Friday, March 25, 2011

Movies about Wanna-be Superheroes

I like the superhero blockbuster movies as much as the next guy, but even more that the big-budget comic book adaptations that keep coming out, I like the movies about the other superheroes, the not-so-super vigilantes, or the ones with powers that aren't quite as super as the biggies.  Here are a few movies that try to break the mold of the superhero movie with some humor and action.

I'll start with the loser of a movie, The Specials.  In this movie, there are the in-crowd superheroes and the loser superheroes, vying for dominance in the superhero action figure market.  There are some funny bits (I liked the running gag with Minute Man, meaning small, not 60 seconds, and he's very sensitive about it!), but overall, this one is a dog.  If you're a fan of superhero movies, pick this one up for a laugh, but don't say I didn't warn you.
1 star

Can he really levitate?  Or not?
I saw a preview for Special and knew I wanted to see it, but it wasn't that easy to find.  A low-budget, indie film, I don't know that this one was ever in theaters.  Les is prescribed some anti-depressants, he thinks, but the drug is actually an experimental drug designed to make the patient think he has superhuman powers.  Les thinks he can levitate, read minds, and other feats.  This is a set up for great comedy at Les's expense, but he gets drawn into some real-life bad guy situations with painful results.  Special is funny in a pathetic way, especially the mind-reading bits, leading the viewer to sympathize with Les and believe that maybe he is a superhero after all.  This was an unexpected winner.
3 1/2 stars.

Along the same lines as Special, only with a bigger budget and a bigger star, we have Woody Harrelson as Defendor.  A lonely, probably mentally ill guy, Defendor dons his home-made, goofy costume each night to defend his city and seek out Captain Industry.  In a stumbling way, he actually does get closer to the truth of crime and corruption than the criminals like, making himself a target.  You have to love his persistence and odd genius, for instance, his breeding of wasps to use as a weapon.  Defendor doesn't have much going for him in life, but he puts up a good fight, stands up for what is right, and defends the defenseless. I can cheer for that.
3 stars.

Sticking with the theme of marginal people becoming vigilantes and rising to hero status, Kick-Ass takes the action to another level.  I thought this would be a teen comedy type of superhero spoof.  The hero is a teen, and there is some spoofiness and comedy, but mostly it's a straight-on, violent vigilante story.  Nerdy, comic-book loving Dave's only superpower, he says, is that he's invisible--to girls!  He dons a goofy costume, gets beat up by the criminals he's trying to collar, then goes out again and has some luck fighting bad guys.  This latter encounter is captured by some kids on video, becomes a You Tube hit, and brings Kick Ass into the big time (yes, Kick Ass is his superhero name.). 
Unfortunately for Dave, his new fame does not escape the attention of a real-life, really bad bad guy, who attributes some recent attacks on his thugs to Kick Ass.  In fact, those attacks are the work of Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage).  He's a renegade ex-cop who is systematically picking off D'Amico's men, as vengence for his wife's death.  Big Daddy and his 11-year-old daughter Hit Girl have some real skills and great superhero gear.  They cross paths with Kick Ass and lead up to a showdown with D'Amico and his men.  There are lots of explosions and killings.

The violence and depth of this movie surprised me.  The violence, graphic and frequent, fed the story, which was interesting and involved.  This wasn't a perfect movie, but it was defintely enjoyable, one I wouldn't mind seeing again.
3 1/2 stars

Finally, Iron Man 2.  I don't have much to say about this somewhat predictable, but action packed and enjoyable blockbuster.  Top-notch special effects, great action sequences, and an entertaining performance by Robert Downey, Jr., add up to a fun (but ultimately rather forgettable) movie. 
2 1/2 stars

I'll still watch and enjoy the big blockbusters, but I think cut-rate superheroes are more my speed.  These stories address the need, not only of the pathetic and lonely among us, but of all of us, to reclaim a sense of power and efficacy in our daily lives.  None of these wanna-be superheros has superhuman powers derived from an alien source, genetic mutation, or exposure to radiation.  But each has felt victimized, neglected, or rejected, yet still was willing to take some risks and take on evil in their world.  More power to them.

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