Captain America Through the Years: the Good, the Bad & the Awesome

The blockbuster success of 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger “ and 2012’s “The Avengers” have revitalized the 70-year-old Captain America character by making him accessible to a whole new generation. This newfound popularity is epitomized by the number of Captain America costumes being sported at Halloween parties and conventions like Comic-Con.

Although his look has changed significantly over the years, Captain America remains a great hero to young and old alike. And no matter how amazing, atrocious or downright cheesy the various Captain America movies have been, kids of all ages can go get their costume at, Halloween costumes or, with some extra dedication, make their own. You’ll have to choose first, which Steve Rodgers you want to portray, as the onscreen outputs have proven a decidedly mixed bag.

What is it about this particular comic book superhero that makes him so difficult to bring to life on film? Perhaps, like his predecessor Superman, Captain America’s iconic, quintessentially American idealism only truly resonates with certain audiences during specific periods of time. Or perhaps his story has simply fallen into the hands of several filmmakers whose lack of adequate funding was matched only by their woeful lack of talent.

Whatever the case, Captain America’s movie career hasn’t always been met with the critical and commercial acclaim that it currently enjoys. Here’s a quick look back at the evolution of Captain America through his various onscreen appearances.

Captain America (1944)

This Saturday-matinee serial by “B-move” studio Republic Pictures marked the first time that a Marvel Comics character had been adapted into another medium. Dispensing with the comic book’s “Super-Soldier Serum” origin story, the film recasts Captain America’s alter ego as Grant Gardner, a District Attorney investigating a series of suspicious deaths linked to a villainous saboteur called “The Scarab.”

The series also makes significant changes to Captain America’s traditional weaponry, replacing his trademark shield with a common handgun. At the time of its 1944 release, “Captain America” actually received a fairly warm critical response due to its elaborate action sequences and textbook cliffhanger storytelling. Despite the missing shied and Republic’s obvious budgetary limits, the Captain America costume in this serialized film remains essentially faithful to its comic book predecessor.

Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979)

Like the 1944 film, these two made-for-TV movies take significant liberties with Marvel’s source material. In this case, our hero is the son of the original Captain America and saves the day while zooming around on his custom street bike. Like so much pop culture from the 70’s these movies are outrageously campy by today’s standards. The pacing was bad, special effects were cheap and acting was wooden. That isn’t to say, however, that they aren’t fun! With his “futuristic” Plexiglas shield and his crudely painted motorcycle helmet, this Captain America is “far out” to say the least.

Captain America (1990)

The 1990 film version of “Captain America” was the first to keep Marvel’s original back story. Shot entirely in Yugoslavia and starring “Revenge of the Nerds” actor Matt Salinger in the title role, it was never officially released in the United States. This shot at telling the Captain America story may have been a misfire, but it did feature a modern yet authentic costume in brilliant red, white and blue.

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