It’s tough being a superhero, maintaining a secret identity while supervillains throw buildings at you all day, and it takes its toll. After a while, too many superheroes lose their sense of humour, start to appear po-faced and just aren’t fun to be around anymore.
Fortunately for film fans, there are several superhero movies that never take themselves too seriously and maintain the fun. They know that a guy who wears a cape and tights looks ridiculous discussing politics so they just get on with the business of delivering some campy entertainment.
The heroes in these films don’t stand for squat, have no interest in politics and in some cases are seriously mentally ill, but you’ve got to love a guy who has no problem throwing a midget assassin out of an airplane. Let’s see you top that, Captain America.
Here, then, are the 10 superheroes who need to be called into action once more. They won’t take a stand against inequality or solve the world’s problems, but when it comes to fighting vampire cows and Mexican mummies, nobody’s better.
10. Super (2010)
Imagine Kick Ass on an indie budget and you’ve got James Gunn’s Super, a virtual guide on how to put aside your shortcomings and mental problems and transform yourself into a hero.
Spurred on by “visions” in which he sees Jesus, demons and a superhero known as Holy Avenger, Frank (Rainn Wilson) becomes The Crimson Bolt and resolves to rescue his wife from the arms of sleazy drug dealer Jacques (Kevin Bacon). Lacking actual powers, Frank fights his enemies off with a wrench before finding a partner called Boltie (Ellen Page), a comic book store employee who turns out to be a violence-loving psychopath.
The movie addresses one of the oldest questions in comic books: how damaged do you have to be to consider dressing up and fighting crime? The answer, at least in Frank’s case, is very damaged indeed, but as it turns out, his actions have positive consequences and rid the world of a scumbag while allowing a good person to live a full life.
9. The Toxic Avenger (1984)
The first superhero from New Jersey, The Toxic Avenger is the alter ego of nerdy janitor Melvin Junko, who’s transformed into a creature of superhuman size and strength after falling into (you guessed it) a vat of toxic waste. Looking like a more threatening version of Sloth from The Goonies, he advises one villain to “tell all your scum friends that things are gonna change in this town. I’m not just a pretty face.”
This is a Troma movie, so the production values are threadbare, the performances are best described as enthusiastic and the movie is less concerned with narrative than setting up the next gross out gag. Heads are crushed, a blind girl’s guide dog is killed and the villainous Mayor has his stomach torn open with the zinger “Let’s see if you’ve got any guts.”
Unlike most superheroes, Toxie doesn’t mope around constantly debating where fighting crime ends and vigilantism begins, he just gets on with the business of ridding the world of scum. A true hero of the people, he knows that if someone doesn’t stand up to the corporations and the ego-soaked, power-crazed politicians then a billionaire celebrity with no political experience will ultimately establish a dictatorship.
But that’s another movie.
8. Robo Geisha (2009)
By Japanese standards, RoboGeisha is reasonably restrained – in the first 10 minutes, only a handful of people are killed. True, they’re killed by shuriken fired from a girl’s butt, but for the country that gave us Horny House Of Horror (2010) and Rape Zombie: Lust Of The Dead (2012), death by butt shuriken seems almost respectable.
The film tells the story of Yoshie (Aya Kiguchi), a downtrodden teenager inducted into a mysterious company that trains geisha girls to be assassins. After genetic modification, the girls can shoot bullets from their breasts, release samurai blades from their armpits or unleash their most powerful weapon, a flesh-eating substance known as “breast milk from hell.”
When Yoshie goes rogue, it leads to everything you want to see in a movie called RoboGeisha – lots of fight sequences involving scantily-clad women. However, special mention must be made of the climactic duel, where each opponent employs her “butt sword.” It’s moments like this that define Japanese cinema in the 21st century.
7. Neutron The Atomic Superman Vs The Death Robots (1962)
Latvian-born Wolf Ruvinskis plays the hero in this cheap and campy Mexican movie, made to cash in on the then popular Santo series of films. Don’t go thinking that this crime fighter is simply a Santo knock-off, however – Santo wears a silver mask but Neutron wears a black mask, so he’s a completely different character.
His opponent is Dr Caronte, a supervillain in the Nicolas Cage mould, which means that he has three settings: twitchy, over the top and MWAHAHAHA!!! When the pair last met, in Neutron And The Black Mask, the crime fighter put the kibosh on his scheme to build a bomb, so this time the doc isn’t taking any chances and creates a robot army to help him take over the world.
The doc’s evil masterplan involves stealing the brains of three scientists (literally – he keeps them in jars) and using their stored knowledge to create another super-powerful bomb, although given that he wears a white mask, employs a dwarf assistant and is given to camp theatrics, he shouldn’t prove too hard to track down and defeat.
6. Supersonic Man (1979)
Clark Kent’s a pretty dull fellow and instead of standing up for truth and justice, all his alter ego seems interested in these days is cashing the cheques from a series of increasingly clunky films. Far more interesting is his Spanish equivalent, who who wears red tights, a blue cape and a sequined mask.
Supersonic Man’s powers include the ability to see through walls, lift bulldozers (once they’ve turned into wooden props) and turn handguns into bananas, though he spends most of the film being dangled in front of rear-projected aerial footage while chintzy music plays. He’s on Earth to stop Dr Gulik (Cameron Mitchell), an evil genius living in a hollowed-out volcano who wants to kidnap a famous scientist and develop a world-conquering weapon.
In other words, a mild-mannered Spanish-speaking superhero has to defeat a crazy American billionaire in order to save the world from destruction. Which is easily done because Dr Gulik turns out to be a pushover, more interested in quoting Shakespeare and comparing himself to Julius Caesar than putting any serious thought into his masterplan.
Crazy billionaire taking over the planet? Couldn’t happen here.