Thursday, January 13, 2011

NBC's "The Cape" - First Impressions

I believe that NBC was intentionally distributing absolutely terrible and misleading promotional material for The Cape, promoting it as a gritty and dark superhero drama. I’m happy to say that despite having a cape, using a cape as a weapon, and being named “The Cape,” The Cape has a lot more in common with campy pulp action heroes than the cape wearing “fights and tights” comic book super-heroes, and that’s a good thing.

In the fictional Palm City, Detective Vince Faraday (David Lyons) is one of the few clean cops left on the force, which is in the process of being privatized by the ARK Corporation. Disillusioned by police corruption, he reluctantly joins ARK Private Security after his Chief is murdered by the masked serial killer, Chess. When the mysterious Orwell sends him a tip about a weapons smuggling ring, Faraday and his partner check out the operation only to have his partner betray him to Chess, who turns out to be Peter Fleming, British CEO of ARK Corporation. Gasp!

Rook and Knight contacts. When you pick a theme go big or go home. 

Vince then gets the Chess mask stapled to his head and is set loose to run around a train yard while ARK troopers chase him down in full view of news helicopters. Turns out ARK wants to take credit for taking out Chess, and Faraday appears to die in an explosion. He’s rescued (sort of) by Max Milani (Keith David), ringmaster of the Circus of Crime. In exchange for his life, Vince gives Max an ARC security key card, aiding the Circus in their bank robberies.

Vince knows he has to stay underground to protect his family from Fleming, and thus has Max train him in arts of illusion and combat so he can pose as The Cape, Vince’s son’s favourite comic-book superhero, to send a message to his son that one man can make a difference. This involves wrestling a little person.

Cape-fu is the second most deadly carnival martial art. The first is improper-tilt-a-whirl-maintenance-jitsu. 

He has a training montage, teams up with Orwell (who turns out to be a hot chick (Summer Glau)), thwarts the smuggling operation, and visits his kid as The Cape (in character) and delivering his message of hope. Really, in character as The Cape. It’s like if my dad was framed for murder and my dad showed up outside my house dressed as Spider-Man to tell me my dad and been framed and to not lose hope. For me, that would be awesome, but for Vince’s kid that reeeeeeealy can’t be good for his mental health.

And in the second episode Vince builds the Cape Cave, immunizes himself to about twenty poisonous fish/insects/frogs, saves a city council member from a French chef/assassin named Cain, GRILLS said French chef/assassin, and finally makes himself a mask.

Grilled Cain is the low cholesterol alternative to fried Cain.

If this sounds ridiculous, it is. If it sounds awesome, it is. Critics have been throwing around accusations of it being a Batman ripoff; people, The Cape isn’t a low-rent Batman. Instead of training with ninjas in a vaguely Asian mountain range, The Cape learns his craft from the second most devious humans known to man: carnies. They teach him to hypnotize, use his cape, the ways of an escape artist, and presumably how to sell overpriced popcorn. He hides in a subway and his biggest trump cards are his stage presence and the fact that he’s legally dead. If anything, The Cape is the plucky love child of pulp heroes The Spirit and The Shadow.

Vinnie Jones with iguana makeup and a vinyl suit isn't as amazing as you think it is. It's amazinger.

The acting is hit or miss, but the stand out performance is Keith David as Max Milani. David could sound menacing and persuasive reading the ingredients off a tub of Häagen-Dazs . The five ingredient Häagen-Dazs, even.

Story wise, The Cape doesn’t bring anything revolutionary to the table and the first two episodes aren’t without their flaws. Even me, the most forgiving of action movie viewers, almost pulled a muscle rolling my eyes at some of the plot developments and dialogue.  That being said it’s amazing how the show is simultaneously ridiculous and sincere. A masked serial killer named “Chess” lurks in the shadows of Palm City, a scaly thug named "Scales" (Vinnie Jones) is the top smuggler, and a bunch of travelling circus performers are the most prolific bank robbers on the west coast. But gosh darn it, they pull it off. Nobody stops to look at the camera and apologize for living in an insane world; they take a villain with a rook and a knight for pupils as seriously as they would any other serial killer. But that’s not to say that The Cape is morose. There’s enough self aware glibness and intentional humor to keep the show thoroughly enjoyable. 

There’s room for improvement, but with its hate-able villains, swashbuckling soundtrack, and ridiculous dialogue all played completely straight, The Cape is a return to 30s radio drama and I eagerly await the next episodes.

Kitchens are never this empty. The illusion is shattered for me.

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