Ahh, the ’70’s. A time of afros, bell-bottoms, and oddly enough, in the case of CBS television, attempts at superhero TV shows. Today, the most well-know of these shows are Wonder Woman starring____, The Greatest American Hero starring William Katt (a personal favorite of mine), and of course The Incredible Hulk starring Bill Bixby and (the eternal con-man) Lou Ferrigno. What many casual viewers today don’t know is that CBS also had the adaptation rights to many more of Marvel’s intellectual properties. Many of these characters were held onto until the mid-1980’s, where they were used as a way to revitalize the older Hulk franchise (see TV movies “The Incredible Hulk Returns” with a version of Thor and “The Trial of The Incredible Hulk” featuring Daredevil and the Kingpin), but some had the distinction of having test pilots made during the heyday of 70’s live-action comic shows. For this week’s “From the Vault” segment, we’re going to take a look at one of these pilots, loosely based on WWII hero Captain America. So grab your clear Cap shield and motorcycle helmet and read on!
Starring: Reb Brown, Len Birman, Heather Menzies,
“Special Guest” Steve Forrest
Director: Rod Holcomb
Get ready, ’cause this one’s a doozey. Once again I’m going to ask you all to suspend you knowledge of Captain America, because the main character in this film is anything but Cap. The film starts off by introducing Steve Rogers (Reb Brown), an ex-Marine/surfer/artist/motorcycle racer (or ”Motocross Specialist”), who is contacted by Dr. Simon Mills (Len Birman), and old colleague of Steve’s father. Apparently, the late Dr. Rogers had been working on a secret formula called F.L.A.G. (or Full Latent Ability Gain, an acronym that means nothing), which supposedly boosts a user’s strength, speed, sight, and hearing to superhuman levels. Unfortunately, it only works for people in the Rogers family. Mills tries to convince Steve to take the super-steroid for “scientific reasons,” but Steve refuses. Remember kids, just say “NO” to drugs, even if they can give you awesome superpowers.
In the meantime, Steve is also contacted by an old friend who wants to meet up with him later that night. Steve agrees, but when he arrives at his friends’ house, he finds that his friend has been shot… or stabbed or something. The movie’s never really clear on this. Anyways, his friend dies and, because even a depowered Cap is considered a danger, Steve’s car is run over a cliff twice and then shot. While in the hospital, Dr. Mills decides to inject Steve with the F.L.A.G. Serum AGAINST HIS WILL anyways, all in the name of science. Nice guy, that Mills.
What follows is 45 minutes of Mills trying to convince Steve into becoming a secret agent, using tactics like bribing him with a tricked-out A-Team style van with secret motorcycle and seducing him with a pseudo-attractive lab assistant (Heather Menzies). All the while, an oil tycoon (Steve Forrest) plans to detonate a neutron bomb (which I can only assume plays the theme song to Beverly Hills Cop at a devastating volume). Steve becomes Captain America with just enough time to stop the bad guy (both from blowing up a federal reserve AND from dying of asphyxiation, which Cap caused in the first place) and rescue his dead friend’s wife who was thought to be dead up until the last 3 minutes of the film. The end.
To put it bluntly, this movie is all over the place. The plot is somehow shallow and confusing at the same time, which is a real feat. If any of you have seen an internet cartoon Homestar Runner, the best way to describe the plot of this film is to compare it to a Dangeresque video (for any of you who don’t get the reference, I highly suggest checking it out). There was hardly any action in it at all. The film is roughly 1 ½ hours long, which breaks down to about 50 minutes of talking, mostly about Steve’s art and why he won’t become a superhero, 25 minutes of gratuitous shots of motorcycle riding and helicopters, and about 15 minutes of incredibly bland, unremarkable action.
Speaking of bland and unremarkable, the acting in Captain America is particularly weak. For lack of a better way to describe it, there was no life in any of the performances. Reb Brown was especially dull as Steve Rogers, who constantly faded in and out of his Southern accent. He has the look of a man who has been slapped with a fish, and as a viewer, I could tell there was no actual acting that went into the performance. Brown just walks into a shot, reads his line, then walks out. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Brown didn’t put anything into the character, therefore we as the viewer get nothing out of it.
On thing I have to mention about this film is the extremely poor audio quality and music direction. There are many scenes set at beaches, factories, and other generally noisy places. At first glance you’d think that that’s not a big deal, but the “ambient sounds,” or general background noise, is so loud and distracting it took me right out of the movie. The sound level was so loud that at times it was difficult to hear the actors (due to their truly uninteresting dialog and delivery, not hearing them wasn’t a big deal, but it still really bugged me). The score for the film left much to be desired as well. Yes, I realize that this was a relatively low-budget TV movie from thew 1970s, but remember that The Incredible Hulk had the same budget and, more than likely, the same music composer, and that series gave us the amazingly deep, emotional “Walking Away Theme” that has become a staple in pop culture history. In comparison, the music score from Captain America sounds like a 15-year-old faking an electric guitar riff on his dad’s synthesizer.
Alright, enough negativity, let’s see if there is anything at all that makes Captain America worth watching. I really like how the writers used the Steve’s artistic talent as a character point, because it’s a aspect of Captain America that is rarely touched on in the comics. Also, the costume they eventually used (albeit for about 45 seconds at the end of the film) is very close to Cap’s classic uniform, which is nice to see. And to be honest, I feel that some of the more apparent changes to Steve’s character are OK given the circumstances. You see, CBS wanted to deviate from the comic origins and backstories of all their superhero properties so they were not specifically perceived as “comic book shows,” and could be marketed as “action-adventure series.” And knowing how far they could’ve gone to change Cap, I’m glad their modifications at least make sense.
So, to wrap up, there were a lot of problems with this film; some are forgivable, some aren’t. But you know what bugged me the most out of the whole movie? Cap never once used his shield. Unbelievable. Captain America gets 1 ½ stars out of 5. Really isn’t much more to say about about it.