Captain America / Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979) – By Duane L. Martin

Everyone knows about the Captain America movie that was just recently in the theaters. It was a slick looking, CGI packed epic re-telling of the Captain America story, but how many of you remember the two Captain America made for TV movies from 1979? Probably not too many of you. I know I sure didn’t. In fact, I had no idea they existed at all. Enter Shout Factory. They’ve released a new Captain America double feature DVD with both Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon, so we can all take a ride back in time, all the way back to 1979, when Reb Brown played Captain America. So how was it? Well…

The first film starts out with former marine Steve Rogers trying to get away from things. He’d spent his young life going from the military academy, straight into the service, and now that he was out, all he wanted to do was to travel the country, meeting people, painting and just generally relaxing. Unfortunately, a corrupt oil company executive had other plans for him. Seems that he was building a neutron bomb so that he could detonate it near a gold repository so he could steal all the gold. The only one who could possibly stand in his way was Steve Rogers. Why? Because Steve’s father was a scientist, and the original Captain America. He became Captain America through the injection of a super steroid called FLAG that he created from his own hormones. The steroid basically enhances everything about you. Strength, speed, senses, healing ability, etc…, are all drastically enhanced. Now, he’s gone, but Dr. Simon Mills (Len Birman), a government scientist who’s in charge of several top secret government project, has been attempting to continue his work. Unfortunately, because the serum was created from Dr. Rogers’ hormones, it caused tissue rejection in all the animals they tested it on. It worked, but the animals would die within two weeks. The only option left was to give it to Steve, in hopes that because he was Dr. Rogers’ son, Steve’s body wouldn’t experience the tissue rejection the test animals had.

After meeting with Dr. Mills, Steve decides against taking the serum. He just wants to travel and enjoy life, and since there’s no guarantees that the serum will work without killing him, he doesn’t want any part of it. Unfortunately, in his fear that Steve will take the serum and become a threat to his plans, the evil oil executive tries to have him killed by causing him to have an "accident". The first attempt at this fails, but the second attempt sends Steve over a cliff in his van, and lands him in the hospital on an operating table. Seconds from death, Dr. Mills gives Steve the serum in hopes that it will save his life, and thus, the new Captain America was born, and after the oil executive’s plans come to light, Steve, with the aid of his new costume, a bulletproof plastic boomerang shield and a spiffy new rocket powered motorcycle, heads out to stop the madman’s plans to detonate the neutron bomb and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

This incarnation of the Captain America story just screams in every possible way that it was a made for TV movie, as does its sequel, which I’ll talk about in a minute. The cast is full of familiar faces, including one that I recognized immediately as Lance LeGault, the guy who played Colonel Decker in The A-Team. He plays one of the oil man’s enforcers. Both films also include music by TV music staples, Mike Post and Pete Carpenter. Don’t even get me started on the costume. It was this padded up ensemble with a really stupid looking blue motorcycle helmet, and he didn’t even have a visor to go with it. He wore these big ski-type goggles. The shield was flexible, clear plastic with red rings and a star painted on it that looked like it’d work ok when mounted on the front of the motorcycle as a bug shield, but not for much else. Oh, and by the way, if you throw it like a frisbee, it’ll boomerang back around and knock over the bad guys! The motorcycle itself was rather plain looking, but it had this giant console on the front with big switches to turn on the jet propulsion, the rocket assist to blow it out of the back of Steve’s van, silent mode (why anyone would use anything but silent mode is beyond me), and some other stuff as well. In the second movie, the bike even pops out a hang glider, and he takes flight to chase after the bad guy. Then there’s the sound effects when Steve uses his abilities. This was very reminiscent of The Six Million Dollar Man, though the action wasn’t all in slow motion like it was on that show. Lastly, there was the obligatory female scientist, Dr. Wendy Day (Heather Menzies-Urich), who was the assistant to Dr. Mills, and the potential love interest of Steve. See? All the elements of those great old made for TV movies and the action series of the era are all right here, combining a somewhat serious storyline with a great big helping of cheese.

The second film on the disc, Captain America II: Death Too Soon, also came out in 1979. In this one, Steve is firmly entrenched as Captain America, and is even rather famous. In this one, Dr. Wendy Day was played by Connie Selecca rather than Heather Menzies-Ulrich. That, the plot and the fact that the motorcycle can sprout a hang glider at the flip of a switch are the only major changes between the two films.

In this one, Christopher Lee plays an international terrorist named Miguel who disposed of the new warden heading out to take his new job at a federal penitentiary, and then used that position to secure the prison as his base of operations where he used a kidnapped scientist to create a powder that would cause massively rapid aging. This was then dispensed by an airplane over a large city, and he demanded one billion dollars for the antidote. Steve was sent in to investigate, and discovered a whole town who was too scared to say anything, and certain elements within the population there who insisted violently that he move along on his way. Now it was up to Steve to figure out what was going on, find Miguel and stop him and his men before it was too late.

Christopher Lee was really great in this one as the terrorist mastermind, Miguel. I have to say that using a prison as a base of operations was rather impressive, and a great plot element from the writers. Both films had stories that were both involved and enjoyable. Watching these two films back to back made it feel like I was watching two episodes of a television show rather than two made for TV movies. The only difference between these films and TV show episodes really was the length. Aside from that, that’s basically what they were.

I enjoyed both films, though not as thoroughly as I possibly could have if they’d have just been less cheesy about the Captain America costume and motorcycle. They just felt cheap and out of place when combined with the more serious plots of both of these films. I also would have liked to have seen Steve using his enhanced abilities more often. It’s sort of like when you watch The Six Million Dollar Man. You don’t watch it for the acting or the stories, you watch it for the scenes where he’s using his bionic abilities. These films were even better than The Six Million Dollar Man, because they didn’t show him using his abilities in slow motion, so it made it a lot more exciting when he did use them. I just wish there had been more of it.

Shout Factory has released both of these films in a new double feature DVD, likely to take advantage of the buzz around the new Captain America movie, that itself just hit DVD and blu-ray. From what I hear, these made for TV movies are probably better than the modern, big screen production. I haven’t seen it yet, but I haven’t heard great things about it. I will tell you that these two films are fun, entertaining, have great casts and the price totally makes it much easier to grab and add to your collection than its big screen counterpart’s release. I’ve been consistently impressed with nearly everything I’ve seen coming out of Shout Factory, and this release is no exception.

If you’d like to pick yourself up a copy of this great Captain America double feature, you can grab it from Amazon right here, or from Shout Factory directly here.