At this point, it’s hard to break any new ground in the superhero genre, whether you want to make a comedy, a Christopher Nolan “gritty” ripoff, a Marvel Studio confection, something meta, or a “disturbing” indie.
It’s all been done. Sparks attempts to roll all of that into a ball of stereotypes, with little success.
Written and directed by Christopher Folino, based on an independent comic book series from Catastrophic Comics (also written by Folino), Sparks is one of those films that tries so hard to be gleefully old-school, while simultaneously injecting its soul with gritty, self-aware neo-noir DNA.
It all begins, as most things do, in Rochester, NY (home of the garbage plate), in 1920. A vague scene occurs with religious/Last Supper musings, and a creepy goggled killer. Then, it’s upstaged by a meteor strike, with 75 people exposed to unique radiation, and 200+ more killed, as we learn from an old school newscaster in black and white.
Only 13 have survived the radiation, each with unique mutations. We also learn the identity of the killer: Kevin Sherwood AKA Ringmaster Jesus, his moniker the only reason to explain the murky Last Supper connections. He’s one of the Rochester 13.
28 years later, we pick up the narrative, in a noir-y, perpetually raining and gray world. So, Rochester in 1948. The search is on for Ian Sparks (Chase Williamson, far better in John Dies At The End), the copycat killer. He limps into the Daily Chronicle (cute), and wants to report a slew of murders. Clint Howard or Gordon Eldridge, the head of the paper, demands a confession. Instead, Sparks tells his convoluted story, bringing us to the depressing present, while a recorder immortalizes Ian’s story.
We flashback to when Ian was a kid, riding along with his parents, waiting for a train to pass. A police chase occurs, involving Clancy Brown as a cop, shooting down a criminal of some sort. The criminal’s car rams right into Ian and his parents…propelling them straight into the train. The train is carrying a mysterious liquid called Red G, enveloping Ian. He’s the only survivor and comes to live with his
Aunt May Grandmother. He’s Batman, Spider-Man and Kick-Ass combined, lacking a serious amount of their cool points.
From there, as Sparks grows older, he starts fighting crime because that’s the only thing that makes sense, taking out the neighborhood thugs, before moving to the city for bigger and better challenges. He’s out of his element, getting beat up routinely, until saved by Lady Heavenly (The Last Exorcism‘s Ashley Bell). They team up, as she abandons Sledge (Starship Troopers’ Jake Busey), and the two fall in love. Sparks doesn’t appear to have any abilities, but he can take a beating, like Kick-Ass, and gets to bed the two women in the movie… because he’s the hero. We know he’s special for some reason because of it, but nothing about him before that “revelation” is interesting.
A year later, right after Sparks proposes to Lady Heavenly, the couple are captured and tortured by a villainous killer named Matanza (William Katt). The problem is that it’s so obvious Matanza IS Kevin Sherwood/Ringmaster Jesus, and not someone new or a copycat, that any sort of suspense is shot from the beginning. Sledge saves the day and kills Matanza… leading Lady Heavenly to doubt Sparks (who was found at the scene of the crime, nary a scratch on them, no recollection of the events) and leave him, returning to work with Sledge.
From there, Sparks becomes a joke, until he’s rescued by Archer (Clancy Brown), and two heirs of the Rochester 13: Dawn (Gossip Girl and Chicago PD’s Marina Squerciati) and Cain (Esteban Cueto). Dawn’s a shapeshifter and Cain’s like Thing and the Human Torch combined, without the flight or personality. From there, Archer puts on his mentor hat, and they seek revenge on Sparks’ parents’ killer, but all is (of course) not what it seems.
Sparks isn’t bad, but if you’ve read a comic book, or seen a superhero movie, or have any familiarity with these actors, you know exactly what’s going to happen the entire time. You mean Jake Busey’s character, the snubbed superhero, isn’t a good guy? You mean Clancy Brown, who clearly had a part in Ian Sparks’ death from the moment we see the flashback, isn’t who he seems? Ian Sparks ISN’T the killer, and is the hero? I could go on, but I wouldn’t want to ruin anything for those who haven’t seen a superhero flick before. Sparks is made as if it was actually the 1940’s, when audiences were naive to superhero tropes, and would be excited by such a cliche story. I’m not sure if Sparks is meant to be a dark comedy, or not, since it’s not really funny, and the Diet Sin City look isn’t flattering for anyone.
The film has its moments, and thankfully isn’t boring, but just because it’s jam-packed with several bits of different comic book stories, doesn’t mean the Frankensteinian creation that results is fresh.
- Starring: Chase Williamson, Ashley Bell, Clancy Brown
- Directed by: Todd Burrows, Christopher Folino
- Running Time: 97 minutes
- Genre: Action, Thriller