Friday, March 28, 2008

It Came From the Forgotten Filmography Fridays 2

Captain Invincible

The Return of Captain Invincible (dir. Philippe Mora, 1983)

Distributor: Jensen-Farley Pictures.
“Everything’s going to be just great again!”
Brief Synopsis: Superhero musical where a disillusioned Captain Invincible (Alan Arkin) must return from his exile to battle the evil Mister Midnight (Christopher Lee) steals the Giggle Gun and Hypno-Ray. There’s some singing, some crimefighting, and a lot of general ridiculous.

“This is the American Eagle Network…”

Much like last week’s Forgotten Filmography, I am initially intrigued by this week’s selection. I enjoy musicals, superheroes, and the work of Richard O’Brien (best known for The Rocky Horror Picture Show.) So maybe another film that combines those things might actually be good, unlike Empire of the Ants. Reserving judgment...

It opens with a “News on the March” segment about Captain Invincible busting bootleggers, Nazis, and eventually being blacklisted by McCarthyism and Communist paranoia. Richard O’Brien’s influence is tangible here, there’s a definite sense of genre self-awareness and relish in the goofiness, kitchiness, and melodrama inherent in the superhero genre. This should be no surprise, given his previous projects, like (Shock Treatment [Sharman, 1981,] the “sequel” to Rocky Horror, for example.) Captain Invincible’s nostalgia for the past is something of a reoccurring motif in these works (Dr. Frankenfurter’s cry of “Whatever happened to Faye Wray?” at the end of Rocky Horror.)

When we catch up to “the present day” (with a slide in and out, and the opening credits,) we get a taste of the score, which is pretty good. The shot composition is generally epic in scope, mockingly at times, with Captain Invincible, now a drunken vagrant, stumbling about and screaming “New York, New York” off-key. Alan Arkin is a strange choice for a superhero, but he does an alright job, both as the vagrant Captain and capturing his heroic nature, and his return to heroism.

“Meanwhile in the northern hemisphere…” the narration here expertly satirizes the over-the-top melodrama of superhero comics. Mister Midngiht’s agents are also appropriately absurd (a man with a half shaved head, for example, and a woman who looks like a man in drag.) Christopher Lee, of course, is an awesome supervillain, no surprise to anyone who is familiar with any of his contemporary blockbuster work (Saruman, Count Dooku,) or his work as a darkly comic villain in particular (Doctor Catheter in Gremlins 2: The New Batch [Dante, 1990.]) Nobody can say “Today, New York, tomorrow, the World!” quite like he can.

The special effects are awful, even by 1983 standards, but unlike Empire of the Ants, I think the push was made to be bad and obvious even by 1983 standards. The weapons Mister Midnight steals (the Giggle Gun, and the hypno ray) are appropriate hilarious. The special effects are random and nonsensical (the printer in the police office makes Pac-Man noises, and so does Captain Invincible near the film’s end.)

The first song is synth-heavy and features the President saying “Bullshit” over and over again. It gives me a taste of what we’re looking towards. The singing is not exceptional, a lot of it seems like amateur dinner theater. But it’s pretty funny, especially if you appreciate camp like Rocky Horror. So it’s an acquired taste to be sure. “The Good Guys and the Bad Guys” number (a country-western tune) is also similarly hilarious. Mister Midnight’s song number an hour in as also hilarious.

The actor playing the President is a bit of a ham, but that’s hardly a fault here. It’s like the director just kept screaming “More over the top! More! More! Do you still see the top? Then you aren’t pushing hard enough!” The generals are the same way.

The film then chronicles Captain Invincible’s attempts to learn how to be a hero again. He has magnet powers, an “amazing computer brain” and flight. Of course, they don’t work as expected. The script is pretty decently structured, the dialogue is a good mix between cheeky, campy, and dead melodramatic seriousness.


At one point Alan Arkin is literally eating the scenery. I think everybody here had a lot of fun making this movie, and it shows. The flashbacks get a little oblique and bizarre at times. You almost see a girl get taken advantage of by common household appliances.

Just 90 miutes, this film is a series of bizarre set pieces. The deli scene is especially strange.

I’m not sure if I can qualify this as a “good” movie. But it’s a fun movie. If you like kitsch, camp, or Rocky Horror, give this a watch. Is it as good as Rocky Horror? Or as bad? Or as spectacularly campy? No. But it’s passable. You also get to see Alan Arkin shove a midget into a barrel. Nothing beats that. B-/C+.

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