Well, "The Punisher" is "Avatar" by a production-value standard, compared to the catastrophic level of hokey dorkiness that runs rampant through "Captain America", the first attempt to bring old star-spangled Steve to the big screen.
Unlike the even-more-insane Captain America TV movies from the 1970s though, "Captain America" at least attempts to go through the motions of what a Captain America movie should actually be about. To its credit, it gets (most) of the bare essentials right. The plot follows sickly Steve Rogers who undergoes an experimental process that turns him into a super-soldier, designed to fight Nazis. Unfortunately for poor old Steve, his first mission goes horribly wrong and he gets frozen in the arctic, where he is uncovered and unfrozen nearly 50 years later. The Red Skull, Cap's menacing arch-enemy from the comics is here too; unfortunately they didn't quite get him right. For some reason, some jackass decided it'd be a GAS if the Red Skull was Italian in this movie, instead of German. Not only that, after one scene of the Red Skull with his signature look (which is done with admittedly impressive make-up effects); the movie establishes him as having had 'extensive plastic surgery' so he looks like this.
Well, jackass none of us are laughing. The Red Skull in this movie is a heartbreaking side-step to what could have been (and what eventually was in the far superior 2011 movie). Most of this movie sees Cap (out of costume, of course) stumbling around the modern day trying to find Red Skull and stop him so that he won't kill the President of the United States (thankfully played by someone who knows how to pretend to be someone in front of a camera; the great Ronny Cox).
The movie stars potato-faced Matt Salinger (who, funnily enough is related to J.D. Salinger, who wrote "The Catcher in the Rye") who is saddled with a dreadful script, a ridiculous plasticine-looking costume and whose acting skills don't do anything but sink the film even lower. The movie's only attempt at addressing the fact that Steve Rogers is supposed to be a weedy little runt and not an iron-jawed, barrel-chested He-Man is when they establish that Steve has Polio. This is understandable enough, but the only actual evidence of his Polio we see comes when he is running across town to say goodbye to his girlfriend and he half-heartedly pretends to have a limp, every few seconds. He really doesn't seem terribly debilitated.
As Captain America, Salinger doesn't do an awful lot that's very impressive, up until the climax of the movie. Most of the time he just gets his ass-kicked and hobbles around like a dumbass, while people shoot at him. At one point in the movie, this happens:
If you watch the scene in-context, it does at least make sense as a bait-and-switch maneouvre (he does it so that he can commandeer the car and leave the other guy stranded), but it's still got to be one of the weirdest decisions a writing team has ever come up with for an action/adventure movie like this one. Who thought this would be a cool idea for a superhero?
The other problem I have with Salinger as Cap is his voice. He seems to be attempting one of those horribly cliched "Hero Voices" from 1960s cartoons, but every time he opens his mouth he sounds eerily like the kind of similar voices Trey Parker does in stuff like "South Park" or "Team America: World Police". Speaking of "Team America", I definitely suspect that this film's straight-faced syrupy maudlin attitude inspired the latter film, not to mention the fact that there are sidesplittingly bad 'patriotic' ballads with incomprehensible lyrics played over certain parts of the film that definitely seem to have inspired this and obviously this.
One more thing about Captain America himself before we move on: instead of simply having holes for his ears to slot through, as the good Captain is supposed to; in this film the ears on the mask are clearly fake; tacked on to the side of the mask for no apparent reason. Note the ears in the picture below.
CAPTAIN AMERICA HAS FAKE EARS IN THIS FILM.
The eye candy for the movie is played by Kim Gillingham who plays Cap's girlfriend from 1944, Bernie as well as her daughter Sharon. I'll admit to being impressed when I discovered it was the same actress playing both roles, as the makeup is so effective you wouldn't really notice at all.
As Sharon, Gillingham is fine. She's not annoying, but looks aside she's not remotely memorable. As Bernie though, she actually does a good job convincing you of how desperately in love she is with Steve and how she can't bear the thought of being away from him. She's really not bad. Not that good, but not bad.
The aforementioned AlteRed Skull is played by Scott Paulin, who isn't bad considering how stupid a direction they went in with his character. He struggles with an Italian accent throughout, but he's at least imposing looking and credible as a megalomaniac supervillain. The movie re-imagines him as the head of an international crime syndicate responsible for some of the most historically significant political murders in the latter part of the twentieth century, and when the US President plans to introduce a radical new environmental-protection initiative, the Red Skull and his consortium of international criminals plot to brainwash the President so that he answers to their every request, thanks to an invention that Oh Yeah, the Red Skull invented (a severely plonked-in plot device if ever there was one). Curiously enough, we never actually see Kimble get brainwashed, as Captain America arrives and saves him before anything can happen. I can't help feeling that there's a previous draft of this film where that part of the plot was more developed.
Finally, there's Ned Beatty. His character (who is of course named) Sam is introduced in the first act of the movie, along with Ronny Cox's President Kimble. The two were friends as children and their mutual rapport is introduced in a scene that has possibly the worst child actor I have ever witnessed in my entire life, playing Sam. The young Kimble is trying to convince Sam that he saw a mysterious man in a blue costume (Cap) deflect a missile from hitting the White House (long story). The inept actor playing Sam responds "Pictures don't lie and neither do best friends!!". It's tragic. Beatty has a relatively small role in the film later on as a journalist trying to track down the Red Skull (and Cap, who he suspects might have information on the villainous...sigh...Italian), and it's mostly expository, but it's still refreshing to see someone that at least seems like they should be in a movie.
As much as I seem like I really hate this movie, and while it certainly is an objectively bad movie in terms of production values and the effort put into the story, it's at least a little bit enjoyable. It flows well enough and in a manner similar to "The Punisher", you're never truly bored watching it. It's watchable enough, primarily because of how goofy and awkwardly silly it is. Even though the story and the acting aren't very good and there's no money being put on screen, you can tell that everyone involved were at least trying to make it a fun time at the cinema (even though it never got released in most Western countries and went straight to video). Throughout the movie there's a distinct feeling that at least they're trying and they clearly care a little bit about the source material (Red Skull aside, obviously). Sadly, it's still a pretty damn pathetic movie that should be watched with a pinch (nay, a fistful) of salt in order to garner any enjoyment out of it.
Nobody anywhere will ever enjoy anything about the Roger Corman cinematic backwater I am going to be looking at next in this series.