you with a bit of trivia for your next dinner party.

Captain America (1990) - Rotten Tomatoes
Shield-catcher in the rye

More seriously, the film is at least earnest, if over campy. This is in the same era as Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns, genre-defining films for comic book movies, which are still held up by some as the definitive movie versions of the Caped Crusader. But Captain America fully leans in to the Avenger’s optimism. It’s a straightforward good-vs-evil tale with no moral quandary or anti-heroism.

What Didn’t:

This list is too long to be exhaustive. Most importantly, the film feels disjointed. You can tell that this was a low budget film. That’s why the camera spends so much time tight on the actors from the shoulder up. Entire chase scenes are filmed in which the chaser and the chased are never on screen together. When we briefly go to the White House, we see an outside shot, and then a shot of President Roosevelt’s hand, but never an actual look inside the Oval Office. Tricks like this can get the point across, but they make the movie seem cheap – which it obviously was. The same could be said for the special effects department. I try not to have unrealistic expectations for special effects for old movies, but this movie doesn’t hold a candle to the first Star Wars movie, which also had a shoestring budget and came out over a decade earlier. Lucas had to problem solve to give Star Wars its grandiose feel, and he was saved in large part by an Oscar-winning team of editors. “Captain America” has no such creativity to save it. Its world feels small and cheap, relying heavily on establishing shots and sparse sets that we rarely get to see because they are too embarrassing.

Captain America movie from 1990 review
I’m not even going to make a joke caption. The picture is the joke.

The action scenes are too confusing to follow clearly and the writing is painful. The dialogue is cheesy and overwritten. Some of the choices just don’t make any sense. At one point Captain America is strapped to a rocket and launched at the White House from Italy. Just before impact, he kicks the rocket so hard that he knocks it off course and it crashes in Alaska, where he is frozen for decades.


Characters are underdeveloped and shoehorned in because they fit tropes – we don’t know anything about Steve Rogers other than that he had polio and he’s a Good Guy. Red Skull is a generic evil genius whose motivation is apparently “Be Evil”. In this universe, Red Skull is responsible for the assassinations of both Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King Jr, which feels like a conspiracy theory so ridiculous that even Alex Jones would question it.

MATT SALINGER/SCOTT PAULIN/CAPTAIN AMERICA (1990)/8X10 COPY PHOTO CC1580 at  Amazon's Entertainment Collectibles Store
“And I faked the moon landing too!”

Final Verdict:

Here is a link to the trailer for the movie, that should tell you pretty much everything you need. You should only watch this if you are an unrepentant Marvel completionist.

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