The Flash II: Revenge of the Trickster Reviews
July 14, 2008
Every superhero's gotta have an arch enemy. In the comics, the Flash has always had a phenomenal assortment of costumed sociopaths ready to do battle with him at a moment's notice (especially in recent years), but none of them every really stood out as the yin to his yang, the oil to his water, the Al Pacino to his Robert DeNiro (well, except for the Reverse-Flash, but that one always felt like sort of a cop out to me). So when the ratings were flagging on NBC's ridiculously expensive T.V. adaptation of the Flash, the creators set out to save the show by taking one of their hero's more... ehhh... JESTER-like enemies and transforming him into a full-fledged nemesis. The ploy might not have worked- in fact, it DIDN'T work in the end (the show tanked after one season), but dramatically speaking, it might not have worked at all if not for the producers' one magical (re-)discovery: Mark Hamill. You see, while Hamill made his mark as a naive young farm-boy-turned-intergalactic-knight in the Star Wars films, he was so typecast because of the role's popularity that it took a good fifteen years before anyone discovered that Hamill had some acting range, after all. Turns out, Mark Hamill is surprisingly good at playing over-the-top giggling psychotics, as he proves amply as the titular villain of the movie, the Trickster. The "film"- actually two episodes of the television show spliced together as a continuing narrative- features Barry Allen, a.k.a. the Flash, getting back together with private investigator and former flame Megan Lockhart after rescuing here from the clutches of a madman. Said madman, one James Jesse, is a homicidal role-player with a truckload of aliases who, after nearly sawing her in half with a chainsaw, develops a psychotic fixation with Lockhart, conjuring a new, twisted personality to cater to his delusional fantasies; now calling himself the Trickster, Jesse sets out to destroy the Flash in order to rescue his love Megan, whom he sees as his sidekick, Prank, from the speedster's "hypnotic powers". John Wesley Shipp returns as the Flash, this time more often than not playing the straight man to Hamill's clown; Shipp still tends to get over-dramatic when his character is supposed to be emotional (hey, working on soap operas will do that to you), but the tendency towards excess seemed to be dying down as the show progressed; who knows? He might have achieved subtlety had the show gone on longer. Of particular interest, though, is the character change he goes through in the second half, when the Trickster brainwashes him; now no longer playing a stiff, Shipp gets to have some fun as a cartoon-y bad guy with super-speed, which makes for some pretty funny moments- even if it is completely implausible and out-of-character. And then... there's Mark Hamill, as the Trickster. The character is campy, sinister, and loony at the same time, and somehow Hamill makes that work. The guy is a walking cartoon, with an extreme face that's set off by his absolutely bizarre (and initially poorly thought-out) outfit, and his delivery is over-the-top in all the right places. And his laugh! Mein Gott, he has the most perfect insane laughter I have ever heard, and he has it down to a science! I never would have guessed that Mark Hamill could be so funny, but he really makes the comedy in the movie work, even though it's not exactly gut-busting material he's working with. In fact, any value that can be derived from this movie is thanks almost entirely to him (which is probably why I like this better than the first Flash movie)- he steals the whole show. Sure, they made a bad call dressing him in a unitard in the first episode (Spandex without thick undergarments is a BAD IDEA), but the fact that you only really notice that, like, once or twice, says a lot about his performance, but I digress. There ARE other characters in the movie- Megan Lockhart, for one, as played by Joyce Hyser (you may remember her from the eighties teen comedy Just One of the Guys... then again, you may not); she's a hard-boiled private detective who knows that Barry is the Flash, and as such, she's tough, capable, and still completely unable to save herself from Mark Hamill (of all people). Hyser is pretty good in the rather shallow part: the victim to the Trickster's stalker and the loner who doesn't like to be tied down; she also has pretty good chemistry with Shipp, so their on-again, off-again relationship is actually borderline interesting. Also on the sidelines for the film is Amanda Pays as Barry's faithful British sidekick Dr. Tina McGee, the Alfred to his Batman (albeit with a weird sexual tension that thankfully isn't present in the aforementioned relationship). In this movie, McGee is part of an ill-defined love-triangle with Barry and Megan, one that is forced into resolution when Megan and Tina have to work together to find Barry. Other than that, she's just a convenient excuse for expository dialogue- AGAIN. The script is filled with funny bits and some interesting gimmicks, but falls prey to rushed characterization and clunky dialogue (the inevitable stumbling-point of all television shows); it's fun, but there's no real substance to it (despite failed attempts at substance). The set-ups are meh for the first half, and actually pretty fun for the second, with a lot of camera movement and a sustained shot at the beginning making things interesting (especially good is the last shot with the Trickster, which uses expressionist camera movement to draw us in almost against our will). The lighting is sometimes film quality, and sometimes just a step below (what the obsession was with using primary-colored neon lights to insinuate comic books in the early nineties, I will never know). The score is by Shirley Walker, whose ability to come up with simple, catchy themes never ceases to amaze me (her Trickster theme is especially infectious, even though you really can't hum it). What's really cool about the Flash II is that, unlike its predecessor, it doesn't take itself too seriously, allowing it to go from a bad "movie" that's just painful to watch to a bad "movie" whose faults actually make the whole thing more enjoyable. Sure, some of the jokes misfire, and sure, sometimes the heroic stuff gets cheesier than a quesadilla, but as long as you're willing to suspend your sense of good taste long enough to get through it, you'll find plenty of great little moments that make the whole viewing experience worthwhile. And seriously, Mark Hamill is a blast to watch in this movie- so much so, that he would ultimately parley the experience (and his maniacal, zany delivery) into a continuing voice-acting gig playing the greatest criminal trickster of all, the Joker (a role he's been doing, on and off, for a good ten or fifteen years- and STILL nobody does it better). So the Flash T.V. show may have bombed in the end... but at least it wasn't all in vain!
July 15, 2008
This is the BEST acting role Mark Hamill was dared in a bar to play, (punch that Star Wars trilogy in the testicles with a fistfull of lightsaber courtesy of Cocknocker) especially if you do not count any of his voice-over work he's done as the Joker!
I'm sure if anyone thought much on this subject, Trickster suspiciously emulates another DC Comics foe from the 1989 Batman perfectly, with many original changes and twists done to the nemesis thanks to a genuine thespian "Starkiller"... Unfortunately the unique alternative Jack Napier didn't translate well into a live-action, camp serious, million dollars an episode show, so they inevidibly cancelled it! (yes it was funny as hell, but many in the early 1990's just called it annoying)
However, this evolved sense of this media-specific personality was so spectacular and innovative that he replaced the initial characteristics (that the network wanted this guy to vaguely copy as the Trickster) when he landed the voice role of Joker in the great Batman Animated Series!
YAY be triumph of non-conformity! Boo to the Time Warner monopoly that wanted to capitalized by Mickey Mousing earlier success and airing this very show, among other things.
Hooray however on freak originality despite direct attempts to copycat... (Flintstones for instance, Sonic The Hedgehog, Daredevil, Splinter Cell, Watchmen, Snatcher, Family Guy, Nosferatu, Jason Voorhees, Akira, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and of course Flash television series)
Okay, now who's up for Guyver? ;-P