This is a movie that completely escaped my attention as it made the festival rounds last year and it even played near me in Chicago last April, but I did notice it when it came out on DVD as it appeared at my local Wal-Mart. Since it was a lower budget indie movie I had to look farther into it and contacted the writer/director and got to interview William Katt who is the executive producer and plays the main villain in the movie Matanza which you can view here. But aside from that, it is another different take on the superhero movie. It’s a film noir thriller set in the 20’s & 40’s following the story of Ian Sparks and his descent into the underbelly of the superhero culture. There’s plenty of twists and turns and things don’t turn out quite the way one might expect. It has a bit of a slow start, but once the action starts happening it goes on right through the end.
The story of Sparks is somewhat of a mishmash of several types of origin stories combined and tied together. There’s the meteor strike in Rochester which kills many people with its radiation, but there were 13 survivors who developed super powers and yet most of them kept their powers secret from the general public. Sparks himself was involved in a train crash which killed his parents and was doused with a mysterious chemical which gave him powers, though the full extent of those powers weren’t fully realized to him until late in the movie. And there’s also a small handful of costumed vigilantes that come into popularity which Sparks buys into. All three of these groups intersect throughout Sparks’ rise and fall as he follows the trail of Matanza as well as the person responsible for his parents’ deaths.
The two main leads in this movie are played by Chase Williamson as Sparks and Ashley Bell as Lady Heavenly and they both do quite well in their roles. They have nice chemistry with each other, both during the times when they are together and also the times when they are more at odds with each other. Chase handles both the confident hero at the beginning of the movie as well as the down on his luck hero scraping to get by as the movie goes on. It’s also great to see Clancy Brown as Archer, one of the more interesting characters that starts off as Sparks’ unseen protector and his role gradually changes through the course of the movie. I was also a big fan of Marina Squerciati as Dawn, the shapeshifting descendant of one of the Rochester 13 though that’s partly due to my love of shapeshifters as a whole. But the effects for those moments were some of the best and most seamless ones in the movie. And finally there’s William Katt playing Matanza, the villain who spends most of the movie unseen, but makes a big impact both with the build-up as well as his brief on-screen time.
There were a few minor issues that I had with the movie, I don’t usually talk about the costume design in a movie, but since this was a period piece I did pay a bit more attention to it and I thought most of the costumes looked great, especially some of the classic looking femme fatale designs for Dawn, and I also quite liked the simple, yet effective designs for the superhero costumes of Sparks and Lady Heavenly, as well as the interesting looking helmet for Jake Busey’s Sledge. What I was slightly distracted by though, was Sparks’ hooded sweatshirt which pops up from time to time and while they may have been around during that time, it didn’t feel like it was from that time period. I also wasn’t entirely sold on the framing device of Sparks telling his story to the newspaper. It felt a little unneeded at times, but I did enjoy seeing Clint Howard as the hard nosed editor in chief and I also liked the payoff at the end with the low man on the totem pole at the paper writing the story at the end.
What this movie really does best is getting to the heart of Sparks’ rise and fall. Sure, most of the big budget superheroes have problems, some of them will even go a bit on the darker side of things to accomplish what is necessary for the greater good, but Sparks goes beyond that, something along the lines of Tony Stark’s demon in a bottle storyline, at least from what I understand of it. There’s a point in this movie where Sparks hits rock bottom, and it’s tough to see, but it fits in perfectly with the style of this movie and the rest of what’s going on. Not only that, but it makes his eventual redemption come off that much more hard-earned. It’s movies like these that really make me enjoy writing for this site because this is one of those movies that I probably never would have given a second look to otherwise. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.