For those of you who know his works, you know well that aside from his terrific script for Zack Snyder's remake of Dawn of the Dead, he was also responsible for the gross-out sci-fi horror comedy Slither. Frankly, it made me want to look back and hail a time when you didn't need to be a world-famous ace director to pull off a superhero or comic book movie. Boy, the past thirty-odd years did not disappoint… or did they?
|"Holy Gym-slip, Batman, you've let yourself go!"|
What Is It?
Condorman (1981) was a parody of the superhero genre and also of James Bond-styled espionage. As opposed to the lead having any superpowers, he draws knowledge from the genre to combat his enemies with occasionally hilarious results!
Cartoonist Woody Wilkins, played by English television and theater legend Michael Crawford (Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, Phantom of the Opera), is unwittingly drawn into Cold War espionage when performing a simple courier job for his friend on the CIA. Taking up the name of one of his characters, Condorman, he is mistaken by the Russians for a dangerous super-spy.
Requested by the beautiful Natalia to help her defect from the Soviet State, Woody comes up against evil villain Krokov (Oliver Reed). In order to defeat him and rescue Natalia, Woody not only draws from his knowledge of spies and superheroes, he has a variety of colorful and futuristic vehicles, gadgets, and weapons left at his disposal to get the job done convincingly under his alias.
What the Hell?
Not to be taken seriously at all, Crawford's American accent is as hilarious as his comedy, but despite having a strong James Bond feel (the Roger Moore James Bond, the silly one), the movie feels torn right out of a newspaper cartoon strip. In that sense and with his gadgets and attempts at being a super-sleuth, there is a '60s Batman vibe going on. It's completely camp, and yet death and mayhem ensue with total disregard. This is what I call a Sunday afternoon movie, where you lie comatose on the couch after dinner and can't be bothered switching channels, but it's great silly fun!
The Return of Captain Invincible (1983) is a parodical superhero musical attributed to classic comic book characters such as Captain America!
Starring Alan Arkin (Catch-22, Freebie and the Bean, Argo) as the titular superhero, Captain Invincible was a superhero of World War II until he was accused of supporting Communism. When a weapon of mass destruction is stolen by his old arch nemesis Mr. Midnight (Christopher Lee), the government wants him back, but now he's a raging alcoholic!
What the Hell?
A Broadway-styled musical, reminiscent of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Little Shop of Horrors, about a middle-aged alcoholic being the world's last hope? This is my kind of twisted, and Alan Arkin is amazing as the bloated, weary has-been. This is the blueprint for Hancock and hits the mark wherever that movie failed. This is no musical kids can enjoy, because it's so full of adult content that you might suspect the writers and director were alcoholics as well. The icing on the cake of this sweet little movie rarity is the all-time great villain Christopher Lee singing and dancing while keeping his trademark straight face. Oh, and, unlike Superman's dislike of Kryptonite, Captain Invincible's only weakness is… you guessed it… booze!
What Is It?
Meteor Man (1993), written by, directed by, and starring television guru Robert Townsend, is a superhero movie about a school teacher from a troubled Washington, DC area who is gifted with superpowers after contact with a meteor and takes on the neighborhood gangs!
What the Hell?
Like a lot of '90s movies, whether they're about superheroes or not, you take them as they come. Are they comedies? Were they meant to be as silly as they are? If Hulk Hogan were black, this would have been one of his next to Suburban Commando and Mr. Nanny. Jefferson Reed, the Meteor Man, gains some typical superpowers from his contact with the meteor that changes him, but then the not so typical power—the ability to draw knowledge and skills from objects—goes in a bizarre and unexpected direction when he and his nemesis share a book on catwalk fashion modeling in the middle of a street fight. Looking at some of the shit we have to watch today, I'm not sure whether to hail this as comedy gold or blame it for the state of cinema today, but it's so worth watching!
Steel (1997) is a superhero movie adaptation of DC's comic character and crime-fighting alter ego of John Henry Irons, originally a Superman character from 1993's Reign of the Supermen. Irons, played by ex-NBA basketball star Shaquille O'Neal, is a military armaments designer who quits in disgust when his nonlethal weaponry is used by one psychotic soldier to render his friend Sparky (true story) a paraplegic.
Going home, he finds his neighborhood at the mercy of gangs who are being sold the weapons he's created. He, Sparky, and Uncle Joe (Shaft) set about building their own weaponry and armor from scratch to combat the scourge of the streets. This basically involves Shaq looking ridiculous while not being able to act!
What the Hell?
This one's on the list because rather than pay attention to what's actually happening in the plot, I'm more intrigued by the underlying suffering of the entire supporting cast. Annabeth Gish (The X-Files), Richard Roundtree (he's a complicated man, but no one understands him but his woman… John Shaft!) and Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club) try in their own respective manners to accept that their lives are over in order to actually try to keep the film afloat or to laugh it off, whereas Shaq might actually believe that this is his big break. In comparison, he should have gotten an Academy Award for Freddy Got Fingered. I'm surprised DC didn't sue him for soiling their image!
What Is It?
Casshern (2004), one of the truly most unique movies on this list, is a Japanese sci-fi action movie featuring visuals similar to Sin City and with elements of steampunk. Only on top of that is it a superhero movie featuring the character you know better from the animated series Casshern Sins!
Known better in Japan as Neo-Human Casshern, the character was originally created for a magazine before getting his first anime series in 1973. In 2004, music video director Kazuaki Kiriya far removed the character from his origins to create an original movie that is quite baffling to many but still a remarkable piece of film.
Dr. Azuma submits his findings of neo-cells to the Asian Federation, cells that can cure all illnesses and disorders of a future world absolutely destroyed by war. His wife is falling foul of a degenerative disease, leaving him in a race against time. Mass harvesting of body parts begins so they can hope to begin healing the nation.
Meanwhile, his son Tetsuya is killed in battle. So when a freak storm activates the experiment and goes horribly wrong, several "Neo-Humans" escape into the city, and Dr. Azuma resurrects his son. Tetsuya awakens to find himself imbued with super strength but with a new war raging between the mutants and Eurasia. Gradually, he makes his journey to becoming the savior of a world tearing itself apart!
What the hell?
Not going down the route of "but Casshern is an android," the composition of Casshern is ever confusing and boasts a very long duration in which we're shunted back and forth between the narratives of some eleven characters at least. Visually, it's stunning, as a whole, it's impressive, but through all these different character perspectives we see a would-be hero as a spoiled brat of a teen who cares for nobody turn into a would-be villain—or is that a would-be teen with a hidden past that would make his nemesis look like Jesus? I thought the superheroes were supposed to be the good guys?
It's like Christopher Nolan on LSD. By the time you reach the end, you might be babbling like a child and applauding the magnitude of the story's tragedy, but you can watch this movie a hundred times, thinking there's some secret code, and never truly understanding what it's really trying to achieve. A great little film, but—what the hell—it's just so damned confusing!
What Is It?
All Superheroes Must Die (2011) is an indie horror take on the superhero hype. Better put, it's SAW meets Mortal Kombat meets Manhunt (the video game); just unfortunately not as effective as any of them!
Arch-nemesis Rickshaw (James Remar of Dexter) captures four superheroes and dumps them in a no-name town. In order to survive and save the town-folk, they must complete a series of tasks that may involve facing off against other villains and each other.
What the Hell?
Made for $20,000, this movie has a great idea that I hope to see again elsewhere, maybe even in a more competent reboot. It also tries to have a lot of heart, wherever James Remar's talents and sheer goodwill toward the filmmakers didn't seem necessary. The biggest problem is that it looks as cheap as it is, but then a filmmaker has to start somewhere, right?
The biggest problem is that these guys are meant to be superheroes—they dress like them and have the names and everything, yet they have no superpowers. They're also really bad at fighting, which makes you wonder why Rickshaw could possibly be so pissed off with them. I say what the hell to this superhero movie because it had the potential to blow my mind all over the back of my lovely black leather office chair, and yet it limps toward the end. Better luck, guys. Still, if you can borrow this from a friend, do so and see what I mean.
On to the final segment. This one I saved until last, so it's hardly in chronological order. Writer and director James Gunn, the man who will bring us Guardians of the Galaxy this summer, is known for being twisted, as I mentioned in the beginning. How twisted?
What Is It?
Super (2010) is a clever mix of indie comedy, comic book storytelling, dark psychology, and drama… oh, and did I mention that distinct James Gunn brand of twisted absurdity?
Short order cook Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson) has everything, kind of. For instance, he's married to Liv Tyler (well, her character, but you know what I mean), with whom he is happy despite the fact she won't put out for him anymore.
When local drug kingpin Jaques enters their life, gets Tyler hooked on drugs, and quickly takes her away, Frank tries to get her back only to be beaten up by Jaques' goons. Inspired by television superhero the Holy Avenger, and very possibly mental illness, Frank is touched inappropriately by the finger of God and sets about becoming his town's very own masked vigilante, the Crimson Bolt.
As his violent and mentally unbalanced shenanigans escalate, he gains a Robin-esque sidekick in increasingly psychotic comic store assistant Boltie (Ellen Page) and plans to take his wife back by force!
What the Hell?
As if the premise isn't disturbing enough, you won't know whether to laugh or be very worried by the time the cops and criminals are all gunning for the masked crimefighters. Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker, and Gregg Henry all chip in to make this a familiar and enjoyable Gunn feature that's so darkly funny and yet serious that it makes Slither look as though it were written for Disney!
Sure, some violence is intended make you laugh out loud as a knee-jerk reaction, but then it purposely gets more and more absurd until you realize that you're gunning (pun intended or not, I don't quite know) for a possible psychopath. Of course, we knew that Rainn's character was already a bit childish, simple, and maybe mentally and emotionally damaged; we want to see him raise hell! This town is depressing enough without crime and marital distress.
Rainn Wilson reminds me of Batman from beginning to end, with his dark inner monologue that speaks of pain, suffering, social awkwardness, and loneliness. Ellen Page is the exact right kind of wrong for which her fans appreciate her, with the additional murderous lunatic tendencies. She really loses her shit in this film.
Toward the end you may find yourself afraid of how Super is going to end, because you've never been subjected to so much crazy.
There's no saying whether Super will prepare you for Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy this summer, but if it really is anything to go by, you should go get it on DVD and ask yourself, "What the hell?"
Sound off! What's the craziest superhero/comic book movie you've ever seen? Are they on this list? Comments below and thanks for reading!