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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Surge of Power Revenge of the Sequel

My notes on the superhero skit, in US cinemas January 5.

This genial, cheaper-even-than-the-average-Asylum-effort feature-length skit features (arguably) the movies’ first openly gay superhero – though, frankly, those Joel Schumacher Batman movies came pretty close to it and there’s probably an invisible filmography of man-on-man cosplay porn for niche fetishists in comic book fandom.  A belated follow-up to Surge of Power: The Stuff of Heroes, which didn’t make much of a splash in 2004, it reuses some footage (and jokes) from that.  New readers can pick it up with this issue.

A frame story has two guys in a comic book store reading a supposed comic about the adventures of energy-powered Surge (Vincent J. Roth) and his nemesis Metal Master (John Venturini).  Just out of jail, Metal Master is hired by senior villain Augur (Eric Roberts) to leave Big City for Las Vegas to exploit the element ‘celinedionium’ for evil.  Surge (catchphrase ‘Zapuva!’) follows in his Knight Rider-type car (with an AI played by Bruce Vilanich and Shannon Farnon), rescues a himbo who contrives to lose most of his clothes and fall off a cliff, teams up with super-friends Marvin (Michael Diamond) and Wendy (Mariann Gavello) and gets geology and fashion tips from a male Joan Rivers impersonator (Frank Marino).  Only Omen, a veteran hero played in different forms by Nichelle Nichols and Robert Picardo, seems to know what’s going on.

Besides a few pointed speeches about the outsider lifestyles of hero and villain and some jibes about a fashion sense which hardly seems extreme for Vegas (where Surge isn’t the only guy in a cape), it does surprisingly little with its gay theme – sort of like the way Hancock managed to get through its story without ever wondering what America would really think if Superman was black.  We’ve had enough pointed moments – like Iceman’s Mom in X2 asking her son ‘have you tried not being a mutant?’ – for this particular subtext to be standard issue, and this isn’t going anywhere near that old Fredric Wertham saw about the homosexual idyll of Bruce and Dick at Wayne Manor.  There’s more humour about the way down on his luck mastermind Metal Master has to take the humiliating unpaid gig of minion rather than be considered even for the role of Augur’s sidekick, and the few shirtless beefcake sequences parodying the posing of comic strip musclemen are milder than the average David DeCoteau movie.  A waspish set-up gag has it that Surge’s kryptonite is dance music, which disrupts his powers – but that never really features.  Effects are very basic, with optical beams (and a car turning into a robot) added to scenes that involve folks standing around parking lots ranting at each other.  Still, harmlessness can be reasonably appealing.

Its commitment to inclusivity involves a ton of slightly distracting cameos for folks with superhero movie/TV credits – including former Lois Lane Noel Neill in her final role (with ex-Jimmy Olsen Jack Larson in tow), much of the cast of that little-seen rough draft Fantastic Four movie (Rebecca Staab, Alex Hyde-White, Joseph Culp, Jay Underwood), onetime Superboy John Newton, two-time Captain America Reb Brown) and the busy Lou Ferrigno plus Fenella Fielding as ‘a typical Londoner’, and a ton of ‘as himself/herself’ shoved-into-a-corner-at-a-convention-and-filmed-but-will-probably-be-surprised-when-this-clutters-up-their-IMDb credits vox pops who pad out some overcooked mock news montages (Austin Stoker, riffing on Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Marina Sirtis, Manu Bennett, Nicholas Brendon, Paul McGann, Charlie Schlatter, Richard Hatch, Walter Koenig, Murray Langston the Unknown Comic, Francine York and – in desperation – Kato Kaelin).  Linda Blair and Gil Gerard get more substantial turns as Metal Master’s Jewish parents, who disapprove of his sexuality more than his supervillainousness.

After the fairly thin plot is resolved, a straggle of a coda teases a decent enough comic book crossover premise – the end of a longtsanding truce between rival councils of retired superheroes and villains, which should kick off an epic clash in issue three in about 2028.

Here’s a trailer.

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