Impulse Buy Theater - Black Scorpion
Part 2 of how I spent my drunken New Year’s Eve! See Part 1 HERE.
Comic books have a linear progression in their history: the emergence of Superman kicks off the Golden Age, the return of superheroes after the firestorm started by Dr. Frederic Wertham in the shape of the Barry Allen Flash or the Hal Jordan Green Lantern started the Silver Age, the re-emergence of darker stories, themes and social relevance marked the Bronze Age and, lastly, heroes and villains have become more psychologically complex than ever here in the Modern Age. While comic book historians (again, how exactly does one get that job and or title???) may argue when each age begins and ends, the structure remains linear and the defining traits are generally agreed upon. Comic book or superhero cinema might follow along similar lines…if we look at the above time periods a little differently. For the sake of this argument, let’s call the Golden Age the beginning, the Silver Age where things start to get a bit silly, the Bronze Age where things start to get darker…but there’s still some silliness and then the Modern Age that brings more complex storytelling. In that framework, we can point to Superman 1 and 2 being landmarks of the Golden Age, the remaining films in the franchise falling in more with the Silver Age. Tim Burton’s Batman would start our Bronze Age and 1999’s Blade and 2000’s X-Men would usher in our Modern Age. Thinking over the glut of comic book films that would emerge in the 1990s, I’m not so sure how well that argument works…as the lion’s share of them proved to be rather silly, showing that the opinion of the source material had not moved enough away from being considered as the stuff of children and maybe adolescents to yield mature storytelling.
(Yes, I did have this argument in my head whilst a fourth of the way into a bottle of whiskey, thank you very much.)
The point of all that is to introduce Black Scorpion, a 1995 Roger Corman production that really is a product of its time; it has the sensibility of comic book films of the era and the low budget sensibilities that spring to mind the minute you hear Roger Corman’s name. Within the Wikipedia summary for this film, a “campy” tone is referenced. However, looking at 90s comic book films in general (with the possible exclusions of Batman Returns and The Crow), it’s not so much camp as it is Hollywood’s flawed perception of the source material. That being said, while the Black Scorpion does not find her origins within the pages of a comic, she, like say…Darkman, is certainly born from the genre. Those origins? Well, undercover cop Darcy Walker becomes a fishnet and stiletto wearing vigilante when her father is killed by a seemingly brainwashed District Attorney. Turns out he was just a pawn in an asthmatic mad scientists plot to use air purification towers to either kill everyone or dispense a mind control agent…I can’t remember which. [So much for that belief that alcohol improves the memory, eh? – Ed.] It’s very cookie-cutter with all the plot points you’d expect; the complications of leading a double life, the emergence of a sidekick (or at least an ally), a “-mobile” and the hero and villain are tied together through some past event. [Maybe that merits a Spoiler Warning? – Ed.] The film does take an interesting detour/unique solution to the old superhero trope of the love interest not being interested in the actual person behind the mask yet is in love or at least attracted to the costumed identity.
This leads us directly into a discussion of the cast…only two of which are all that noteworthy: Joan Severance and Garret Morris. How does that lead us directly into a discussion of the cast? Because that unique solution is when we get to see Joan nekkid. [Do you realize we have to pay Joe Bob Briggs every time you put it like that? For the love of God man, at least spell it out properly and save us a couple of bucks! – Ed.] Anyway, yeah…her acting is a couple of notches above what you’d expect from fare such as this, but really, all it needs to do is not break the illusion the movie is trying to paint…and it really doesn’t. It’s just fine. (Actually, here's a 'next-day-edit'...some of her fighting scenes are a little weak. To be blunt...she hits like a girl. This is probably most apparent in training scenes early on in the movie where she's hitting a training bag. It looks exactly like what it is...a model half-assedly trying to hit something.) Besides, honestly, acting’s not what we’re here for, now is it? Nope. She looks great in that costume…and out of it, if you know what I mean and I think you do. [DAMMIT! We have to pay him for that one too! Seriously, can you NOT come up with your own material??? – Ed.] IMDB says that the costume was actually stitched on to her…and honestly, I’d believe it…because in her first scene in costume, one of those high kicks kinda shifted things down below where…well…let’s say it’s hard to cover a moving target, right? I might be wrong. This may require multiple viewings to be sure…just hang on… [Get back here and finish the damn review. – Ed.] Ahem…as for Garret Morris, well, I can’t see the guy and still not think FRANCISCO FRANCO IS STILL DEAD. That out of the way, he’s as likeable and charming as you’d want and I certainly enjoyed his performance. Hell, he’s so charming that it didn’t dawn on me that at one point he describes the car’s transformation as “the atoms change at the molecular level” until I was writing this review. Sure, it could’ve been the alcohol…it was a little more than halfway through the movie…and I was pulling shots at a good pace by this point in the evening…so…yeah, it probably WAS the alcohol…but still, his car thief/chop shop owner-guy Argyle was still well done. The remainder of the cast, well...is forgetable. No real standouts...either providing stock characters that we've seen many times before or, well, doing nothing terribly special in such a way that they disappeared into the fog of my alcohol-riddled brain.
When it comes to sets, effects, costumes (save for Ms. Severance’s half a costume…and there’s nothing wrong with that!) and so forth, this is very much a Roger Corman production, so, you know, you should be well aware of the bar being pretty damn low. If you don’t…seriously, you are on the wrong website. Adding…or should I say subtracting…to this is the “integration” of some computer effects…mainly the morphing of the car and the car’s HUD…but I’m sure there are other occasional occurrences. It’s right on par to where syndicated TV shows were in integrating said effects during the mid-90s.
As to whether or not to recommend the film, I’d say if you see it on Netflix or some other streaming service or can rent it, definitely check it out. To buy it…well…if you can find it on the cheap. It really doesn’t add too much to what’s seen in many of the superhero films that came out in the 90s and certainly adheres to a ‘Silver Age’-ish mentality…that being some darker elements are present but still over all mostly juvenile and silly. In some ways, it’s kinda like that friend of yours in middle school that thought he was an adult because he could use the word ‘fuck’ properly about 70% of the time. Yes, Black Scorpion gives us some nudity, but its actual subject matter is very much in line with the same PG-13 material that Hollywood was putting out at the time too. But you know, sometimes that aforementioned friend was really cool to hang out with. And Black Scorpion is one of those times. It’s not gonna work for you every time…but sometimes, when there’s just enough alcohol coursing through the veins…it’s pretty alright.
And there’s a sequel and a TV series…meh…all right, I’m game.