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Thursday, September 22, 2022

Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1998) – Review

The character of Nick Fury has certainly seen quite a few changes over the years, from his first appearance in Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos, a cigar-chomping leader of an elite U.S. Army Ranger unit, to him later sporting an eyepatch as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. an espionage agency that would put both the CIA and MI6 to shame, and sure, he is now known by modern audiences via his filmic portrayal by Samuel L. Jackson in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe but his first live-action incarnation was not with the badass Samuel L. Jackson in the part, nope, he was first brought to life by none other than Baywatch’s very own David Hasselhoff.

Say what you will about New World Pictures when it comes to Marvel backdoor television pilots these guys wrote the book, of course, most of the chapters in that book would be titled "Chapter Eleven" as they all failed whenever they got up to the plate; from Thor to Daredevil these guys didn’t know a Marvel character they couldn’t screw up, but what makes Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. an interesting entry in their list of comic book adaptations is that it’s one of the more faithful-looking attempts.  Now, this is not to say it doesn’t make some drastic changes yet a person familiar with the comics wouldn’t need a chart and a slide rule to figure out who was who, but it’s terrible still a terrible made-for-television movie and one the people over at Marvel Entertainment probably hope the world forgets.

 

Who could ever forget The Hoff?

The movie opens with the terrorist organization known as HYDRA invading a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility so as to steal and then revive the cryogenically preserved body of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Campbell Lane), but in the process, the HYDRA agents kill Agent Clay Quartermain (Adrian G. Griffiths) which then triggers S.H.I.E.L.D. into seeking out Nick Fury (David Hasselhoff) who has spending his forced retirement working an abandoned mine shaft in the Yukon – don’t ask me why he’s mining, maybe it's therapeutic – and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Alexander Goodwin Pierce (Neil Roberts) and Contessa Valentina Allegra De Fontaine (Lisa Rinna) are sent to bring Fury back so that he can take down HYDRA once and for all.  The terrorist organization is now being led by the children of Von Strucker, Andrea “Viper” von Strucker (Sandra Hess) and her brother Werner von Strucker (Scott Heindl), of course, Fury isn’t interested in rejoining S.H.I.E.L.D. because he's still bitter about the way he’d been “put out to pasture” five years ago, but when he finds out that his old friend Clay has been murdered, he is quickly ready to suit up for some old-fashioned revenge.

Note: This made-for-television movie has a bigger budget than most of its ilk and they were so proud of their cool model of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier that shots of it were used whenever possible.

The villainous plot surrounds the fact that Von Strucker's body contains a pathogen known as the Death's Head Virus, which was developed by Arnim Zola (Peter Howarth) for Hitler as a doomsday weapon, and with it, HYDRA plans to extort the United States government for $1 billion dollars and if money is not received they will release the virus in Manhattan. There is one wrinkle to their evil plan and that is to weaponize the virus HYRDA needs Zola and he is in custody at a S.H.I.E.L.D. safehouse in Berlin and soon to be picked up by Nick Fury and company, including S.H.I.E.L.D. telepath Katie Neville (Tracy Waterhouse), unfortunately, their Interpol contact turns out to be Viper in disguise, which allows her to plant a poisoned kiss on Fury’s lips, leaving him unconscious and enabling Hydra to retake Zola. Back aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier we learn that Fury has only 48 hours to live before the poison takes its toll and they only have two days to recover a sample of Viper's DNA from which to develop an antidote.  Fury, Katie, and Pierce head off to HYDRA’s secret compound while de Fontaine's team heads to New York City to find the refrigerated truck they believe will be needed to deploy the virus, all the while, it’s clear to almost everyone that even if the ransom is handed over, Viper will still deploy the virus.

 

“I am the daughter of a Nazi criminal mastermind, after all.”

Stray Observations:

  • The movie opens with the camera flying across the ocean to a techno beat and we immediately wonder if we’re watching an episode of Baywatch.
  • Why exactly does S.H.I.E.L.D. have Baron Wolfgang von Strucker cryogenically frozen? Do they hope to revive him one day so he can team up with the frozen corpse of Walt Disney?
  • For some reason, Alexander Pierce is British in this movie, whereas, in the comics, he was an American, but don’t worry, he gets an acting upgrade in Captain America: Winter Soldier with Robert Redford playing the part.
  • David Hasselhoff would eventually return to the Marvel Universe in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.
  • Viper uses the venom of a Columbian tree frog to poison Nick Fury but the secretion from that particular frog, at best, can really irritate your eyes or skin, if touched, but certainly not kill. Now, if she’d used the venom of the South American Golden Poison Frog, which contains enough poison to kill ten men, Fury would have been dead in seconds. Why Viper would choose a toxic cocktail that would take 48 hours to kill Fury is the real mystery here.
  • For this movie, HYDRA’s green uniforms from the comic have been ditched and they now look like bald ghouls in Men in Black suits.
  • Viper shoots Nick Fury but it’s only his LMD (Life Model Decoy), but how did he get that thing to HYDRA island in the first place? Did he manage to fit a full-sized robot in his backpack?

 

Robot David Hasselhoff is one of those things you can never unsee.

When watching Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. it’s clear that Hasselhoff wasn’t all that invested in the role, he didn't even want to wear Nick Fury’s trademark eyepatch, and as shit rolls downhill his attitude pretty much permeates the entire production and the end result was a lacklustre made-for-television movie that was populated by B-grade actors in the service of script laden with some of the worst lines of dialogue ever written. This brings us to the screenwriter of this telemovie, David S. Goyer, a man notorious for his hit-and-miss attempts at the superhero genre, and while this movie has a more marketed comic book feel to it than many previous made-for-television Marvel movies it’s still godawful and the biggest failure is the fact that Nick Fury comes across as a sexist misogynistic asshole, one who wouldn’t be able to command the respect of a group of Boy Scouts.

 

“What we need is women in bathing suits jogging in slow motion.”

As mentioned, this was another backdoor pilot that failed and so a Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series was never greenlit, with the fate of Viper and her resurrected father forever remaining a mystery, and while the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to redefine the genre this entry will forever be nothing more than fuel for some fun pub trivia night questions.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Generation X (1996) – Review

Back in the 1990s, long before Hugh Jackman was popping his adamantium claws as Wolverine, there was a group of people over at New World Entertainment who decided they’d to take a crack out bringing those wacky mutant characters of Marvel Comics into the world of live-action, and with a sterling track record that included adaptations of Thor and Daredevil what could possibly go wrong?

A made-for-television movie in the 90s tackling an adaptation of a comic book like the X-Men was never going to come close to being good – creating superhero effects for one mutant would strain most television budgets let alone a whole team of them – but the solution New World Entertainment came up with was to make the film about lower-tier mutants and then hope nobody would notice, the problem was that people didn’t just fail to notice they failed to even turn up to watch this trainwreck of a movie in the first place, with the predictable end result being another failed backdoor pilot that has been pretty much forgotten by even the most die-hard Marvel fan and is only available via poor quality YouTube versions.

 

“We mutants do not fear demonetization!”

The one and only thing that remotely makes Generation X watchable is the film’s villain, Doctor Russel Tresh (Matt Frewer), a scientist fired from his job for doing unethical and illegal experiments on Mutants, and the reason this is watchable is because of Matt Frewer's over-the-top acting choices are so outlandishly fun that it alone will carry you through this 90-minute atrocity. The movie opens with his co-worker Emma Frost (Finola Hughes) bursting into an operating room just as he was about to perform some kind of surgery on a hapless mutant, as any self-respecting mad scientist would do, but there isn’t much of a happy ending here as the mutant is arrested and taken away for being an unregistered and the only repercussion seems to be Tresh losing his job. An angered Frost storms out of the room and to which we then jump ahead five years to find her running Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters with fellow mutant Banshee (Jeremy Ratchford), and where the Irish superhero is more laidback Emma takes things a little more seriously, due to her losing a previous mutant group she led years ago, which begs the question “Why did Xavier hire somebody who had failed so colossally bad the first time?”

 

Do mutants have really strong unions?

The basic plot of Generation X deals with the students at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters having to set aside their mutant studies, which consist mostly of training to be a superhero and not much in the way of algebra or world history, to rescue fellow student Angelo "Skin" Espinosa (Agustin Rodriguez), a mutant capable of stretching, deforming and expanding his skin, who has been lured into the clutches of Doctor Tresh, but what exactly has Tresh been up to since he and Frost parted company? It seems that during their tenure together Frost told him all about the “Dream Dimension” and after being fired he turned this new knowledge and his talents towards the advertising industry where he made money brainwashing consumers with subliminal imagery, but then he used that money to build a machine that would allow him to access the Dream Dimension, something that mutants are apparently already hardwired to do, which would then lead, presumably, in him taking over the world, but as he puts it, “I won’t be happy until that psycho slut who humiliated me grovels at my feet and anoints me as her god!”

 

“Oh, Max Headroom, what has become of you?”

There are a variety of mutant students for us to follow but the key one in this film is new student Jubilation "Jubilee" Lee (Heather McComb), who has the ability to generate pyrotechnic energy blasts, and she leads the charge in rescuing Angelo because, like her, he also felt like an outcast even among fellow mutants. What doesn’t work here is that most of these teenage mutants look like rejects from a John Hughes film and their “Breakfast Club” antics are as cliched as they are boring and no amount of mutant powers was going to make them the least bit interesting, and when you don’t have a cast of credible or even likable characters to engage the viewer the only bastion the filmmakers have to save the film is in the action and visual effects area, needless to say, the $1.99 they spent on computer software to pull this off did not deliver on that promise.

 

"Next stop, the Low Budget Zone."

Stray Observations:

• Emma Frost is disgusted that Doctor Russel Tresh suffers no punishment for his illegal mutant experiments, other than getting fired, but all she does is cause some wind and electric discharges to toss clutter around the room before storming out, basically, she did nothing as well.
• Jeremy Ratchford plays Banshee in this movie and though he also voiced him in the Fox cartoon he sounds like he’s auditioning to be the Lucky Charms mascot.
• In the comics the character of Jubilation "Jubilee" Lee is Asian, but in this movie she is Caucasian, yet they still left her with that very Asian last name.
• Doctor Tresh compares his “Dream Machine” to the ability of Freddy Krueger’s dream walking in Nightmare on Elm Street movies, but his intent is not to kill the dreamer but to influence their spending habits, making this movie the grandfather to Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
• Tresh uses his mind-controlling device to send his boss running out the window, which couldn’t have been more of a lift from Batman Forever if Mat Frewer had started screaming “Riddle me this!”
• I’m all for comic book accuracy when translating superhero costumes to live-action but having your school headmistress look like an actual mistress seems a tad odd.

 

“Today we will be discussing sex education and the role of the dominatrix.”

Where the film really drops the ball isn’t just in its failure to depict mutant powers in any believable fashion, which they fail in that area rather spectacularly, what really kills the film is its complete lack of a consistent tone as in one moment we’ll be suffering through your standard high school teen angst, amped up by a little mutant drama - though with very little on-screen mutant power displayed - and with a dash of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off style comedy, then in the next moment we get Matt Frewer’s mad scientist threatening to mind-rape a teenage girl every night in her dreams if he doesn’t get his way. If I have to tell you that Matt Frewer licking a girl’s face in a dream world doesn’t belong in this movie then you are in a greater need of therapy than he is.

 

This joins my list of things I didn’t need to see.

We can be grateful that this low-rent X-Men movie was mostly forgotten because if the stench of this production had lingered the Bryan Singer X-Men films may have never been greenlit and without that success, the Sony Spider-Man movies could also have failed to materialize, so the very existences of the Marvel Cinematic Universe may owe itself partly to the complete non-entity that was Generation X, and sure, that may be a little hyperbolic but this is only to highlight just how bad this made-for-television movie actually was because neither Finola Hughes, in white latex hooker boots, nor Matt Frewer channelling Jim Carrey from Batman Forever, was going to save this film from the dustbin of comic book movie history, of course, this would be far from the last time a studio would screw up teen mutants.

Note: Fox would take another crack at the teen mutant genre with the 2020 movie New Mutants and while that film had some decent special effects on display the story, once again, failed to deliver anything remotely entertaining.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Fantastic Four (1994) – Review

One of the most notorious films to “never happen” would be Roger Corman’s low-budget comic book adaptation of The Fantastic Four, a film that was never intended to see the light of day as it existed for the sole purpose of co-executive producer Bernd Eichinger retaining the Fantastic Four film rights and keeping them in his greedy little hands, sadly, this was a piece of information the bulk of the people involved in this production were unaware of.


Many people wonder at what point Roger Corman became aware of Bernd Eichinger’s plan of creating a film with no intention of ever releasing it, and I question anyone who wouldn't be suspicious of making a movie based on something like the Fantastic Four for a paltry million dollars as that is rather ludicrous but as Corman was the king of low-budget filmmaking he could have seen this simply as a challenge. What cannot be denied is the lack of thought put into this production from the outset because no matter how little money was spent the problems really began at the script stage. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s comic was released to the world back in 1961, with its target audience consisting mostly of children under ten, and thus the premise of a scientist bringing his best friend, his girlfriend, and her teen brother into space in an untested craft probably made sense, but that was something that desperately needed updating if you didn’t want your film laughed out of the theatre.

 

“Who wants to go on a space road trip?”

The movie opens with college students Reed Richards (Alex Hyde-White) and Victor Von Doom (Joseph Culp) attending a lecture where their professor (George Gaynes) tells them of a passing comet that could take the theoretical possibility of travelling faster than the speed of light into the realm of the possible, but this isn’t news to either Reed or Victor as these two have been working on such a project for some time. We see Reed and Victor arguing over some of the elements of the experiment, with Reed wanting to proceed with more caution and testing while Victor is more confident in his equations. Needless to say, Reed was right to be cautious as the experiment goes horribly wrong and Victor is assumed dead. This does raise one major question, what college would allow two completely unsupervised students to build and operate a massive machine designed to harness the power of a passing comet?

 

Was this something they were doing for extra credit?

It should be noted that in the comic book Victor Von Doom was Reed’s roommate but they were not working together on any sort of project, Victor was building a machine intended to communicate with the dead and he ignored Reed’s warnings that his calculations are off, and when the experiment blew up in his face a scarred Victor blamed Reed and went back home to Latveria to become the villainous Doctor Doom. The idea of tying Victor and Reed’s origin stories together would also be used in the 2005 Fantastic Four movie and the 2015 Fant4stic attempt and while it does make for a more concise screenplay the original idea could have worked as a flashback, in the case of this film, we are then forced to jump ahead ten years to find that Reed has built experimental spacecraft which he hopes to take up into path that same comet as it passes Earth and he holds his old college pal Ben Grimm (Michael Bailey Smith) to the promise he made back in the day that if he ever built a ship Ben would pilot it for him, he agrees but they still need a crew.

 

“How about we put an ad on Craig’s List?”

So where exactly do you go to find a couple of extra astronauts? Well, during their college days, Reed and Ben lived at Mrs. Storm’s Boarding House where they were befriended by her two children and, apparently, they kept in touch and so it’s obvious to Ben that they’d be ideal members of the team. To be fair, we do get Reed pointing out “This is crazy, what do they know about astrophysics?” which Ben counters with “They may not have Harvard diplomas but they know more about this project than anyone else on Earth. Besides, if you don’t let them come, they will never forgive you” and as Sue Storm (Rebecca Staab) grew up hot, who I should point out was fourteen when they first met, the power of boners wins out and he agrees to take her, along with her younger brother Johnny (Jay Underwood) on a mission to space that could easily kill all on board.

 

“We’ll either die or get superpowers, it’s a fifty-fifty proposition.”

It’s at this point we are introduced to a strange man known as The Jeweler (Ian Trigger), a diminutive personage who lives under New York City, who was clearly supposed to be The Mole Man, who appeared in the very first issue of The Fantastic Four, but due to the wacky world of right’s issues they had to swap that character out for this bizarre discount version. And exactly how does this knock-off Mole Man fit into this story? Turns out that a special diamond is required for Reed’s spacecraft to enter the comet’s path safely and The Jeweler steals it and replaces it with an imitation, this leaves the crew exposed to cosmic radiation which then results in them gaining remarkable powers. We also get a “meet-cute” between Ben Grimm and a blind artist named Alicia Masters (Kat green), who in the comic was the daughter of the villainous Puppet Master but here is someone who simply catches the eye of The Jeweler, so while our heroes are off getting superpowers she is stalked and kidnapped by a literal troll.

 

“This will teach them for kicking me out of the Lollipop Guild”

But what about Doctor Doom, isn’t he the villain of this movie? It turns out he did survive that explosion but a couple of Latverian stooges were able to spirit away his burnt body and now ten years later he has plans to stop Reed and company from launching a successful space mission, jealous much, but his diabolical plan is accidentally aided by The Jeweler, who stole the diamond as a wedding present for his kidnapped bride-to-be, but Doom still has his own need for the diamond as it will power a laser cannon powerful enough to destroy New York City, thus he will eventually have to venture forth into the underworld to claim his prize from this under dweller.

 

Doctor Doom versus The Jeweller, place your bets now.

And what would our four heroes be doing during all this? Well, after crash-landing on Earth, due to the fake diamond not providing the needed protection, they discover that the cosmic rays have given them special powers. Reed's bodily structure has become elastic, Sue can become invisible, Johnny can generate fire on demand and Ben has transformed into a creature with stone-like skin and he will henceforth be known as the Thing (Carl Ciarfalio) and he will be the rightfully bitter one of the group. We are later told these transformations reflect their personalities; Sue has always been shy, Johnny a bit of a hothead and Reed always stretched himself too thin, but poor Ben is turned into a monster because he always tended to use brawn instead of brain. Who knew cosmic forces also worked as manifested therapy? Also, I call bullshit on the cosmic forces because we never saw Ben using his brawn instead of his brain.

 

“If only there was a woman out there blind to physical appearances.”

When Doctor Doom learns that Reed and his friends have somehow survived the destruction of their spacecraft he sends out men posing as Marines to bring them back to his castle for study, and when he learns what powers the comet has granted them he orders his top scientist, Dr. Hauptman (Robert Alan Beuth), to find a way of draining them of their powers and somehow instilling them all in Doom so that he could become a being of unspeakable power. And sure, this does sound like a right and proper villainous plan for a comic book villain but what this film didn’t need was unnecessary villains like The Jeweller to spice things up. The screenplay for this film is so crammed with stuff that the end result is a bit of a mess. We get these bizarre tonal shifts throughout the film’s brief 90-minute running time as we go from the drama of Ben’s transformation into the Thing to Doctor Doom’s henchmen running around like a pair of bumbling idiots as if they'd escaped from an Abbott and Costello movie, and none of it really works.

 

“I should have had one of my Doombots write the script.”

This film may have had a minuscule budget but that certainly doesn’t excuse the bad writing or the incredible amounts of over-acting on display here, though to be fair to the actors much of that comes from the directions they were given by director Oley Sassone, such as Joseph Culp being told to channel Mussolini in his portrayal of Doctor Doom, that said, his performance is so over-the-top and campy that it is beyond laughable and only so much can be blamed on the director. But Culp isn’t the only one giving a cheese-ladled performance as the whole cast provides some truly cringe-inducing scenes that would get most actors fired from Dinner Theatre. When the film reaches its “action-packed” climax we’ve barely had time to get invested in the plight of our supposed heroes or figure out what Doctor Doom is exactly trying to achieve and why, or even the most basic elements of the film’s so-called plot.

 

“I want free cable and a spot on Dancing with the Stars or I’ll destroy New York City.”

Stray Observations:

• If Commandant Lassard from Police Academy is lecturing you on cosmic radiation there is a possibility you have wandered into a sanitarium and not a college lecture hall.
• We see Ben Grimm sitting behind Reed during the film’s opening science lecture but why is he there, was he auditing the course or something?
• The spacesuits look like something eight-year-olds would cobble together for Halloween but without help from their parents.
• In the comic the Fantastic Four were “bathed in cosmic radiation” but in this movie their ship also explodes while in space, so how exactly did they survive the explosion let alone make it back down to Earth?
• Alicia Masters is commissioned to sculpt a memorial statue for the presumed dead astronauts but why are they worthy of commemorating, is flying into space and exploding all that worthy? It’s not like they were noteworthy personages before they met their fate.
• The actor playing Ben Grimm was 6' 4" while the actor playing The Thing was only 6’ which seems to be an odd bit of casting.
• Ben Grimm reverts to his human form when Alicia calls out that she loves him, apparently the writers of this movie were big fans of Beauty and the Beast.
• As the Invisible Woman Sue Storm’s fighting technique mostly involved turning invisible so her enemies would hit each other but at one point she does create a force field and while his ability is in the comic it comes out of left field here with no explanation.
• Johnny goes all “Flame On” to stop Doctor Doom’s laser from destroying New York City but as lasers tend to travel at the speed of light I must ask "How exactly did he expect to pull this off?"

 

The filmmakers hoped it’d look so silly that we’d be too busy laughing to question it.

When you hear the cast and crew talk about this film it’s obvious they felt they were making something special and even on a limited budget they’d hope to release a film that would please fans but even with ten times the budget I can’t see any way in which this movie would have worked. The fact that the production was housed in a condemned barn, one that relied on a cat to keep the rat population at bay, or that both Dr. Doom and The Thing often suffered from muffled dialogue because the producers decided to not bother to loop their dialogue later just to save a little more money should have been a clue to all involved as to what the end product would be, not to mention the insanely cheap visual effects that all went toward making this a less than a stellar project.  That all said, even if this film had received a theatrical release it would have most likely have been as well-received as those other Marvel half-assed projects like The Punisher with Dolph Lundgren and Albert Pyun's Captain America and would have most likely bombed just as hard.

Side Note: The actors spent their own money to appear at conventions to promote the film, a film that the producers knew was never going to be released, and that’s more evil than anything we see Doctor Doom do in this movie.

I should point out that there are a couple of bright spots in this otherwise disastrous production; the suits built for Ben Grimm as the Thing and the costume for Doctor Doom were way better than what this film deserved and I’d go so far as to say that they were even better than what was later used for the 2005 Fantastic Four movie, though to be honest, that isn’t saying much and is damning with faint praise. Then we have the score composed by David and Eric Wurst, who on their dime provided a forty-piece orchestra to give the film the depth and feel they believed the film warranted, and they came up with a truly beautiful score that is actually so good that it makes everything on the screen look even cheaper by comparison, and while this film never received a proper release it is not some “lost gem” that got shelved by a corrupt studio exec, it’s a bad movie that is only entertaining due to just how bad it actually is.

Note: There is a fascinating documentary called Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four, with many of the cast and crew going into detail explaining what exactly happened with this production, and it is easily more entertaining than the film itself.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Captain America (1990) – Review

Spider-Man may be Marvel’s most recognizable hero but Captain America is right up there in the “very recognizable” category and he also appeared in comics two decades before the wall-crawler made his debut, in fact, Cap also predates Marvel Comics having been created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for what was then called Timely Comics, yet when one looks back at his trip to the big screen it was anything but smooth.

Captain America was actually the first Marvel character to grace the big screen, having appeared in a Republic serial back in 1944, but it would take another thirty years before a Marvel character would get a theatrical release, that would be Howard the Duck in 1984, yet that's not to say that Captain America remained trapped in the pages of Marvel Comics all those years as he had a brief stint as a member of The Marvel Super Heroes, a cartoon produced by Grantray-Lawrence Animation in the 60s, and there was even two attempted Captain America pilots in the 70s starring Reb Brown as a reluctant version of the star-spangled hero, but then the 90s rolled around and Cap was finally going to get a feature-length live-action movie.

 

"Fear me!"

Who would you entrust to helm a movie starring one of Marvel’s premier superheroes? Would the likes of Steven Spielberg or James Cameron be a great choice to direct such an icon? How about Richard Donner who brought the world Superman: the Movie or would that be too obvious?  Well, back in the 80s, when the Cannon Film Group was attached to the project, they had tapped Deathwish director Michael Winner to helm their Captain America feature so even in that early stage of development we weren’t talking big-budget adventure film, but when Menahem Golan left Cannon part of his severance package was control of 21st Century Film Corporation and that allowed him to walk away with the film rights to the Captain America character.  Which one must admit is a pretty good going away present.  Enter Albert Pyun and with him, any chance of this movie being a blockbuster was lost, like tears in the rain.

 

They’d have been better off hiring the actual Red Skull to direct.

Albert Pyun made a name for himself when his first film The Sword and the Sorcerer grossed ten times its budget but that success was never achieved again, with only his film Cyborg provided him with any financial if not critical success, so he remained a staple of cheapie action films throughout the 80s and 90s and thus the question as to why producer Menahem Golan thought Pyun was the right guy to helm a Captain America film is up there with the Riddle of the Sphinx. As with most comic book adaptations of the time filmmakers felt no obligation to be faithful to the source material and screenwriter Stephen Tolkin was no different as his screenplay for Captain America was only slightly more faithful than the Reb Brown television Captain America from the 70s, at least in this movie Captain America would be a WWII Super Soldier who found himself frozen and then thawed out in modern times, sadly, that was about the extent of its similarities to the comic book.

Note: Bucky Barnes will not be joining Cap in this movie.

The movie opens in 1936 with the fascist Italian government looking for a child prodigy to complete their experimental project to create a Fascist supersoldier which, for some reason, entails kidnapping a young boy and brutally murdering his entire family, yet this cruel experiment does somehow results in the creation of the Red Skull. Now, to say this differs from the pages of the comic would be a bit of an understatement as that is not even remotely the origin of the Red Skull and why they made him an Italian is beyond me, not to mention that making him a “reluctant villain” is just bizarre. In the comic Johann Shmidt was a Nazi officer and confidant of Adolf Hitler, who was groomed by the Nazi leader and given a grotesque red skull mask that would make him the embodiment of Nazi intimidation, and once he took on the mantle of “The Red Skull” he was appointed as the head of Nazi terrorist activities, which consisted of both external espionage and sabotage, and it was his actions that led to the United States government countering with their superhero/counterintelligence agent, Captain America.

Note: The original Captain America mask had holes that allowed actor Matt Salinger's ears to poke through, but this caused uncomfortable chafing so plastic ears were glued on instead, which looks rather silly. What happened to the idea of suffering for your art, Matt?

After that “exciting” opening we jump ahead a few years to where we find that the procedure's inventor Dr. Maria Vaselli (Carla Cassola), had fled Nazi Germany due to her objections over the cruelty of using a young boy for their experiments and is now working for the American government, only this time with a perfect volunteer in the form of Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger), a frail man who was excluded from the draft due to being partly crippled by polio.  This time out she is able to achieve a much better result than a facially deformed fascist madman, so let's hear it for progress. The experiment is a great success, with Steve Rogers now having the strength and speed of a world-class athlete, but the Red Skull had a spy on hand and Vaselli is murdered before any more supersoldiers could be created and a wounded Steve Rogers is the only hope we have in stopping the Nazis from launching a new-fangled missile at the United States.

 

Is it just me or does the Red Skull look like someone who was boiled alive?

Things don’t as planned and Captain America is easily defeated by the Red Skull (Scott Paulin) and is quickly tied to a prototype intercontinental ballistic missile that is targeted at the White House, this is certainly not Captain America’s finest hour, but he does manage to seize hold of the Red Skull’s arm just before the rocket launches, which forces the Red Skull to “accidentally” cut off his own hand. Just as the missile is about to hit the White House, where a young boy named Tom Kimball is taking photographs in the middle of the night, Captain America kicks one of the missile's fins and changes its course mere yards from its target. The missile eventually crashlands somewhere in Alaska where Steve Rogers remains frozen for the next 50 years, that is until he is found by a team of German researchers.

 

“If this melts and an alien monster pops out, I’m calling Kurt Russell.”

Meanwhile, the boy who had witnessed Captain America saving the White House has grown up and is now The President of the United States (Ronny Cox) and he has an aggressive new pro-environmentalist legislation that angers the military-industrial complex, headed by General Fleming (Darren McGavin) who is in league with a shadowy organization that has used the Red Skull for a variety of political assassinations over the years. The President informs his childhood friend Sam Kolawetz (Ned Beatty), a reporter and conspiracy theorist concerning all things Red Skull related, about the man found in the ice and how believes him to be the same individual he saw riding a missile all those many years ago and he wants Sam to find him, unfortunately, the Red Skull is also aware of this new development and he dispatches his daughter Valentina (Francesca Neri) to Alaska with orders to kill Captain America.

 

Get used to this vacant stare, it is his default expression.

Sam Kolawetz arrives in the nick of time to save Cap from the clutches of Valentina but our hero doesn’t believe Sam when he’s told that it’s been fifty years since he saved the White House, or that the Red Skull is running around orchestrating assassinations of people who Rogers has never even heard of, and when he notices that Sam’s truck is a Volkswagen he assumes that the reporter actually a Nazi spy and steal the dude’s truck and heads for sunny California to hook up with his old girlfriend Bernice Stewart (Kim Gillingham), only it has been fifty years and his old girlfriend is really old, also married and with a daughter, Sharon, who is young and hot as well as being played by the same actress.

After catching up on some “World History” via VHS tapes at Sharon’s house Steve comes to the conclusion that maybe he was a bit of a dick for stealing Sam’s truck, unfortunately, recriminations come too late as Valentina shows up at Bernice’s house and tortures both Sam and Bernice to death in an attempt to get the location of where Captain America is hiding. So now it’s up to Steve and Sharon to track down the Red Skull and stop whatever nefarious plane he has, which has something to do with using a brain implant to turn the President into a puppet, but by this time even the most faithful of viewer will have checked out as it’s truly amazing how much stupidity can fit into a 97-minute movie and with Matt Salinger’s complete lack of screen charisma, and some of the laziest action sequences ever put to film, this movie is a real chore to get through at times.

 

Captain America seen here looking as tired and beat up as the script.

Stray Observations:

• The Italian fascists force the boy to watch his family murdered, gunned down right before his eyes, but is that the best idea when you want this kid to grow up to be your superweapon against your enemies? Wouldn’t he more than likely turn on his masters?
• I’m not sure why Captain America was the “only hope” to stop the launch of the Red Skull’s missile, it’s not like the missile is in some heavily fortified mountain, so why wouldn’t an aerial bombardment be an option? And if that isn’t an option at least send a commando team along with your never-before-tested supersoldier.
• In Captain America’s first encounter with the Red Skull, Rogers is beaten so fast it’s kind of embarrassing.
• Captain America doesn’t think of diverting the path of the missile until it’s almost at the White House. What was he doing the entire time it was flying across the Atlantic Ocean, watching an in-flight movie?
• The President’s environmental plan is to cut America’s solid waste output by 90% in just six months, which is patently ridiculous and harder to swallow than anything found in the pages of Marvel Comics.
• When Captain America bursts out of his block of ice he immediately runs off to…where exactly? He doesn’t even ask his rescuers where he is but simply jogs off across the ice fields of Alaska.
• Steve Rogers sees that Ned Beatty’s car is of German manufacture so he immediately assumes “This guy must be a German spy!” but if driving a Volkswagen is that big of a giveaway why would a spy be driving one? I guess we’ll chalk this one up to Steve’s still thawing brain.
• When Captain America saves the President from falling, he tells Cap “They’ve got Sharon” but how does he know who Sharon is or even her name?  Did he read ahead in the script?
• Steve Rogers and Sharon find their way to Italy via information found in Dr. Vaselli’s diary but there is no reason to believe the Red Skull would be living in his hometown under his original name, in fact, they only find out where actually he is because Valentina drops her purse that has the address of their current evil lair in it. Glad to see that the heroes win because the villains are morons.
• According to screenwriter Stephen Tolkin the Red Skull got a plastic surgery make-over because "I didn't think people wanted to keep looking at this horrible skull face forever.”

 

Sure, this look is so much more appealing.

If you can forgive how silly Captain America looks in the movie, goofy glued-on ears and all, the film still fails as an action film because not only is the thing clumsily edited to hide the fact that no one on set had any idea as to how to choreograph an action scene – tight shots and dark scenes are used to hide this deficit – but even if you let all that slide you still have a script that leaves talented actors like Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty and Darren McGavin sounding like guys who wouldn’t get part in a high school play, on the plus side, the dialogue is so unnatural and lame that when the clunky exposition is rattled off it is almost charming in its awfulness. The only standout moment in the film is when Steve Rogers “A man from another time” encounters his now-aged girlfriend and it’s a very sweet and tender moment with both actors being quite convincing, but then Bernie is tortured to death a little while later so that Cap can run off with her young daughter, and that’s not cool.

 

“I’m sure your mother would have wanted it this way.”

Director Albert Pyun has gone on record saying that "It's pretty difficult to make a film when there were times we actually had no money in the bank" and while this can explain away some of the movie’s failings, such as how cheap everything looks, that is only one of many issues this film suffers from. What’s odd is that Ronny Cox has since commented on the film saying “It remains to this day the finest script I have ever read... how those guys messed that film up, I will never know" which really begs the question, what was Tolkin’s original script like and where did it all go so drastically wrong? Needless to say, this film will make fans of “So bad it’s good” cinema happy but die-hard fans of Captain America from the Marvel Comics are left with another painful reminder that the road to the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a rocky one and that this entry was but one of the bigger bumps along the way.

Note: Albert Pyun has since released a “Director’s Cut” with 14-minutes of additional footage and some re-arranging of scenes, but the end result wasn’t any kind of improvement and it comes across more as a fan edit than a proper movie.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

The Death of the Incredible Hulk (1990) – Review

The third and final made-for-television Hulk movie was, like the previous two films, intended to be another backdoor pilot and would have teamed everyone’s favourite emerald giant with another Marvel character, the Sensational She-Hulk, but the planned introduction of the emerald giantess into the world of live-action was soon abandoned, instead, we were treated to the death of a beloved character and the end of an era.

This last entry in NBC’s made-for-television Incredible Hulk movies begins with David Banner (Bill Bixby) posing as a mentally challenged janitor so as to gain access to a scientific research facility and the work of scientist Dr. Ronald Pratt (Philip Sterling), who he believes may hold the key to ridding himself of the curse of the Hulk, unfortunately, other parties are also interested in the good doctor’s work and thus much of this movie’s plot centers around on a group of Eastern European spies doing typical evil spy stuff. At the heart of this espionage is the “woman of a thousand faces” Jasmine (Elizabeth Gracen), who thinks she has completed her last act of espionage only to be told by her boss Kasha (Andreas Katsulas) that if she doesn’t complete her next job, the theft of Pratt’s work, her sister Bella (Anna Katarina) will be killed. As is typical with this incarnation of the Incredible Hulk we will get Banner on the brink of curing himself of his monstrous other half only to have the experiment of the day interrupted and Hulk going off on a destructive rampage.

 

This is either part of an experiment or Banner is cosplaying as Magneto.

In this instance, the experiment is interrupted by Yasmine breaking into the lab to steal the files but all she achieves is unleashing the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) and putting poor Pratt in a coma. Yasmine is given one final chance to redeem herself by capturing Banner, who they believe is the only one left who can provide them with Pratt’s formula, but because these spies are morons they decide to execute Yasmine in the middle of the operation and this results in a firefight between them and Yasmine which results in her and Banner escaping together, also with the knowledge that Yasmine’s sister was never in danger and that she, in fact, is the leader of the spy network and the one who has ordered her death. One has to admit as plots go this one is a doozy and the romantic relationship that develops between Banner and Yasmine is quite touching, with her pointing out that she is surrounded by monsters whether it be her sister or an emerald giant, but where the film drops the ball is in the whole “Death of the Incredible Hulk” as what we get is less than spectacular.

 

Is his death caused by another failed experiment?

So how does the Incredible Hulk die? Well, the Hulk climbs aboard the private plane that Bella was using to escape, after the failed attempt at extracting information from a kidnapped Doctor Pratt – who woke up from a coma due to Banner’s psychic ministrations – and when Bella stupidly fires her gun into the plane’s fuel tank the resulting explosions throws the Hulk hurtlingly to the concrete runway hundreds of feet below. But surely falling isn’t something that can kill the Hulk, right? Such a fall wouldn’t even slow down the comic book Hulk and even this version of the Hulk has survived higher falls, so what is different here? Turns out this was never intended to be the actual “death” of the Hulk as he was to return in The Revenge of the Incredible Hulk but such a sequel was cancelled due to poor ratings and any plans to introduce She-Hulk or Iron Man would die along with the David Banner.

 

“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

Stray Observations:

• Does Banner give off some kind of pheromone that attracts muggers? The number of times he’s been mugged and forced to turn into the Hulk is pretty staggering.
• Banner correcting a scientist’s formula on a “chalkboard” could be a reference to a similar scene in the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.
• We get Banner explaining to Pratt that the Hulk is believed to be a murderer and is worried that someday that could be the case, but over the past decade the creature has done nothing but help people, and he should ask himself the question “How many people would be dead if the Hulk had never existed?”
• To trigger the transformation, so that they can study the Hulk, Banner electrocutes himself but wouldn’t simply be injecting himself with adrenaline work more effectively and certainly less painfully.
• Pratt is told his funding is being cut because his work has uncovered evidence that the genetic makeup of a person could be altered, with a government agent pointing out this could lead to the creation of a super-soldier, but if that’s the case why shut him down? Even if Pratt is against his work being used that way it’d be easy for the government to step in and take over once he’s finished.
• The foreign agents want Jasmine dead but Banner alive, believing he has Pratt’s secrets, yet they try and crush the truck they're in between two bulldozers, something which could have resulted in both of them dying.

 

"Hulk love monster trucks!"

It should be noted that there isn’t a lot of Hulk action in this movie, which can honestly be said about most of the series and the two previous made-for-television movies, but Bill Bixby’s performance has always been the core of this property and as lame as the Hulk’s demise was in this film one cannot fault Bixby or any of the other actors as they all bring their “A” game here and the writing overall was solid, as was Bixby’s direction as he helmed this one as well. As for the aforementioned relationship between Banner and Yasmine, well, this is the heart of this movie and both Bill Bixby and Elizabeth Gracen have great screen chemistry and her and Banner's desire to run off and live their lives together, before being drawn back into the spy mess by Yasmine’s compatriots, is heartbreaking as is their final moments when Jasmine grips the hand of the dying Banner and says "David, no, don't die. We can be free now" and he calmly responds "Jasmine... I am free." It’s moments like this that make you forgive a show’s limitations in the action area and also makes this final curtain call quite memorable, and while this final chapter suffered in the action area it does pack enough of an emotional wallop to recommend.

Note: Even though She-Hulk didn’t make the cut in this film New World Pictures decided to give the character a shot with Larry Cohen at the helm, a script by Carl Gottlieb Danish and actress Brigitte Nielsen in the title role. sadly, investors for such an epic adventure never materialized and the film vanished into the ether.

Monday, September 5, 2022

The Punisher (1989) – Review

Don Pendleton's pulp action book series “The Executioner,” told the story of a Vietnam veteran and his wars against organized crime after his family was killed by the Mafia, sound familiar? Yeah, it was that book series that Marvel comic book writer Gerry Conway took for inspiration in the creation of one of the most popular anti-heroes in fiction, one that should easily translate to the big screen as action revenge pictures had been a Hollywood staple for years, so this live-action adaption was bound to be a sure-fire hit, right?

As was the case with Don Pendleton’s “The Executioner” the character of Frank Castle was a U.S. Marine who after seeing his wife and children gunned down, after accidentally witnessing a Mafia hit, became the vigilante known as “The Punisher” and with his signature Death’s Head Skull adorning his chest he began his one-man war against organized crime. That is the origin of the Punisher as found in Marvel Comics, which bears very little resemblance to the character found in this New World Pictures movie of the same name, not only is his origin story changed but for some bizarre reason director Mark Goldblatt decided to forgo Frank Castle’s distinctive costume, seriously, what was he thinking? This version of the Punisher has no giant skull emblazoned on his chest, instead, he uses a knife with a little skull at the end of the hilt, and while I can understand an action director from the 90s not wanting his hero dressed in spandex but by removing that trademark emblem he’s simply not the Punisher anymore.

 

Yeah, who would want to see this in a movie?

In this film, there is no tragic mishap that finds a family wiped out by the Mafia, here we have Frank Castle (Dolph Lundgren) as an undercover police detective who loses his wife and kids when a car bomb meant for him takes them out instead, and sure, this does result in Castle becoming a vigilante and waging a secret war against organized crime but his character is so off model you have to close one eye and squint to even start to compare the two, and I’m not even talking about his lack of costume because even if he was sporting the iconic Punisher skull and ammo belt he’d still be a far cry from the relentless killer from the pages of Marvel Comics. That’s not to say this Frank Castle doesn’t provide a fairly good body count, we are told that he’s killed one hundred twenty-five people as The Punisher, and during the film’s running time he kills sixty more and that’s not including those who die en masse in explosions, but he also has a softer side.

 

The Punisher is a friend to all children.

The movie does get off to a nice start with mob boss Dino Moretti (Bryan Marshall) being acquitted for the crime of murdering Frank Castle’s family only to return home to find The Punisher waiting for him and his crew, where he quickly takes out all the goons one by one until finally planting his trademark knife in Moretti’s back and then blowing up the mansion, yet for some strange reason, this is followed by a strange tour of the sewers where we hear the voice of Castle questioning the All-Mighty, “Come on God, answer me. For years I'm asking why. Why are the innocent dead and the guilty alive? Where is justice? Where is punishment? Or have you already answered, have you already said to the world here is justice, here is punishment, here, in me?” Is it just me or does that sound more like the ravings of the serial killer Son of Sam than it does a comic book vigilante? And one further question, “Why is he hanging around naked in the sewers?

 

Even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had the decency to wear shells.

The death of Dino Moretti forces former kingpin Gianni Franco (Jeroen KrabbĂ©) out of retirement but his attempt at marshalling the remaining underworld families into one strong unified force comes to the attention of Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori), the current leader of the Yakuza, and she decides to take over the weakened Mafia families and all of their interests. After crashing a boardroom meeting she is quick to point out to the Mafia dons that “We are Yakuza. When your ancestors were shepherds still screwing sheep on the Mediterranean coast, ours were the crime lords of Asia” but how does she hope to achieve this without causing a major crime war? It’s simple really, she kidnaps their children and holds them for ransom. One must admit that for an action film the premise of the Punisher caught in a war between the Mafia and the Yakuza is pretty solid, unfortunately, what we get isn’t really the Punisher and the action is of the low-rent variety found in many cheap action films of the 80s with the hero standing in the open, firing away at his enemies, while all the bad guys can’t hit the broadside of a Dolph Lundgren.  Then there is the subplot concerning Castle’s old partner Detective Jake Berkowitz (Louis Gossett Jr.) and his new partner Detective Samantha "Sam" Leary (Nancy Everhard), who is trying to prove to the world that Frank Castle is still alive.  Which really shouldn't be too hard as he doesn't exactly keep a low profile.

Question: How can the police keep pushing the story that Frank Castle is dead when he practically poses for the Press after a kill?

Stray Observations:

  • Castle is assumed to have died in the car bomb that killed his wife and two daughters but wouldn’t the lack of his burnt remains at the scene of the crime cast doubt on that assumption? Does forensics not exist in this world?
  • Nancy Everhard, who plays Detective Samantha Leary, also starred in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk which came out the very same year as this film.
  • Frank Castle uses a bottle of whiskey on a remote-controlled toy truck to lure his snitch into a meeting, clearly, the Punisher is a dick to alcoholics.
  • Lady Tanaka lures Frank Castle into an ambush at an old and abandoned funhouse, but why that location? Is she the leader of the Yakuza or working for the Joker?
  • Frank Castle disables the elevators in the Yakuza high rise, forcing Berkowitz and the SWAT team to wait until they are fixed, and I must ask “Does this building not have stairs or do the police in this town just have terrible cardio?”
  • When Leary brings Berkowitz over to her computer, he asks her “What you think you're gonna do with that? Play Ms. Pac-Man or something?” as if computers weren’t a tool the police have been using for decades, this does not instill faith in our hero cop.

 

“I don’t need a computer, I have a map and push pins.”

A movie pitting the Punisher against ninjas should have resulted in a very entertaining flick but New World Pictures didn’t quite have a handle on the action genre at this time, they should have taken a page out of Cannon Films whose Chuck Norris' Missing in Action films as they made a killing with those, and it’s not because those films were especially good they were just a lot of fun, and speaking of fun when it comes to ninjas you don’t get much better than Cannon’s Ninja III: The Domination and that’s where The Punisher really fails, it’s simply not all that enjoyable. Dolph Lundgren’s brooding Frank Castle is not all that interesting, the action sequences were rather poorly choreographed and even something like him machine gun-wielding ninjas on funhouse slides was orchestrated without any sense of fun or energy. How do you mess up something like that?

Answer: Shoot everything dark and blurry so we can’t tell what’s going on.

With tired and often silly action sequences filling up much of the screen time it’s up to the script to hold the film together but as the writer of this film never met an action clichĂ© he didn’t like what we are left with is a collection completely unnecessary characters and a plot that constantly contradicts itself, for example, Castle is broken out of police custody by Gianni Franco so that he can be sent off to save Franco’s son Tommy (Brian Rooney), who the Yakuza had also grabbed, but when Castle refuses to help Franco threatens to kill his old partner Berkowitz, but why is that threat necessary? Earlier in the film Castle had promised Tommy he’d come back and save him, after rescuing all the other children from the Yakuza, so Castle telling Franco he won’t help is pointless and stupid. Then after another endless and ridiculous shootout, where we learn you shouldn’t bring a katana to a gunfight, the film concludes with Castle killing Tommy’s father right in front of him, to which he then tells the kid “You're a good boy. Grow up to become a good man, because if not, I'll be waiting.” It’s nice to see a movie that can be so inspirational.

 

The Punisher is a friend to all children.

At the time of this movie's release the current owners of New World Pictures weren't interested in theatrical films so The Punisher never saw a North American release, it did premiere in Germany and France but it was banned in Sweden and South Africa, and with limited box office receipts and poor reviews any thought of a sequel was quickly abandoned, so in conclusion, if watching Dolph Lundgren tool around the sewers on a motorbike, in between his naked monologuing, sounds appealing then this could be the film for you but it’s certainly not a film that most fans of the comic book could ever embrace.