Before The MCU: CAPTAIN AMERICA - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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We throw Cap's mighty shield back to the pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe days for a look at some early live-action Captain America projects.

First appearing in comic-book form way back in 1941 in Captain America Comics #1, and created by cartoonists Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the character of Captain America pre-dates the Marvel Comics brand as that first run of adventures were published by Timely Comics.

The patriotic super-soldier who often fought the Axis powers of World War II was Timely Comics' most popular character during the wartime period, and became the first of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe characters (and indeed Marvel Comics characters) to appear in media outside comics with the release of the 1944 movie serial, Captain America...

The main character in this 15 part chapter play is District Attorney Grant Gardner, who is loosely based on the Marvel character Captain America. His nemesis is the Scarab and his love interest and sidekick is Gail Richards. This version of Captain America does not possess his shield, nor does he seem to have enhanced abilities. Instead, he uses a simple hand gun and does not appear to have any qualms about killing criminals. A major factor is that he is not fighting in World War II, despite the fact that the serial came out in 1944 when the war was still going on, and instead was a typical city vigilante.

Starring Dick Purcell as Grant Gardner/Captain America, despite the colourisation of the promotional poster his superhero costume was really grey, white and dark blue as these colours photographed better in black and white. The costume also lost the wings on the head, the pirate boots became high shoes and the chainmail became normal cloth. Miniature flags were added to the gloves and, in the absence of the real thing, the belt buckle became a small shield.

Timely Comics were upset about the changes made to the character, the complete lack of Steve Rogers, the super-soldier serum origin, and the shield being replaced with a gun, but it proved to be popular among the Saturday morning movie crowd. Years later, Marvel would incorporate this version of Captain America into their comic-book lore; in Captain America V1 issue 219 (March 1978), Captain America himself secretly  plays the role of Grant Gardner/Captain America during the making of this serial, taking the place of the stunt man who was shot during production due to the prop master being the Nazi spy Lyle Decker. It's all a bit meta but just like the 1944 serial, Cap's shield is replaced with a standard gun, his identity is changed, and his sidekick Bucky is absent.

Later in 2007, after Marvel's Civil War event, Captain America (Steve Rogers) was seemingly killed off. News channel CNN produced a special on the death, showing the serial with Grant Gardner as Captain America, and as anyone who has seen Chris Evans MCU debut in Captain America: The first Avenger can attest, during the film he is shown to be filming a Captain America serial, much like this one.

The popularity of superheroes waned following the war, and the Captain America comic book was discontinued in 1950, with a short-lived revival in 1953. After Timely's demise, Marvel Comics revived the character in 1964, and Captain America comic-books have remained in publication ever since.

The ongoing popularity of the character in comic-book form, and the success of the television series The Incredible Hulk, would see a pair of Captain America made-for-TV movies arrive at the end of the 1970s, but before we get to them the start of that particular decade would see a notable production called 3 Dev Adam...

3 Dev Adam, or 3 Giant Men, is a 1973 Turkish movie which is sometimes known as Captain America and Santo vs. Spider-Man. Spider-Man is depicted as a villain and it's up to masked wrestler Santo and his new partner Captain America to stop him. I kid you not! The action takes place in Istanbul (not Constantinople). Not surprisingly, 3 Dev Adam was completely unauthorised by Marvel and the individual copyright owners of the characters depicted.

The two official 1970s Captain America movies both arrived in 1979. Airing on CBS, Captain America premiered on January 19, 1979, and Captain America II: Death Too Soon was broadcast on November 23, 1979. Both starred Reb Brown in the title role, and once again the character differs significantly from the comics in both his origin and his operations. Although nothing like the one in 3 Dev Adam!

In these made-for-TV movies, Steve Rogers is a character in contemporary times whose father was the original Captain America, a 1940s government agent. The very patriotic attitude of Steve's father earned him the nickname Captain America, and his father is spoken of as having been murdered. Rogers, a former Marine now making a modest living as an artist, was inspired by this story to sketch a super-hero. After receiving potentially fatal injuries in an accident, he was administered an experimental chemical called the FLAG—Full Latent Ability Gain—formula (at one point referred to as a "super-steroid") which not only saves his life but also enhances his body with heightened strength and reflexes. These new abilities lead Dr. Simon Mills (Len Birman), the research biochemist and intelligence official who had told Rogers about his father, to recruit him and give Steve a costume based on his drawing.

As Captain America, he also makes significant use of a specialized reconstruction of the van he has been driving, out the rear of which can be launched a modified motorcycle. Its functions include a rocket thrust for a fast start out of the van, a jet boost for increased speed, a setting to allow the bike to be ridden with less noise for stealthier movement and a hang glider structure which can allow the bike to glide to the ground with some forward momentum, although it must be jettisoned upon landing. The bike has a round windshield, described as being made of "Jet-Age plastics," with concentric circles that alternate between red and transparent around a centered star, blue in color. He is able to detach this, and he uses it as his shield when he goes on foot.

At the end of the first movie, Rogers briefly appears in his father's costume that bears a stronger resemblance to the uniform Captain America is seen wearing in the comics, and he wears this in the sequel. Both received a mixed reception, and if the intention was to create a backdoor pilot for a continuing series, neither TV movie performed well enough for that to happen.

Just over a decade later Captain America was due to the big screen to celebrate the character's 50th anniversary. How would this take place you ask? Well, like all good quality productions it would be a joint American-Yugoslavian film from low-budget conveyor belt movie machine The Cannon Group.

Captain America has something of a long and tumultuous production history. The film rights were originally purchased by The Cannon Group founders Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus in 1984 with the intention of regular Cannon filmmaker Michael Winner (Death Wish 1-3) directing a script by James Silke. However, in 1986 Winner scrapped the Silke script and recruited British television writer Stan Hey (Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, Dalziel and Pascoe). According to Hey, the film involved a stolen Statue of Liberty plot by an elderly Red Skull, aided by a female death cult, and Steve Rogers working as an artist. Later, after some negative feedback for the Winner & Hey version, Winner started over, working alongside Stan Lee and Lawrence J. Block (aka Larry Block).

By 1987 Winner was off the project and actor-director John Stockwell came aboard with a script by Stephen Tolkin. Golan left Cannon in 1989 and as part of a severance package he was given control of 21st Century Film Corporation and allowed to carry over the film rights to the Captain America character. Director Albert Pyun, who had previously worked at Cannon, was brought on board and worked with the Tolkin script that originally started at Cannon.

Principal photography began in 1989 and was completed in 1990. Several release dates were announced between late 1990 and Winter 1991, but the film went unreleased for two years before debuting it was given a limited theatrical release internationally and premiering via direct-to-video and on cable television in the United States in the summer of 1992.

While the film, simply titled Captain America, does take several liberties with the comic's storyline, it does feature Steve Rogers becoming Captain America during World War II to battle the Red Skull, being frozen in ice, but then subsequently being revived to save the President of the United States from a crime family that dislikes his environmentalist policies.

To say it went down badly is something of an understatement. Captain America was almost universally panned by critics, holding a 7% rating on the film critic aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 2.9/10. The consensus states:
"Lacking a script, budget, direction, or star capable of doing justice to its source material, this Captain America should have been left under the ice."
So as well as being the first Marvel superhero to appear on the big screen, all those years ago in 1944, Captain America also holds the title of having the lowest rated film based on a Marvel Comics character.

Fortunately, once Chris Evans was administered the super-serum and he joined the MCU the live-action adventures of Captain America took a turn for the better.

Previous Before The MCU Articles
Black Widow
Doctor Strange
Nick Fury

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