Monday, January 10, 2011

The Cape

Faraday (David Lyons) catches Orwell (Summer Glau) spying on him in 'The Cape'.
Photo Credit: NBC
Review by Paul Steven Brown

'The Cape'
Season 1 - Episodes 1 & 2

While the movies seem comfortable with a more traditional take on superheroes, there has usually been a more post-modern handling of the genre on television. Shows like 'Heroes' and 'No Ordinary Family' deal with characters with super abilities, but aren't cowled crime-fighting vigilantes. Even 'Smallville' began as more of a teen drama about a boy that has powers. There wasn't the familiar red cape and boots to be seen.

'The Cape' is the first straight-up traditional superhero television series in a while. From it's cackling villains with their grand schemes, characters in costumes and secret identities, to even the opening credits; this show totally embraces its influences. Too bad 'The Cape' is a pretty mixed bag. Probably the greatest weakness lies with the two most important characters in the piece: our hero, The Cape, and his arch-nemesis, Chess.

I'm not in love with the Cape's... um... cape. He can use it to snare knives out of his enemy's hands or even knock them off their feet. It's all done with some painfully weak CGI, too. His smoke bomb escapes don't improve things either. It would be more interesting and exciting if the Cape was limited to abilities that you could film in camera without digital trickery. It would really sell the idea of this lone man against an evil corporate giant. David Lyons is decent in the role and I think given time, I could grow to like the character of Vince Faraday and care for his separation from his family.

Chess is a bit of a mess. Now, I like James Frain and he was great as the psychotic vampire, Franklin, on last season's 'True Blood'. He has a wonderfully creepy look and is more effective outside of the mask (and those stupid contact lenses) in his civilian identity, Peter Fleming. I like the idea that Fleming is secretly causing so much mayhem that Palm City signs over all police protection to his private firm, ARK. He's slowly being paid to take over the entire city. However, his Chess persona is pretty awful, and I could use less scenes of Fleming moving holographic pieces around a digital chess board while looking menacing.

The real fun lies with some of the supporting characters.

Faraday (David Lyons) gets some advice from Malini (Keith David).
Photo Credit: NBC
If you've watched anything with a narrator or played a video game in the last ten years, you have heard Keith David's voice. The popularity of his voice is understandable; it's clear, has presence, and is distinct. He acts, too and is one of the best parts of 'The Cape'. Here he's Max Malini, a retired escape artist and current ringleader of the Circus of Crime. He becomes Faraday's mentor and sees the Cape as being the greatest illusion of them all. Below the surface, Max sees that Palm City needs a hero and that hero needs someone guiding him so he doesn't get himself killed.

Then there is super hacker, Orwell played by Summer Glau and her knee-high leather boot-clad legs. Don't get me wrong, I like Glau. She was great on 'Firefly', 'Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles', and 'Dollhouse', but her addition to 'The Cape', not to mention her wardrobe, feels like fanboy service. I could do without her Avatar inspired holo-computer screens. They look silly and don't really add anything that a more realistic set up would. Still, despite the clunky name and the sexy attire, Orwell could potentially be a very interesting character. At the moment, she's the Cape's techno-expert, but she's proven that she can take care of herself in a fight. Plus, with Glau's ability to pull off some really great fight sequences in the past, maybe Orwell could become the Cape's sidekick and not just his hacker.

If played a little more straight, 'The Cape' has a lot of potential. I like the basic idea of Fleming's goal to control Palm City and the hints about the secret society of villains called Tarot. However, the creators of this show have also really embraced some rather goofy elements and cliches. I think 'The Cape' could be a successful superhero show that feels more traditional, but that tradition doesn't mean that it has to fall into camp.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say, I'm kind of loving this show...

    I definitely think the CGI for the cape effects are pretty weak, especially in those earliest scenes where it was introduced. On the other hand, I actually like the effect for the vanishing act.

    The weakest links in the show, for me, are Summer Glau herself, and the slightly hamfisted plot devices--the show, at times, can feel a bit forced.

    I did enjoy the "origin story" components of the first episode, and the setup of the "secret hideout" in the second.

    The knife-dodging training scene had me rolling--it was really silly, but really funny.

    I think the tweaked reality of the Cape universe is pretty decent... for the most part, it could be now, but obviously the tech is more advanced, and there are certain things (like a private police force, the "Carnival of Crime", or Chess himself) that denizens of Palm City are simply willing to accept. This means the existence of characters like Orwell, and now the Cape, shouldn't require a huge suspension of disbelief on our parts, assuming we're already accepting Palm City's general miasma.

    That being said, I do find Orwell's character, so far, hard to swallow, partly due to Glau's stiff performances, and partly due to the seemingly incongruous nature of the character--an obviously wealthy, concerned citizen who travels freely and fearlessly through Palm City's underworld. I'm reserving judgement, in anticipation of future episodes shedding some light on her, or even giving us an origin story of sorts.

    So, there's some camp and a metric butt-load of superhero cliche, but there's also some genuine drama in the story of Nick Farraday. I think, as a whole, it works, and I'll definitely be tuning in to the next episode.