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We Don't Need Another Hero

Tank_Girl This week's edition of the bible of popular culture - aka Entertainment Weekly - features on its cover the three stars of a movie that actually won't be released until sometime in 2010, which scientific research shows is actually a reference to next year despite sounding like some make-believe time in the way-off, far distant future. The movie in question, of course, is Iron Man II, and features the improbably successful Robert Downey Jr. as the title superhero, Mickey Rourke as some superbadass, and Scarlett Johansson as... uh... someone who is apparently in the movie to piss off Gwenyth Paltrow. Personally I'm somewhat indifferent to the dynamics of Johansson vs. Paltrow, but if it features either one of them looking reasonably hot and wrapped up in spandex, then - if I may be so bold as to speak for the heterosexual males of North America - boo to the yaa.

Of course, not every superhero movie/comic book adaptation has been quite so star-studded, critically lauded and mainstream-embraced as the first Iron Man, or The Dark Knight, or.... well, you get the idea. Between the launch of the modern superhero movie with 1978's Superman and next year's Iron Man II, there have been a handful of less-renowned but nonetheless culturally essential films du genre worthy of your attention. And insofar as that the good people of MamaPop live to educate and enlighten, we hereby present you with a quick overview of some comic book adaptations that might have slipped past your otherwise foolproof radar.

1. The Death of the Incredible Hulk
Granted, this was originally a TV movie, but the emotional weight of this masterpiece is so brobdingnagian - for lack of a better word - that to segregate it due to its less-than-savory origins is akin to saying that dogs shouldn't be allowed to vote: it's a bigoted, knee-jerk reaction, and we're not gonna stand for it. This is a progressive website, dammit, and if dogs want to vote and The Death of the Incredible Hulk wants to have equal standing with, say, Gandhi... well, that's just the way it's gonna be.

In any case, the title of this movie offers a subtle hint as to what it holds in store: working as something of a continuation of the late 70s TV series, it features sad sack Bill Bixby as the haunted ex-scientist David Banner, hiding his inner rage from a society that refuses to understand him, helping the less fortunate even as he himself is hunted like an animal. The movie follows him through a labyrinthian plot in which his clever disguise as a developmentally disabled janitor allows him access to some kinda hyper-cutting edge technologies with the potential to help him remove his inner Hulkness once and for all. Unfortunately, evil spies from Eastern Europe intervene - as they are wont to do - and fuck up everything but good. There's a hot love interest, lots of drama, a watershed performance by the perenially underrated Lou Ferrigno (easily the most profoundly skilled gamma-irradiated artiste of our generation) and - at the end - the inevitable moment where the Hulk falls out of an exploding plane, dents the earth but good... and Bill Bixby/David Banner at last finds release from the beast within.

(cue sad Hulk music)

2. The Punisher
And no, we're not talking about more recent Thomas Jane crapfest: our focus instead is the breathtaking Dolph Lundren vehicle from 1989. And in all seriousness... this is a far superior film. Look beyond your petty anti-Dolph prejudices - and seriously: where do you get off feeling superior to a ginormous Swede who once earned (and turned down) a Fulbright scholarship to MIT? Unless you can match that, I'd suggest you get off yr high horse, real damned quick - and you'll find a fairly compelling action film starring a legitimately dark and tormented hero: Vietnam vet and ex-cop Frank Castle, driven to infinitely murderous rage by the murder of his own family at the hands the mob, now taking vengeance in all its limitless, colorful and exquisitely violent forms against every organized crime figure in New York.

As Castle/The Punisher says, "If the law won't punish the guilty, I will." And so when the Yakuza makes a big move on the New York crime scene - led by Kim Miyori (light years away from her suicidal physician in St. Elsewhere) in wonderful femme fatale style - Dolph proceeds to chew bubblegum and kick ass. (Hint: he never actually has any bubblegum.) As the body count mounts toward the triple digits, and cop/onetime Castle crony Lou Gossett, Jr. (cashing in a presumably large check in order to pay for Oscar cleaning supplies) begins to figure out that the vigilante figure wiping out New York's underworld is, in fact, his old pal Frank... Dolph kills with style and aplomb while transforming stoicism into a truly many-splendored thing. By the end, the screen is literally awash in bodies - reminiscent of the finale of Hamlet, truth be told - as Dolph warns that he's not necessarily done... and then vanishes into the shadows, never once cracking a smile.


3. Tank Girl
Remember the good old days, when Lori Petty was a promising young actress with a weird streak and not a cautionary tale? Yeah, neither do I... but if you want to relive those days without the omnipresent threat of a Rosie O'Donnell sighting, Tank Girl is the way to go. And while I could go on at some length about how this movie offers such benefits as the always-entertaining Malcolm McDowell, an extremely young Naomi Watts in a largely silly supporting role and buttloads of riot grrrl attitude... the real truth is that there is one reason and one reason alone to ever sit your ass down and watch this movie: Ice-T as a kangaroo.

4. Swamp Thing
My first-ever public writing experience was in fifth grade, where the teachers in my elementary school came up with the bright idea of creating a student newspaper — written by and for the aforementioned fifth graders. A handful of my friends were enlisted, and they went about their business diligently: interviewing the janitor, making jokes about the lunch offerings, blowing the lid on the Watergate scandal. And me? I wrote a movie review. Swamp Thing, specifically. And while I don't remember much about it, I clearly recall highlighting that the film offered kids of my age "lots of great fights, two monsters, and one swear."

I stand by that review today, although I'll point out that the one thing I neglected to mention - for obvious reasons, given the nature of the publication - was a brief but endlessly titillating moment of nudity offered by Adrienne Barbeau that changed my young life forever.

Good lord. Barbeaudacious.

I'm sorry... what were we talking about? Oh, right. Superhero movies. Okay: so here the deal — this adaptation features a scientist dude who combines some secret formula with getting set on fire and running into the swamp. The result: he turns into the rubber-suited monster/hero of the title, and gets into all kinds of wacky hijinks with one-time reputable actor and all-around French dude Louis Jordan. Hilarity ensues, monsters fight, a Gary Coleman stand-in says some silly shit, and in the end everyone goes home happy. In many ways, it's like the Kevin Kline/Meg Ryan movie French Kiss, only with an 8-foot tall swamp monster playing the Kevin Kline role. Otherwise, though... same movie.

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God - I love Tank Girl.


i also love tank girl. and must take this time to confess that i own it on dvd, have seen one million and three times, and never knew that jet girl was naomi watts.

see the important work that you people at mamapop do?

the scene where she takes the sand shower and the portishead song plays in the background is what really got me. well, that and the part where lori petty says "it's been swell, but the swelling's gone down." i actually say that. probably too much, since no one ever knows that i'm quoting something.


Tank Girl zeitgeist. Who knew?


Our whole family is super-fond of Tank Girl. Our daughter chose to be Tank Girl for Halloween in 1995--when she was three years old!


Let me shout that out again:
Swamp Thing? Not so much, but I can understand a young man's fancy for Adrienne Barboobs.

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