The much-anticipated Captain America: The First Avenger hits screens this July after years in development. If the trailers are any indication, it’s bound to be a thrilling comic book adventure that will be able to stand head and shoulders with the finest superhero flicks ever made, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Star-Spangled Avenger has been in front of a movie camera.
According to io9, the infamous 1990 Captain America movie — produced by former Cannon Pictures co-head Menahem Golan and directed by Albert Pyun, the man responsible for such sterling works of B-cinema as The Sword and the Sorcerer and Cyborg with a young Jean-Claude Van Damme — is coming to Blu-Ray this May, two months ahead of Marvel Studios’ blockbuster-in-the-making and will be something new entirely. According to director Pyun, this new release of his Captain America will be a newly-created director’s cut with 27 minutes of never-before-seen footage added back in, bringing the movie’s running time up to 124 minutes. Pyun also says that the director’s cut will be created from “my own 35 mm CA work picture and temp mix [that] I did before I left [the] picture” and the new footage will include “a few added scenes, and is more character-oriented and less ‘super hero action.'” The new cut will also feature a new soundtrack and will be in 5.1 stereo.
Created in 1941 by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, the shield-tossing Sentinel of Liberty has been seen on screens big and small: three years after he first debuted in the comic book pages, Captain America was headlining his own 15-chapter serial, and in 1979 the character headlined two made-for-TV movies, but neither of these adaptations were very faithful to the source material. The 1979 TV movies had Cap wearing an American flag motorcycle helmet as he puttered around town fighting evil. But all that was supposed to change when it was announced in the late 1980s that Kirby and Simon’s iconic hero was finally getting the big-screen action epic he always deserved. In 1990, the finished product finally arrived in theaters, but in an ironic development it was never screened in the United States. Soon after its international release the movie was released on home video in the States and the reaction was underwhelming to say the least.
Criticized for its cheap look, subpar acting (particularly from its lead actor Matt Salinger, the son of reclusive Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger), and lack of faithfulness to the original comic books (the movie changed the Red Skull, Cap’s ultimate nemesis, from an evil Nazi to an evil Italian fascist), Captain America became another casualty in Marvel Comics’ campaign to conquer the cinema screens as their competitor DC Comics was wiping the floor with them with the Superman and Batman movies, despite being a pretty decent action movie with an above-average supporting cast that included Ronny Cox (Deliverance), Michael Nouri (The Hidden), Melinda Dillon (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), Ned Beatty (Network), and Darren McGavin (The Night Stalker). According to the director, the film was intended to be a big-budget spectacle but had to be shot on the cheap when the financiers pulled out of the production, forcing the deletion of several major action sequences. The end result was buried on video store shelves (with sealed copies of the out-of-print VHS going for more than $100 on Amazon) and has never been released on Blu-ray (or DVD for that matter), until now.
Personally I’m on the fence about this release. I was never a big fan of the 1990 Captain America film or even the actual character for that matter, so a newly restored cut of the film that reflects the director’s true intentions definitely has my interest. Then again I don’t expect greatness from a director who has become better known in recent years at selling a good film rather than making one, and his filmmaking background features more polished turds than lost cinematic jewels. Plus let’s not forget that the movie was produced by Menahem Golan, whose Cannon Pictures in the 1980s gave us many great cheeseball action classics but was also partly responsible for making Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, no doubt the worse of the series so far thanks to its flimsy story and terrible special effects that were the result of Cannon’s notorious “Walmart $5 Dollar Bin” style of moviemaking. Before the studio collapsed they were preparing to make another cut-rate comic book adaptation, Spider-Man. Who the hell knows how that one would have turned out?
The article doesn’t mention what company is releasing the Blu-Ray, but it does say that Pyun, who recently released a director’s cut of his 1989 sci-fi action flick Cyborg independently and received some positive feedback on it, is working on the new cut of Captain America himself, so barring any legal intrusion from Marvel and Disney this smells like another indie release from Pyun. The director’s cut of Captain America will also be screened at Fantasia in Montreal and again at the B Movie Celebration in September. In the meantime, Pyun is hard at work preparing the release of his films Road to Hell (reportedly a belated sequel to Walter Hill’s 1984 rock n roll action fantasy Streets of Fire), Infection 2, Cool Air, and Tales of an Ancient Empire, a long-in-the-works sequel to his 1982 fantasy The Sword and the Sorcerer, as well as a director’s cut of his 2000 direct-to-video action film Ticker, which starred Tom Sizemore, Steven Seagal, and the late Dennis Hopper. For a detailed and hilarious critique of Ticker (and of Pyun and his DVD commentary) I highly recommend the book Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal by former Ain’t It Cool News writer Vern.