Sunday, February 26, 2017

Blankman v. Meteor Man: Clash of the Black Superhero Parodies Part 1

When it comes to black superheroes in live-action, it’s been a mixed bag. I still haven’t seen 2003’s Catwoman and I won't go through that torture. Recently, it’s been going well with Marvel Studios doing good things and DC (movie and TV divisions) putting different superheroes and characters out there. Before the 2000’s, it wasn’t looking too good. Yeah, there was Blade but other than that, we had Steel and Spawn. Y’all already know what I think of Steel. Where these two movies end on that wagon is a matter for debate. Today, it’ll be 1993’s The Meteor Man vs. 1994’s Blankman.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a face-off between two things. The last time I tried this was between the two live-action Hulk movies. These two movies are at least on similar footing quality-wise and theme-wise. They’re both parodies of the superhero genre. The Meteor Man parodies Superman as well Spider-Man while Blankman is pretty much a parody of the 1960’s Batman show. Not only do they feature black superheroes, they also came out around the same era. For a while, I wondered which of these movies were better and I found them over time. Since it’s Black History Month, I’m going to see what the better movie was.

First, here’s a general overview of the movies:
  • In The Meteor Man, Robert Townsend plays as Jefferson Reed (I almost want to call him Jefferson Pierce), a mild-mannered teacher from Washington D.C. He stays in a neighborhood which is being terrorized by a gang called the Golden Lords. One night, Jeff is hit by a green meteor and is given super powers. He has the usual stuff like super strength and x-ray vision. He can also talk to his dog and can retain the knowledge of any book for 30 seconds by touching it. When the Golden Lords go too far, Jeff becomes Meteor Man and heads out to stop crime in the neighborhood and city. Things get worrisome when the Golden Lords find out his identity and he begins to lose his powers.
  • In Blankman, Damon Wayans plays as Darryl Walker, an overly nerdy repairman who lives in a city (probably Detroit) which is undergoing a cop strike. When his grandmother is killed by robbers sent by the film’s villain, he sets out to be come a superhero like Batman. Through the use of different gadgets, his bulletproof suit (not the face), and his trusty robot/washing machine, he becomes Blankman. He even gets his more rational brother, Kevin, roped into the whole thing. He even gets a pretty fine reporter chasing after him.

The Hero
First off, it’s our main protagonists. I already went through their backstories above. Both guys are pretty much the downtrodden guy though Darryl is much more over-the-top. They both come from bad neighborhoods and try their best to put things right as superheroes. They also have valid reasons for doing what they do. With Darryl, it’s the death of his grandmother. For Jeff, it’s the constant terror his family and friends get put through by the Golden Lords. They also have to overcome obstacles with the crime-fighting and it comes from mostly everywhere even those close to them.

I do like both characters and the actors do fine in the roles.  I do think Damon Wayans goes over-the-top at times but it is a spoof, after all. I think he read “The Abridged Book of Nerdness” or something for his portrayal. Townsend’s character is much more straight-laced but he has times where he does get silly. He also actually has a bit of an arc in the movie. His powers and stature cause him to build a backbone and stand up for himself. As for their costumes, they’re alright. I’d have to give it to Meteor Man’s costume though. Blankman’s costume is a little too much for me and yes, I know I’m not supposed to take it seriously.

At the end of the day, it’s kind of tough to choose who the better character is. Darryl is incredibly smart and brave but he is kind of annoying at times and a bit dim-witted for my tastes. Jeff is good as the hero but sometimes on the bland side. In the end, I’m going with Jeff on this one. Not only was he not annoying at times, he also had a nice character arc. Darryl had his nice moments but his weirdness could be a bit of a turn off.

The Meteor Man – 1
Blankman – 0

The Villains
Next up is the villains. On Meteor Man’s side, there are the Golden Lords led by Simon (Roy Fegan). They aren’t the only villains of the movie though. The Golden Lords answer to an organization of criminals led by a boss played by Frank Gorshin. On Blankman’s side, there’s Mafia boss Mike Minelli (Joe Polatio). The Golden Lords and Minelli put some terror into their respective heroes’ cities though it’s actually Minelli who take s a more lethal approach. Of course, they all get taken down in embarrassing ways toward the end. They are villains in a parody after all.

Both sets of villains are pretty cheesy. Just take one look at the Golden Lords and you’ll see what I mean. Just look out for a younger Don Cheadle in the role of Goldilocks (yeah, that’s his name). Simon even gains powers toward the end from a spare meteor rock but his battle with Jeff is more funny than epic. The organization led by the Riddler is not really a factor until the end and even then, they’re just there. Minelli seemed a bit more straight-laced in Blankman but he still feels like he came out of Golden Age comic book. He even had a big painting of himself at his hideout.

As for which villains are better, I’m a little stuck. They’re not particularly great villains but they bring the laughs and they also do villainous deeds. I did think it was strange that the Golden Lords never killed anyone in the movie. There’s really no reason given on why that is. On the other hand, Minelli and his guys bring up the death count. Not only does Darryl’s grandmother get killed, the city’s mayor gets blown up in a bank! I have to say that’s some legitimate street cred! Overall, I’m going with Minelli on this one. The Golden Lords were funny but felt a little tame for their movie.

The Meteor Man – 1
Blankman – 1

Side Characters
Then we get to the side characters:
  • Blankman has Kevin Walker (Darryl’s brother) who is a cameraman at the station where Kimberly Jonz (Robin Givens) works at.  He's also Other Guy, Blankman's more competent sidekick. As for Kimberly, she’s pretty much the Lois Lane of the story. We get Kevin’s boss, Larry Stone, who’s played by Jason Alexander. Then, we have Darryl’s grandmother played by Lynne Thigpen and the city’s mayor.
  •  The Meteor Man has quite a few. We got Jeff’s friend and confidant, Michael (Eddie Griffin). We have Jeff’s parents played by Marla Gibbs and Robert Guillaume. Then, there’s Jeff neighbors. The ones who we really get to know anything about is Mr. Moses (James Earl Jones!!!) and his landlord, Mrs. Walker. Then, you have smaller roles for folk like Sinbad, Bill Cosby, and rap groups Naughty by Nature and Cypress Hill. Luther Vandross even makes an appearance. Also, let’s not forget Ellington, Jeff’s talking dog.

On Blankman’s side, we have Kevin who is pretty much the rational one in the family. He’s also the butt-kicker since Darryl’s read-through of “The Abridged Book of Ninja-Fighting” never took form. As I said before, Kimberly’s the Lois Lane (or Vicki Vale) of the story. She sets out to get the scoop on Blankman and falls for him. Jason Alexander’s character is really only there for the laughs. I didn’t know men in wheelchairs could generate many laughs back then.

As for Meteor Man’s side characters, they also have plenty to do. Michael is pretty much the guy who figures out how Jeff’s powers work since he’s a school scientist. Just roll with it. He also tries to capitalize on the popularity of Meteor Man at one point. Jeff’s parents and neighbors are pretty much the ones who get Jeff in the suit. When he first uses his powers in public against the Golden Lords, they expect him to do some butt-kicking. His parents are also there to kind of guide him. His mother even creates the suit. Unlike Darryl, Jeff doesn’t have a love interest but there is an ex-girlfriend around who plays no role in the story. That’s were Sinbad’s character comes in to be a hoot.

At the end of the day, I thought both sets of side characters were fine. Some were better than others though. In this case, I’m giving this point to Meteor Man and not because it has a lot of cool black folk in it either. They helped make the movie a little better since Jeff was pretty much the straight man for the most part. They were funny, sometimes insightful, and added stuff to the story. That doesn’t mean I don’t like Blankman’s side characters. Kevin was cool, Kimberly was cool (and hot!), and I liked the grandmother even though she doesn’t get much time to be around. Still, Meteor Man gets this round.

The Meteor Man – 2
Blankman – 1

Well, I'm cutting it off here for now. Tomorrow, I'll finish this little battle.

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