Thursday, March 3, 2016

Captain America as few remember him

Sometimes science fiction can hurt.

I had the vaguest memories of a Captain America made-for-TV movie from the late 1970s. Amidst the data corruption of a stress-oppressed brain, I saw a Cap in a satiny outfit and wearing a motorcycle helmet. In his hands a flimsy shield that appeared made of Plexiglas please see above pic). Even as a kid I didn't enjoy the telefilm. It just didn't look or feel right for this was my Captain America...

So with no small amount of plausibility, I began to just operate on the premise that the made-for-TV movie never existed. Then Dorkland found a DVD set of not just the 1979 Captain America, but its sequel, Captain America II: Death Too Soon. This shattered any further attempts at denial.

Of course I had to have it too.

I've watched both films. It's a total of almost four hours I will never have back, but somehow in the grand total of the wreckage of my life, that doesn't seem so bad. As my dim memories bore out, the TV movie had only the basics in common with its comic book namesake.

Reb Brown plays Steve Rogers, a young artist who gets into a life-threatening accident. Lucky for him, his father was a government agent, earning young Rogers the opportunity to be injected with a chemical called the FLAG formula, standing for Full Latent Ability Gain. Apparently "Super Soldier Serum" was deemed too obscure or "high concept" for a TV audience. Anyway, this formula gives Steve enhanced strength and agility. The federal government gives him a translucent, red-striped shield and he becomes their Captain America.

Vastly different from the comic book origin.

But wait! He gets a motorcycle too. This motorbike has jet boosters, a stealth mode, and a deployable hang glider.

As I said, they made a sequel. Now writers and directors of lesser vision (and in fairness, more funds), might have had Captain America go up against the Red Skull, Baron Zemo, or Armin Zola, but not these guys. They got the Christopher Lee to show up and play a deadly terrorist known only as "Miguel" (probably a play on Carlos the Jackal). Even Christopher Lee isn't enough to save the TV movie, though. It's only slightly better than its godawful predecessor.

Besides the bad acting and the dorky (even if enjoyable in a cheesy way) action, there's something else that I find irksome about the telefilms. This is probably due to the low budget allotted to them, but it seems that those in charge had no real interest in embracing Captain America's rich florilegium and his own menagerie of friends and villains. Instead, they decided to almost entirely pattern the shows after another TV success.

It was basically the Six Million Dollar Man in red, white, and blue satin. And a motorcycle.

Let's look at the parallels.

-Both characters are humans enhanced to superhuman levels through science. Steve Austin becomes the Bionic Man through cybernetics (transhumanism!). Steve Rogers becomes Captain America through biotech.

-Both become agents of the government with their own intelligence agency "handlers." Austin had Oscar Goldman and Cap had Simon Mills...who was nowhere near as cool as Oscar Goldman.

-Each had their own special sound effect to let the audience know when they were performing an act of super strength.

- Both are named Steve. Well, they are.

Both basically had the same action-centric plots. Granted, Captain America didn't have any of the cool things that Six Million Dollar Man had, such as a Bionic Bigfoot, a deadly Venus Probe, or a John Saxon robot. Maybe they would have had the Cap TV movies turned into a protracted series. But there was already a Bionic Man so why eschew the comic book heritage of the original Captain America for something that already existed? I know. Lack of budget and grabbing on to an already working business model.

Best way to produce the insipid.

There's also a fair amount of Evel Knievel going on with this Cap. The modified costume, the motorcycle, the van, the stunts. It was all big at the time...or was just about to pass its peak and this TV movie got there too late.

All that being said, these TV movies are not without there own kind of charm. There are the perfect brain drain after a godawful day.

And $5 is not too bad a price to pay for two DVD's of it.

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