MovieBob - Intermission
Forgotten Heroes (Who Kicked Ass)

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 16 Apr 2010 16:00
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Meteor Man (1993)

Writer/director Robert Townsend is best known for movie and TV projects made with sincerity and admirable motives that just don't work as well as you'd want them to. This is one of those, an obviously heartfelt and welcome attempt to create a wholly-new counterpart to Superman for African American kids to call their own. (Interestingly, Milestone Comics, created with a similar mission to create an entire universe of minority heroes, launched the same year.) Townsend is the title character, an inner-city teacher who's struck by a meteor and gains all the usual Superman powers plus some nifty new ones - he can talk to animals and absorb knowledge by touching books - which he uses to rally his community against the local drug gang. Bill Cosby, James Earl Jones, Robert Guillame, Sinbad, Don Cheadle and a young Eddie Griffin all pitch in to help, and in the end the nobility of the effort helps elevate what's otherwise a pretty average movie. Good intentions count, sometimes.

Mister Freedom (1969)

You wanna talk obscure? Here's an absurdist French political parody from American expatriate filmmaker William Klein (best known, if at all, in the states for Who Are You, Polly Magoo?) in which a bigoted right-wing American "patriotic" superhero is dispatched to halt the rising tide of left-wing political thought in France. When he discovers that the French citizenry aren't feeling all that threatened and don't want him around, Mister Freedom - who dresses like a football player and acts like people who don't know much about Captain America tend to imagine Captain America acts - loses it and things start to get out of hand. The heavy-handed satire of Cold War posturing is, of course, dated and the movie isn't exactly Dr. Strangelove, but it does feature a bellowing idiot in patriotic football gear arguing with Red China Man - a gigantic talking balloon - and I'm positive you've never seen that before.

The Guyver (1991)

Occuring as it did before the advent of digital distribution or even the internet itself, the "anime boom" in America in the early 90s was probably the last cross-cultural phenomenon to bubble up in awkward fits and starts - the only climate in which something as weird as this live-action reimagining of Yoshiki Takaya's legendary Manga hero: It's one-part fan-film, one-part crass Americanization and one-part Cronenbergian body horror. An American kung fu student becomes host to an alien symbiote, which turns him into a bio-mechanical armored hero to do battle with alien Zoanoids who want the armor for themselves. Famed Special FX pros Steve Wang and Screaming Mad George (yes, that is how he's credited) created the slimy, creepy creature effects, including the truly spectacular Guyver suit, and the overall effect is like the grossest episode of Power Rangers (or maybe Kamen Rider) you've ever seen. Oh, and Mark Hamill morphs into a giant grasshopper. Seriously. A more faithful sequel came next, which threw out the American-style comedy but replaced it with the international language of boring.

Supaidaman, aka "Japanese Spider-Man" (1970s)

Okay, "forgotten" is pushing it, but too wild not to include. The next time you complain about the Americanization of Asian or European characters, remember that the reverse has happened plenty of times, too. Case in point: In 1978, Marvel licensed its characters to Toei for use in Japanese TV shows. The result was this series, which made Spider-Man Japanese to a vastly greater degree than even Dragonball: Evolution made Goku American. Supaidaman gets his powers from aliens, battles the minions of Professor Monster, rides a motorcycle and summons a spaceship that transforms into a giant robot when he's really in a fix. No, really. Sadly, you can't get this (officially) on DVD in most of the Western world, though you can watch episodes on Marvel's website: Yes, this is a real thing.

Although, if you want to really blow your mind, hunt down the Turkish cult-classic 3 Dev Adam, in which Captain America and El Santo (yes, the Lucha Libre wrestler) team up to fight the evil.. um... Spider-Man. All unauthorized, of course. Believe it or not, Captain America being the hero of a Turkish action movie is the least bizarre thing that happens.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

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