Director – Ivan Nagy, Teleplay – Patricia Payne & Wilton Schiller, Photography – Vincent A. Martinelli, Music – Pete Carpenter & Mike Post, Art Direction – David L. Snyder. Production Company – Universal.
Reb Brown (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Christopher Lee (General Miguel), Connie Sellecca (Dr Wendy Day), Len Birman (Dr Simon Mills), Katharine Justice (Helen Moore), John Waldron (Peter Moore), Bill Lucking (Stader), Stanley Kamel (Kramer), Ken Swofford (Everett Bliss), Bill Mims (Dr J. Brenner), Susan French (Mrs Shaw), Lana Wood (Yolanda), Christopher Cary (Professor Ilson)
Steve Rogers is called in by Simon Mills to investigate after Professor Ilson goes missing. Ilson had devised a formula to accelerate aging. He has been abducted by the international terrorist General Miguel who has impersonated the new governor of Winterford Federal Penitentiary and is using the prison as his base of operations where he is forcing Ilson to make more of the formula. Steve sets out to track the chemicals needed for the formula arriving in a shipment from Ecuador. He traces the pick-up to the town of Belleville, Oregon and goes there posing as a harmless artist, only for locals to try to make him leave by force. Meanwhile, Miguel launches his terrorist threat by dropping the formula from the skies of Portland, causing the entire population age at the rate of 38 days per hour.
Marvel Comics properties are massive on the big screen in the 2000s/2010s with the likes of Blade (1998), X-Men (2000), Spider-Man (2002), Daredevil (2003), Hulk (2003), The Punisher (2004), Elektra (2005), Fantastic Four (2005), Ghost Rider (2007), Iron Man (2008), Thor (2011), The Avengers (2012), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Ant-Man (2015), Deadpool (2016), Doctor Strange (2016), Black Panther (2018), Venom (2018) and various sequels to most of these. Before that there was an earlier era of Marvel film adaptations that included the likes of the tv series The Amazing Spiderman (1977-9), which also had three theatrical films made up out of its episodes with Spider-Man (1977), Spider-Man Strikes Back (1979) and Spiderman and the Dragon’s Challenge (1981); the Bill Bixby The Incredible Hulk (1977-81), which also released its pilot as a film with The Incredible Hulk (1977); and a pilot film based on Dr. Strange (1978). These were made in an attempt to develop other properties in the vein of tv superheroes of the era such as The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-8), The New Original Wonder Woman (1975-9), The Bionic Woman (1976-8) and The Man from Atlantis (1977-8).
Marvel’s Captain America had previously been adapted as the tv movie Captain America (1979), which aired on CBS ten months earlier. Captain America II – for some reason listed by the IMDB as Captain America II: Death Too Soon, although never on the credits of the film – was another attempt to create a Captain America pilot, although both of these died a deservous death and never went to series. Reb Brown reprises the title role from the first film and Len Birman returns as Simon Mills, although the role of Wendy Day has been recast with a then unknown Connie Sellecca.
Captain America II repeats all of its same mistakes of its predecessor and does nothing to improve – ie. there is no attempt to model the hero more on his comic-book counterpart, while all the lame costumes and bike designs are retained. The Captain America suit does get some slight modifications with Reb Brown now wearing a blue mask under his motorcycle helmet and visor. There is a constant lack of superheroic banality to the Captain’s stunts – in the opening scenes, we see him pursuing muggers who have snatched an old lady’s welfare cheque with the absurd image of Reb Brown in costume running down the length of a beach after one of the assailants as they flee in a dune buggy. There are lame action scenes – like where Reb Brown invades the dock area and his bike comes flying out of the middle of a wall of crates, followed by him engaged in a series of fisticuffs where his opponents always manage with miraculous G-rated provision to land on something that breaks their fall. The most ridiculous of the scenes is when Captain America makes an escape from the prison by sprouting a hang glider attachment and flying off the wall while still riding his motorcycle. To its credit, the film comes up with one moderately spectacular scene where Captain America is pursued by a flotilla of jeeps and dives off the top of a dam on his bike.
The film’s greatest failing is that it forgets about being a superhero film and sidelines Captain America for nearly the entire middle third of the film. Here we get a series of scenes as Reb Brown follows a series of exceedingly tenuous clues that lead to a small town and we have to watch for some twenty minutes as he sits around with his pet cat painting pictures in the public square, dealing with a group of thugs who try to force him to leave, following and befriending a mother and her son (in something that starts to seem creepily stalkerish) – even scenes of him taking the cat to the vet. Throughout the first hour of the film, we only get two minor appearances of Captain America.
Even when the film finally gets into action, we get banal scenes that belong more in a 1970s tv detective show of Reb Brown investigating by contriving to place a hidden odometer on the vet’s car and then sitting around measuring the distance out with a ruler on a map. Like many of the aforementioned superhero tv series of the 1970s, it felt like the writers and directors were oblivious to the comic-book originals and instead took their lead from tv cop shows of the era – crucially, the entire plot here is one that could have worked without Captain America as a character.
The film’s one distinction is that it drums up some decent villainy by managing the coup of obtaining Christopher Lee. This was the period where Lee had foresworn horror movies and was attempting to make a career elsewhere but judging by some of the choices of roles he made around this time – see the likes of End of the World (1977), Starship Invasions (1977), Disney’s Return from Witch Mountain (1978) – this didn’t fare so well. Certainly, Christopher Lee brings Captain America II a touch of class it does not deserve. However, the film makes the criminal mistake of confining Lee to standing around the office of a penitentiary for the duration of the running time.
The most unique name on the credits in retrospect was that of director Ivan Nagy. Nagy was a Hungarian expatriate who had a career as a director mostly in television during the 1970s and 80s. He made several genre tv movies such as the clairvoyance thriller Mind Over Murder (1979), the spy film Once Upon a Spy (1980), the psycho-thriller Midnight Lace (1981), as well as the video-released serial killer film Skinner (1993). From the late 1990s, Nagy has been a director of erotica and pornography. In 1993, he attained notoriety as the boyfriend of arrested Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss during which he was charged (although not convicted) with procuring women to work for her. Nagy had earlier been convicted as a bookmaker.
Captain America was subsequently remade on the big-screen with Albert Pyun’s cheap Captain America (1990) starring Matt Salinger and as the big-budget Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) starring Chris Evans and its sequels Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and Captain America: Civil War (2016), as well as the Marvel Comics team-ups The Avengers (2012), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018). There was also an earlier serial version Captain America (1944) starring Dick Purcell. The Captain America story is also told in the animated Ultimate Avengers (2006) and he appears in other Marvel animated films such as Ultimate Avengers II (2006) and Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (2008).