Saturday, 16 July 2016

Caped crusader

“One man can still make a difference.” Somewhere in the vast comicbook continuum, between Unbreakable and Batman, Tom Wheeler’s THE CAPE (2011) cleverly distils generations of superhero lore, while adding some postmodern influences as its secret ingredient.

Vince Faraday (David Lyons, Ozploitation flick Storm Warning) is the proverbial good cop framed for murder. With fanfare cued appearances in Palm City, Faraday turns crusader as the Cape - opposing corporate psycho Fleming, the super-villain alias, Chess (James Frain, Tron: Legacy), who intends privatisation/ takeover of every authority. He’s sick and twisted but not even a genius. 

Keith David heads the local carnival underworld of bank robbers and he becomes our outlaw hero’s mentor. Summer Glau brings genre-favourite appeal to her sidekick role as techie/ spy Orwell (who drives a flashy gull-wing Mercedes). Vinnie Jones is a repeat offender as campy snake–faced (“Wot choo lookin’ at?”) mobster ‘Scales’. My sandwich broker says that hammy acting and cheesy plots should not be mixed on a morally wholesome bread ‘n’ butter adventure like this, but it does make a tasty TV snack.

Significant borrowings from the futuristic satire of RoboCop (especially its spin-off TV show) are noticeable. Throughout its meagre ten–episode season, The Cape’s Palm City contrasts the gleaming spires of Metropolis with gritty Gotham alleyways as varied backdrops for a low–budget, yet briskly paced, telefantasy action series. There’s a tarot pack of villainy in the secret society of killers. The cape’s original owner (Thomas Kretschmann, later seen in Argento’s Dracula 3D) returns to provide back-story to the mystery but he’s a bit too chatty and unmotivated for his plans to succeed. Apart from obvious parallels of jokey circus stereotypes with costumed superheroes, the basic season–arc theme is typical friction between white-collar crooks and blue-collar thugs.

The main point of soapy irritation is a flashback surplus with parental bonding of Faraday and his young son. The hero and villains socialise through their inner–child parade for the masquerade party aboard a runaway train. Mena Suvari guests as vengeful savant Dice. Elliott Gould plays Chess’ doctor/ shrink. Fake deaths paralyse Palm City folk: “Terrorist zombies? Now that’s a bad combination.”

A drug-trip nightmare wedding ceremony in an asylum for captive Orwell distinguishes two-parter The Lich, while Razer sees Faraday going undercover to impersonate a bomb-maker. Genre interest wanes whenever producers try making straightforward drama of eccentrics, weirdoes and madmen, and their storylines start slipping into clich├ęd soap opera, as Heroes so often did. Inevitably, there’s a big showdown and yet, also predictably, the chief baddie Fleming wriggles away to escape justice. This is no copycat of Kick-Ass or Super, because The Cape isn’t cheaply jaded, or bitterly ironic, and presents a trad comicbook style with a retro feel that’s modestly entertaining.

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