Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Black Scorpion (1995)

In the 1990s, superhero comic books attempted to grow their audience out of the "for kids" enclosure.  Alas, they chose the most immature means possible: a large escalation in the violence and ruthlessness of all characters, but especially the "heroes".  It would take until the 21st century, and a shift in media to movies, before someone twigged to the idea that superheroes could be for everyone if you just told good stories with strong characters.

Black Scorpion then is very much a product of its time: we have a leather-clad vigilante in what's more or less a BDSM outfit, who thinks very little of killing the criminals she encounters.  On the other hand, 90s comic books tended - with a few notable exceptions - to be pretty joyless affairs, full of hard people making hard choices, usually with gritted teeth.  This film, on the other hand, feels more like Knight Rider if you replaced Michael Knight with a dominatrix and gave the show a big injection of sex and violence.  It's even got the magic car.

The film starts in 1975, where a father tells his young daughter the story of the scorpion and the frog.  In the unlikely event you've never seen a movie or TV show that references it, here's the tale:

A scorpion asks a frog to carry her over a river. The frog is afraid of being stung during the trip, but the scorpion argues that if it stung the frog, both would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog agrees and begins carrying the scorpion, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog. When asked why she would doom them both like that, the scorpion says "it's my nature".

The father - who is a policeman - then rushes off to chase some criminals in a scene that is transparently meant to evoke Starsky and Hutch.

Twenty years later, the daughter is a cop working undercover to catch a serial killer who is murdering prostitutes.  The operation goes awry because she tends to take too many risks and her partner tends to be over-protective.  Her mood is already pretty bad then, when her father gets murdered.  She threatens the perpetrator with a gun, gets suspended, and decides it is time to take the law into her own hands: thus, the Black Scorpion is born.

The cops of course are not too thrilled by the deadly vigilante on their streets, and our 'heroine' must fight crime while dodging her former colleagues.  But of course, every superhero needs a supervillain, and unknown to her the armored figure of the Breathtaker is lurking in the shadows, with his army of ... well, no.  I'm not going to spoil what he's got an army of.  Suffice it to say that (a) it ties into his name and (b) is hysterically gonzo.

This definitely won't be to all tastes, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There is apparently a sequel, as well as a TV series.  Not sure if I will be able to track them down, but I'll try.

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