For all the success the movie and TV industry has had in the genre, Hollywood doesn’t really understand superhero stories. The only part they get is the origin story. Once a guy puts on a mask and cape, what is there to tell? After that, it’s just people beating each other up, right? Which is why Hollywood can only seem to crank out three films in a series before “rebooting” the damn thing and telling the origin story all over again. Real comic book fans, on the other hand, know that the origin is just the excuse to get to the good stuff.
But Hollywood, stuck in its rarified bubble, insists that audiences want to see the movie stars behind the masks. This misguided effort has even spilled over into other genres, providing us unnecessarily sympathetic backstories for movie boogeymen like Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger. Gimme a break. We go to slasher movies to see dumb people get killed. We go to superhero movies to witness titanic battles between good and evil.
“The Cape,” NBC’s latest stab at a superhero series, gets at least a few of these basic concepts correct. First of all: Superheroes have costumes, capes, masks and occasionally—no matter how silly it sounds—tights! It’s not cool that Superboy in “Smallville” doesn’t wear a costume. It’s not postmodern that nobody in “Heroes” ever dresses up. It’s frankly disappointing that everyone on “No Ordinary Family” just sports street clothes. So it’s kind of awesome to see a hero built almost entirely around his costume.
Vince Faraday (David Lyons, “ER”) is a good cop seemingly murdered by an evil billionaire (James Frain, late of “True Blood”) who wants to privatize all law enforcement in troubled Palm City. Surviving the assassination, but laying low to protect his wife and kid, Vince hooks up with a larcenous band of circus freaks who teach him their various skills. The most important of those lessons comes from stentorian stage magician Max Malini (Keith David from Pitch Black), who instructs Vince on the fine art of cape manipulation. Donning the identity of his son’s favorite comic book hero (uh, that’s copyright infringement, dude), Vince uses his incredible new garment to strangle baddies, snatch weapons and perform miraculous disappearing tricks.
As origin stories go, it ain’t too bad. Its influences are many—everything from RoboCop to Batman. But the real test is where the show goes from here. There are a few roadblocks. Firstly, The Cape can’t ever defeat his archenemy. (Then he wouldn’t have an excuse to hide his identity.) And since our hero can no longer interact with his family, we get lots of backstory drama inserted in the form of flashbacks. That’s gonna get old. Still, “The Cape” has got the look and feel of a comic book. Its not afraid to create outrageous characters (like Vinnie Jones’ epidermally challenged gangster Scales). If the writers can nail down the tone (not exactly realistic, not entirely campy) and actually find the drama inherent in a man wearing a mask, they might have something here.