Few could deny that protagonists with a penchant for capes are enjoying something of a golden age. You’d need a few comic book powers of your own to avoid them at the moment. Nearly a decade after Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, inspiring a tsunami of superpowered cinema, regular releases are still being met with critical and commercial success.
But unlike some of the titular titans, that box-office buzz won’t last forever. The genre, I’d argue, must go back to basics. It must learn from one of the greats: Flash Gordon.
For pure, anarchic fun, the 1980 space opera centred on the blond-haired Jets quarterback has the modern-day do-gooders beat. Helmed by Brit Mike Hodges (Get Carter, Croupier), and with production design by Fellini collaborator and double-Oscar-winner Danilo Donati, it’s a primary-coloured feast for the eyes, the lavish sets and costumes blasting the CGI-dependent newbies into another dimension.
And Gordon’s certainly in no danger of taking itself too seriously; Flash saves the Earth, gets the girl and beats the big bad in a not-overstaying-his-welcome 111 minutes. In contrast, our bloated, 21st century cinematic universes need to learn the art of editing – easing back on the self-indulgent meta-ness and cynical franchise-building would be good places to start.
Gordon succeeds by keeping the story simple (if ridiculous); laying on highly memorable set-pieces (the wood-beast initiation, the spiky-floored duel, the hawkmen assault); having a deliciously dastardly villain in Max von Sydow’s Ming (along with his Skeletor-esque sidekick); a variety of scenery-chewing performances of the highest order (helmet tip to Brian Blessed); and a hilariously cheesy script (how many Marvel zingers will we still be quoting in 37 years time?). Oh, and flying jetskis. All elements in which recent super-outings have regularly fallen short. Especially the jetskis.
Hodges’ movie also can’t be mentioned without talking about the soundtrack. It was written and performed by Queen, a supergroup at the peak of its powers plus the perfect match for the movie’s glam campness. Any list of soundtracks more memorable than Flash Gordon’s would be a short one – an would include no other superhero films. That needs to be rectified.
Put simply, if pitted against its younger contenders (“To the death!”), Gordon would still be very much alive. Or is it just me?
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