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A Casual TV Fan's Guide Special

The Great Marvel TV Implosion, or The Mediocre Marvel Marching Society

By Dan Toland
17 July 2008 — In the 21st century, Marvel characters have enjoyed incredible success on the big screen. I haven't done all the math, but to date films based on Marvel characters, beginning in 1998 with the original Blade, have grossed over three billion dollars at the American box office. And that's not taking into account international or DVD sales. Even movies like Daredevil, Hulk, Fantastic Four and The Punisher, which weren't critical darlings, have done well enough to warrant spinoffs (Elektra) or sequels (Rise of the Silver Surfer, Punisher: War Journal). Seems like Marvel has a pretty foolproof system.

Oh, but the road they took to get here.

In 1977, Marvel Comics was riding high. They were saturating pop culture and spreading across college campuses. It had only been 16 years since Fantastic Four #1 was released and kicked off the modern era for the company. And although the near-superhuman burst of creativity of the Lee / Kirby / Ditko era was behind them, the company was still very young and capable of generating a lot of excitement. It was in this atmosphere that Universal Television made a deal with Marvel, licensing several characters to turn into potential TV series.

This is why we're here.

Although not the first, by far the most successful project to come out of this deal was The Incredible Hulk, featuring Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno and Jack Colvin, which aired as a pair of movies in November of 1977 before becoming a weekly series, running for four seasons on CBS from March 1978 to May 1982. I'm actually not going to be talking about this show here; the entire series has been or will soon be released on DVD, and it deserves its own column. Hulk had a lot going for it: a very basic, easily relatable "Jekyll and Hyde meets The Fugitive" concept that anyone could latch onto; producer Kenneth Johnson (V and its myriad of sequels and offshoots), who clearly understood that a TV show in which Banner hangs around Hulkbuster Base week in and week out just wasn't going to work; and most importantly, a leading man in the form of Bill Bixby, a tremendously talented actor who took what could (and probably should) have been a ludicrous show and turned it into dramatic gold. Furthermore, it laid down a template that almost all the other Marvel characters had to follow: all kinds of changes were made, some due to technical limitations of the day, many due to the fact that producers know what we like better than we do ourselves. Apparently. Origin stories are changed, supporting casts are done away with, powers are significantly scaled back and you have a better chance of finding el chupacabra in your bathroom than you have of finding a supervillain in one of these shows.

But again, that's for another time. The movies and TV shows that follow vary in terms of quality, although they all look like Stan Lee sold the rights to each of them in exchange for a meatball sub. However, it must be remembered that this was all we had. After all, there hadn't been a live action representation of a Marvel character since the Captain America serials in 1944.

The Amazing Spider-Man
Aired: A made-for-television movie aired in September 1977
Starring: Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker / Spider-Man, David White as J. Jonah Jameson and Nicholas Pataki as Capt. Barbera
Writer: Alvin Boretz

The Plot: Graduate student Peter Parker, bitten by a radioactive spider in the course of an experiment, finds that he has gained the ability to climb walls very, very slowly. He manages to use it to fight crime without anyone having to shoot any family members. Meanwhile, a self-help guru (whose methods generally involve screaming at and berating his followers until they feel better) has hatched a plot to hypnotize the people of New York into committing burglaries and then suicide.

Good Stuff: This was a good 15 years or so before the advent of workable CGI. The only reason this project ever got off the ground at all can be summed up in two words: Fred Waugh. Waugh, a former circus acrobat, was the stuntman who got the lion's share of screen time in the Spidey suit (any time Spider-Man is seen, and there's no reason for him to unmask or speak — which is much of the time, as Spidey is awfully quiet — chances are it's Waugh in the suit). Some of the stunts this guy came up with were un-freaking-real. He jumps from building to building from 15 stories up. He swings down two stories. He hangs upside down and crawls down a building. I can only imagine the conversation: "Hey, Fred. Do me a favor: jump out this window, and crawl down the building upside down. Don't worry, we'll have a razor-thin wire holding you up." My words cannot do it justice. I'm watching him work, and the man must have had balls made of carbon steel. You never see stuntmen do this kind of stuff anymore.

Unlike the series that followed, some attempt is made to stick to the comic. Robbie Robertson is here, as is Aunt May. Spidey doesn't have clear sailing: his allergies act up, he can't get a cab in his Spider-Man suit and Jameson is a cranky bastard of the highest order.

Not So Good Stuff: The big thing is Spider-Man himself. Hammond is likeable enough, but he's very stiff and wooden. Also — and this can't be laid at Hammond's feet — Spider-Man is just not funny. They don't even make the attempt. That's an overwhelming part of the character's appeal, and it's just being ignored.

The effects are not often very convincing. Spidey wallcrawls in one of three ways:

01. Bluescreen. This is always pretty dismal, especially a scene in which Peter crawls all over his house, and no attempt is made to match the bends and contours of the building. Peter is just crawling around on a flat surface. Although, in an unrelated beef with this scene, in some strange and quasi-mystical manner, no one notices this guy crawling all over his house in the middle of the day.

02. By building a wall on the ground, and having the actor crawl on that so it can be filmed sideways. Sure, it looks decent enough, but they only built one wall. And while there's only so many times you can use it, they managed to go way over that limit.

03. And with wires. This is the one used most often, and it's not always successful; the wires are frequently visible, and Waugh has to be incredibly careful not to push too hard off the wall, or risk swinging away, resulting in him barely being in contact with the surface.

The web-shooter is pretty weak.

Random Observations: This is listed as "The Amazing Spider-Man" in any and all official records of the show (which is why that's why I've called it here), but the only title we ever see is "Spider-Man."

This was the first project released in the Marvel / Universal / CBS deal, airing two months before the first Incredible Hulk movie.

Ever watched any hour-long crime drama from the 1970s? That's what you've got here. Some of it's good (it's filmed on location in New York, no one is ever afraid to let a giant car crash into anything), but it's very low-budget (recycled shots, polyester abounds and the music).

I don't know if this was ever confirmed or not, but Hammond is clearly the reference for the design of Peter Parker for the 90s animated series with Christopher Barnes.

Overall: Until the 2002 movie starring Tobey Maguire, this was the only live action rendition of Spider-Man (save for the shorts that appeared on The Electric Company), and as such, I have to admit an enormous soft spot for this movie and the series following. So with that said, this movie is pretty cheesy. However, it's worth a watch, if for no other reason than to witness some amazing stunts by a clearly insane man who evidently had no regard for his health or safety. And deep down, that's all anyone wants: 6 out of 10.

Spider-Man
Aired: 13 episodes aired between April 1978 and July 1979
Starring: Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker / Spider-Man, Robert F. Simon as J. Jonah Jameson, Michael Pataki as Capt. Barbera, Chip Fields as Rita Conway and Ellen Bry as Julie Masters
Writers: various

The Plot: Pretty much the same as the movie. Only, you know, tweaked 13 times.

Good Stuff: The new theme song is even more 70s than before, but I kinda dig it for some reason. The bassline's all "Bwar diddle bwaddle bwa da ba doo bwap a doo." Try it. It's fun.

He's still not a laugh a minute, but Hammond loosens up some over the series, and has good chemistry with Chip Fields, who is here as Jameson's secretary.

Peter's spider-sense (which has somehow been upgraded to almost full-blown clairvoyance, whenever the producers remember that it works at all) is kind of a neat, glowing-eyes effect.

Pete busts out the Spider-Tracer in quite a few episodes.

Some of the episodes are fun: "Night of the Clones" gives us an evil double Peter, "The Chinese Web" has some great Hong Kong location work, Fred Waugh climbs the Empire State Building in "A Matter of State" and Spider-Man tames a lion and fights a bear in "The Kirkwood Haunting." Honest to God, a lion and a bear!

Not So Good Stuff: In the pilot, Jonah was played by David White (Larry Tate from Bewitched) in a manner vaguely reminiscent of the comics, if toned way down; he was kind of a blowhard and not terribly enamored of Spider-Man. Once the series proper rolled around, the role was given to Robert F. Simon, who was more or less the grumpy old boss with a heart of gold. It wasn't anywhere near as interesting.

I'm not so bothered by it, but it gets a lot of fans really riled up: unlike the pilot, Spidey wears his utility belt and web-shooter (he's just got the one) on the outside of this costume. Yeah, it's not ideal, but they're so clunky you really couldn't pretend they were skintight.

Random Observations: The pilot and a pair of two-part stories ("The Deadly Dust" and "The Chinese Web") were released theatrically outside the United States.

Ratings for this series were actually halfway decent, especially when you consider the infrequency of airings (13 episodes over two years). However, it was critically drubbed, and Stan Lee himself made his distaste for the show known whenever anyone wandered near him. Finally, CBS cancelled the series in 1979 due in large part to not wanting to be known as "the superhero network." It was already airing the much more successful The Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman, and Captain America's second movie was due to air that fall.

After the series ended, during the 1980s, two episodes would frequently be spliced together to make a two-hour movie. (I know this, because that was how I came to know this series; four or five times a year, Channel 56 would take a break from showing Gamera flicks on Saturday afternoons with a Spider-Man movie.)

Overall: By and large, this is a formulaic series with fairly thin plots. However, as in the pilot, there was almost always at least one "how the hell did they convince him to do that?" stunt per episode. Such as when Waugh dangled from a helicopter as it flew over New York. (I don't know what the man's pay was, but I hope he was paid more than everyone else on the show put together.) And there are some good fight scenes and car chases. Plus, you know, it's kinda fun to see a guy in a Spider-Man costume run across a roof from time to time. If you happen to run across an episode, keep your eye on it. Some episodes are better than others, but we'll call 5 out of 10 the average.

Dr. Strange
Aired: A made-for-television movie aired in September 1978
Starring: Peter Hooten as Dr. Stephen Strange, Clyde Kusatsu as Wong, Jessica Walter as Morgan LeFay, Eddie Benton as Clea Lake and John Mills as Mr. Lindmer / The Ancient One
Writer: Peter DeGuere

The Plot: Psychiatric resident Stephen Strange learns the mystic arts to protect some girl, and the entirety of Earth's dimensional plane (but mostly the girl) from sorceress Morgan LeFay and her master, Dormammu.

Good Stuff: Oddly enough this is by far the most faithful adaptation of any of the Marvel properties to come over in this deal. We get Wong, Clea, the Sanctum Sanctorum and the Dread Dormammu. Even the tone is right, if not always the execution; the producers' reach exceeded their grasp, but some of the overall weirdness manages to get carried across.

The cast is mostly good. Hooten is a fairly typical TV leading man for the time; he's not the greatest actor ever and he's not got much in the way of gravitas, but he's charming and likable. (And 70s man-perm aside, he looks remarkably like the character.) The weakest link here is probably Benton; she recites her lines like she's trying to remember them.

The movie has a really atmospheric, kinda creepy electronic score. It's pretty good.

Not So Good Stuff: The secret origin of Doctor Strange!

"Hey, wanna be Earth's Sorcerer Supreme?"
"Um... yeah, I guess."
ZAP! "There you go!"
"Uh... was that it?"
"Yep!"
"I don't need to, like, I dunno, read anything, or..."
"Read? Books are for losers!"
"Well... neat. Thanks."

Dormammu is not terribly impressive.

Random Observations: This movie was filled with young actors who went on to do other things. Eddie Benton played the partner of Sledge Hammer on the show of the same name, under the name Anne-Marie Martin. Clyde Kusatsu is an extremely prolific character actor who has been in, at one time or another, every sitcom ever made since the beginning of time. Jessica Walter is best known nowadays for her portrayal of matriarch Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development.

Overall: There's absolutely no conceivable way this could have sustained a weekly series. It's just too bizarre. Yet had they toned it down at all, it wouldn't have worked at all. What's left is an interesting one-off that aims low and generally hits that mark. It's not the worst 90 minutes I've spent on YouTube, believe me: 7.5 out of 10.

Captain America
Aired: A made-for-television movie aired in January 1979
Starring: Reb Brown as Steve Rogers / Captain America, Len Birman as Dr. Simon Mills and Heather Menzies as Dr. Wendy Day
Writers: Don Ingalls and Chester Krumholz

The Plot: After falling prey to a sinister plot to run his awesome party van off the road, Steve Rogers is injected with his father's secret formula and given a flimsy plastic see-through shield.

Reb Brown: The Man, the Myth, the Legend: Yes, he gets his own section. Reb Brown (who, other than these movies, is best known for either Yor, the Hunter From the Future or the classic MST3K episode "Space Mutiny," which is one of those things every man, woman and child across the cosmos should be forced to watch under threat of federal legislation) is just wow. Words fail me. He's about nine feet tall and built like a defensive lineman, so I get the casting, but things like line delivery and facial expressions aren't really his thing. His concerned look and his thoughtful look and his confused look and his constipated look are all the same look. His voice is very high-pitched and not terribly commanding. And at times, his performance is unintentionally hilarious. He frequently looks like he's forgotten that he's making a movie and has to take a minute to remember where he is. I laughed my ass off quite a bit watching this.

Good Stuff: Well... it's a lot more fun than the 1991 version with Matt Salinger. (Ian, that one is all you.)

Despite going on for way too long, the scene of Steve's accident is shot well, and they got their money's worth with the stunt driver. In fact, there's a fair amount of decent stunt work in the movie as a whole.

Not So Good Stuff: Okay, first of all, get a load of the costume. I can only imagine the costume meeting: "Okay, we took a look at the original costume design, and we decided there wasn't nearly enough Evel Knivel in it. Also, we need it in an hour and a half." I can't decide on my favorite aspect: the round helmet with the wings painted on, or the stripes designed to resemble Mork from Ork's suspenders. No, wait! It's the star spangled gloves and boots.

This is the actual, unaltered opening dialog, word for word:

Surfer: Hey, Steve-O! How you doing, buddy?
Steve: Real groovy.
Surfer: I figured you got out of the Marines two weeks ago!
Steve: Oh, I just been comin' down the coast, slow and easy. You know, kickin' back.
Surfer: That's a pretty mellow set of wheels.
Steve: Yeah.

That's when I knew this was going to be painful.

And then, after two attempts are made on his life, Steve whines, "What's goin' on? Who's mad at me?" I mean, literally whines. I had to pause the movie while I composed myself. I'm still laughing just thinking about it.

For a top-secret government project, an awful lot of people know about Rogers' Super-Soldier serum.

At this point, it feels like piling on, but let's talk about the shield for a minute. First of all, it doubles as the windscreen on his bike, so it's transparent with a couple of painted stripes.

When Simon is explaining how awesome Steve's new shield is, he points out that it's "a rather deadly weapon." He demonstrates this by throwing it, at which point it slowly ambles its way through the air listlessly, gently wafting up and down before coming to a rest in Steve's very patient waiting hands with a light "plunk" sound. Never has a deadly weapon been so wholly unimpressive.

There's so much more: the convenient jump ramps all over southern California whenever Steve needs one, the fact that apparently any old helicopter can fly into an army base and start shooting at people without any kind of armed response, the interminable helicopter ride. But now I feel like I'm metaphorically beating the snot out of a toddler here.

Random Observations: Steve never actually hits anyone. Oh, he might throw ham, but there's no hitting.

It's interesting what the producers took from the comic and what they chose to ignore. They kept some of the smaller details (Steve's an artist, he tools around in a van with a motorcycle in the back), but the biggest thing you think of when you think of Captain America is nowhere to be found: World War II. In this, Steve is a legacy; his father was Captain America before him. Except that nobody had ever heard of him. Steve included.

Overall: You're kidding, right? This is, without a doubt, the worst comic adaptation ever. This movie aspires to the lofty heights of Catwoman. Hell, Howard the Duck was a better movie. With that said, I had so much fun watching it. It's terrible, but it's hilarious. As a comic adaptation, this is a 1 out of 10, but if you're having a bad movie night, it's a four-star headliner.

Captain America II: Death Too Soon
Aired: A made-for-television movie aired in November 1979
Starring: Reb Brown as Steve Rogers / Captain America, Len Birman as Dr. Simon Mills, Connie Sellecca as Dr. Wendy Day and Christopher Lee as Miguel
Writers: Wilton Schiller and Patricia Payne

The Plot: Captain America battles Miguel, a terrorist attempting to poison the country with a chemical that rapidly accelerates the aging process, who looks an awful lot like Count Dooku.

Good Stuff: Well, the costume is a lot closer to the mark.

Remember in the extended version of Fellowship of the Ring, how Ian McKellen gave an interview and made a kinda catty remark about how Christopher Lee's been in something like 45,000 movies? This is one of 'em. And he does the best job he can, considering the material. There's nowhere near enough of him, though.

There's considerably more action and less mellow laid-backedness than in the first flick. The direction is a vast improvement: camera movement, the choice of shots, the quality of the guest cast. Even Reb Brown — who is in costume much more this time around — looks like he's paying attention to what's going on. This is a vastly superior movie in every way from its predecessor. That is not, of course, miraculous.

Ever see a motorcycle with a built-in hang glider attachment? Ever see said hang glider attachment deploy and float around — motorcycle still attached — over the California desert for a full 10-minute sequence? No? Then I guess I'm one up on you.

The final boss battle has a really cool bit, and it's all done by Lee flexing the muscles in his face. I can't describe it (the movie is about a bad guy holding the country ransom with a rapid-aging formula, so use your imagination); go look for it.

Not So Good Stuff: Did you like the 10-minute opening shot in the last movie of Steve driving his party van (seriously, this thing just needs a picture of a wizard riding a unicorn painted on the side, but I guess we can make do with the birds he's already got) up and down the California coastline? You did? Awesome! Because here it is again!

Okay, the shot of the shield careening in midair and knocking out a mugger with a very slight "ptink" sound is almost as funny as Cap angrily telling another mugger moments later, "The old people around here are my friends!" If the utter inanity of the line weren't enough, Brown's delivery pushes it over the edge. Upon hearing it, I suddenly flashed back to being about seven years old, watching this movie on the local UHF station for the first time, and even then thinking, "That's a really stupid line."

Miguel's hideout is a prison. An active, working prison. There are maybe three guards, and not once do you see a single prisoner.

Random Observations: Wendy, girl scientist, is now being played by Connie Sellecca (The Greatest American Hero). Additionally, Kramer, Christopher Lee's sidekick, is being portrayed here by a very young Stanley Kamel (Dr. Kroeger on Monk).

Overall: This movie is light years better than the first one, which means that's it's gone from a hilariously inept debacle to a totally mediocre action TV movie. Anytime Brown's in the suit, it bears watching; the stunts and action are pretty good. The rest of the time, it's slow-moving and overlong: 4 out of 10.

After all this, Marvel apparently had had enough. There would be no more attempts at any new live action projects on TV; they were content to let The Incredible Hulk continue its run (along with three reunion movies), and became an animation force in the 1980s, producing not only series based on Marvel characters such as Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends and The Incredible Hulk, but other hugely successful properties such as Transformers and GI Joe. It would be another 17 years before the comic boom of the 1990s would convince them to try again two more times, now on the Fox network.

Generation X
Aired: A made-for-television movie aired in February 1996
Starring: Finola Hughes as Emma Frost / The White Queen, Jeremy Ratchford as Sean Cassidy / Banshee, Matt Frewer as Dr. Russell Tresh, Suzanne Davis as Arlee Hicks / Buff, Heather McComb as Jubilation Lee / Jubilee, Bumper Robinson as Mondo, Agustin Rodriguez as Angelo Espinosa / Skin, Amarilis Savón as Monet St. Croix / M and Randall Slavin as Kurt Pastorius / Refrax
Writer: Eric Blakeney

The Plot: In a world where being a mutant is a federal offense, students at the Xavier Institute find themselves pitted against a mad scientist whose experiments bring him closer to conferring mutant power upon himself.

Good Stuff: Matt Frewer (Max Headroom, Eureka) is the villain, and he makes an awesome one. Yes, it's a little (okay, a lot) like Jim Carrey's Riddler, but that's the kind of thing Frewer excels at. He's way over-the-top, and it's a lot of fun in a movie that really doesn't seem to be having very much.

Emma introduces herself and Sean to a mind-controlled policeman as "Officers Hootie and Blowfish." Even in 1996, that would have been laughable. Oh, the 90s.

Not So Good Stuff: Someone's been after Banshee's Lucky Charms! My God, that accent is atrocious.

At almost no point is the camera set up straight. Virtually the entire movie is shot at a 30-degree angle. You get used to it, but it's pretty annoying.

Skin is kind of a whiny bitch. I get that stretching hurts, but Christ, this guy can screech. Also, he's apparently really smart, unless the script needs him to be irreparably stupid. He's one of the main viewpoint characters (Jubilee being the other), and he's very poorly written. This is a shame, because for the most part this script is pretty good.

Jubilee: Will I have to wear one of those goofy superhero costumes?
Emma: When you've graduated and are able to fight crime, you'll be given a uniform.
Banshee: Our uniforms are quite tasteful.

Uh, dude? It's pink. With shoulder pads. If this had gone to series (ostensibly a TV movie, Generation X was considered to be a backdoor pilot for a syndicated series), this is what the cast would have had to endure.

Random Observations: Of all the movies on this list, this is the one where I was least familiar with the source material at the time. In the 90s, I was almost exclusively a DC guy, and even if I wasn't, I couldn't stomach Scott Lobdell's writing, no matter how much Wizard Magazine tried to convince me how wrong I was. Because of that, I didn't have too much trouble with liberties that were taken with the story (the real glaring one, that Jubilee is being played by a Caucasian actress, was somewhat mitigated by the fact that she was by far the best actress of all the kids). I do remember that the Internet, which was just starting to become the repository of the fanboy hive mind, was positively howling with rage.

Two Generation X-ers have been replaced by new characters. Buff (super strength and overdeveloped musculature, which she hides beneath baggy clothing) appears to be a stand-in for Husk, presumably because a character who pulls all her skin off to reveal a new material underneath would be expensive and gross. Refrax (X-ray and heat vision, and totally not Cyclops even though he never takes his sunglasses off for fear of losing control of his power) seems to be there in place of Chamber.

The Xavier Institute is in the same building used in the X-Men films.

There's an X-Men game (which, incidentally, was awesome) in the video arcade at the beginning of the film.

The copy of the film I got my hands on is the uncensored UK version, meaning that Refrax gets to say "Nice beaver!" to someone and Jubilee drops a couple of F-bombs.

Overall: This is an odd one. For one thing, it's very low-budget. However, it's hardly alone in that respect on this list, so I'm not going to take points away for that. It's very much a product of its time. On one hand, it's a 90s Fox teen drama: the kids take things too seriously, mope a lot and almost none of them have any acting ability. On the other hand, the adults all look like they're having the time of their lives; Finola Hughes (General Hospital) is much better in her role than I remember and is giving a fun performance, and Matt Frewer is a force of nature in this. He's a Batman villain, pure and simple. The difference in tone is very jarring, but the movie needs it. Give this a whirl if you run across it: 6.5 out of 10.

Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD
Aired: A made-for-television movie aired in May 1998
Starring: David Hasselhoff as Col. Nick Fury, Lisa Rinna as Countess Valentina "Val" Allegro de Fontaine, Sandra Hess as Andrea Strucker / Viper, Gary Chalk as Cmdr. Timothy Dugan and Neil Roberts as Alexander Goodwin Pierce
Writer: David S. Goyer

The Plot: When the terrorist organization HYDRA reforms under the children of founder Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, threatening to wipe out the population of Manhattan with a doomsday virus, the government calls Nick Fury out of retirement to, you know, get 'em.

The Hoff: Obviously, how much enjoyment you get out of this movie will depend solely on your opinion of the experience of David Hasselhoff chomping his cigar and loud-mouthing his way through this movie. Yeah, it's pretty cornball. However, I can't put my hand on my heart and declare that it's totally inaccurate. It's easy to forget in a post-Brian Michael Bendis / Secret War world that Nick Fury was not always the supercool badass we like to think he was. The Hoff is playing the Stan Lee "Hit the dirt, ya goldbricks" Fury. He snarls, he blusters, he spits his lines out through clenched teeth. At least they had the good sense not to grey his sideburns.

Good Stuff: Before Blade and Batman Begins, David Goyer wrote this incredibly faithful adaptation of the Marvel comic, but it's not his best work.

The director and the cinematographer come together to make a movie that looks much better than it should considering the woefully low budget. The camera movement, the lighting and the angles used (although it does occasionally show the same love for the weird tilted camera Generation X was so fond of) make this a pretty good-looking movie.

Every movie should have a Helicarrier in it.

Hasselhoff is really throwing himself into his role. There's really no way to half-ass Nick Fury, and the Hoff owns the cheesiness in the way that, really, only he can.

Bad Stuff: When David Hasselhoff is the best actor in your movie, you have a very serious problem on your hands. Well, I should correct that; he's certainly the most charismatic person in this film. The lion's share of the characters are actually fairly bland. There are some recognizable "hey, it's that guy from that show" faces here, and they hit their marks and say their lines. Lisa Rinna (best known from runs on Days of Our Lives and Melrose Place) has next to nothing to do except explain things to Nick or have Nick explain things to her. But Sandra Hess (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) is pretty terrible. She's overacting something awful, but it's not fun overacting (RE: Frewer, Matt), it's just kind of painful to watch. The fact that she struggles valiantly with her German accent but does not come out victorious only makes it worse.

The very first shot of the goddamn movie: assuming you have a valid reason to have the dead body of Baron Strucker cryogenically frozen in the first place, and things are in place so that a valid security clearance is needed to do anything where you have him stored away, why does a freaking private have the clearance to unfreeze him?

Random Observations: Of all the movies we've covered, this is the only one that was never intended to lead to an ongoing weekly series. (Even so, it's pretty clear that everyone had Nick Fury II: The Wrath of Gabe Jones in the back of their mind.)

SHIELD agents are trained at the Kirby Academy.

Dugan is only ever referred to as "Timothy," probably because no actual adult allows himself to be referred to as "Dum-Dum."

Overall: It's incredibly easy to rag on this movie, but it's nowhere near as bad as I was convinced it was going to be. This was actually my first time watching it; I went out of my way to avoid it when it originally aired. Goyer has written a movie that captures the feel and flavor of Nick Fury perfectly, albeit the Nick Fury from the 1960s. It's about one part Steranko, three parts Lee and a heaping helping of David Hasselhoff. Think of it this way: it's like the fourth or fifth best Sci Fi Channel Original Movie ever made. That's probably the best way to describe it. It's cheesy but it's not without its charm: 7 out of 10.

After this, Marvel got out of television. Three months later, Blade was released and became very successful, despite there never being a hint that it was based on a comic book. Two summers later, X-Men cemented the viability of the comic book movie, and Marvel hasn't looked back since. And it all started with a stuntman in a $15 pair of tights plodding his way up a wall while being dragged by a wire.

This column is a little different, in that none of the movies discussed are available on DVD. Officially. In real life, you can watch any of these with very little effort; many are available to view online, and they can all be found for next to nothing at conventions or less than totally reputable comic shops. And while none of them can stand up next to some of the movies that have come out over the past 10 years, they're still genuine curiosities that have something to offer.

Yes, even Captain America.

But no, not the 90s version with the rubber ears.

And the Italian Nazis.

And the foolproof plans to escape from tiny European autos by feigning carsickness. Twice.

So glad I don't have to do that one.


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Twice as Bright, Half as Long 12.02
Twice as Bright, Half as Long 12.02

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Dread Media 530

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The Edge of Forever 37


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Marvel Introduces Timely Comics

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