The Awesomes and Other Superhero Underdogs

One of my favorite streaming-video sites is Hulu and they're jumping into the original content game. The Awesomes is one of their first highly-publicized efforts, an animated parody of the superhero genre, and despite some corny humor here and there, it kept my interest and offered some good laughs thanks to its creators Seth Meyers and Mike Shoemaker. The pilot also laid the groundwork for some potentially interesting storylines to come. The premise is nothing new -- rejects take over when the world's greatest superhero team disbands. Those underdogs try to prove themselves while saving the world from dastardly fiends, such as Dr. Malocchio with his powers of hypnosis. The low-tier do-gooders are a motley crew, trying to prove themselves to each other and to the rest of the world -- Prock, the time-stopping son of Mr. Awesome; the naively positive and super-strong Muscleman; the even stronger Sumo (who is actually an 11-year-old boy); the fast as lightning Frantic; the rejuvenated Gadget Gal; Impressario, the conjurer with mother issues; and the electrically-charged Hotwire. They are constantly in the shadow of the original heroes, Mr. Awesome, Perfect Man, and the rest. The fun is seeing them fail but then succeed, despite themselves.

It's a story idea that is far from original, yet has moments of hilarity for those, like me, who enjoy that sort of thing. Superhero spoofs are nothing new and sometimes can reach the level of brilliance, such as Pixar's The Incredibles.  We've seen a bunch of movies poke fun at the superhero/supervillain genre, Despicable Me and Megamind are a couple that quickly come to mind. Playing the concept for laughs is an easy way to draw out a chuckle, especially when your characters are cartoonish men and women in tights, but it's not as easy as it seems -- just take a look at movies like My Super Ex-Girlfriend and Orgazmo as examples. 

When we see the average guy or gal step in the shoes of the larger-than-life comicbook-inspired would-be legends, that's where the hope lies for solid comedy and maybe even a serious lesson or two about human nature. Sometimes it works, often it doesn't.  Here are some examples, and you can be the judge.

Blankman - Starring Damon Wayans, David Alan Grier, and Robin Givens, a simpleton inventor becomes a bulletproof, low-budget crimefighter.

Hero at Large - I remember this little film fondly. John Ritter stars alongside Anne Archer, Burt Convy, and Kevin McCarthy. He's an average guy who becomes a tabloid sensation when he stops a crime while dressed up for a superhero movie he's hired to promote. Needless to say, the sudden fame isn't all it's cracked up to be.

The Greatest American Hero - The theme song still brings back nice memories of this silly little TV show starring William Katt as a bumbling teacher who is given an alien supersuit but loses the instruction manual. Katt has nice chemistry with Robert Culp, who plays the gruff federal agent keeping tabs on him, even though it was reported that they couldn't stand each other behind-the-scenes. The rest of the cast was also fun to watch -- Connie Sellecca, Faye Grant, and Michael Pare.

Kick-Ass - Based on the comic by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., the action-comedy explores what happens when a high school kid tries to become a real-life superhero. The best part is Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit Girl, trained by former cop Big Daddy (played by Nicolas Cage). The violence is gritty and controversial (Jim Carrey, who plays Colonel Stars and Stripes in the sequel, has already made waves by denouncing it), but it's a good story that beneath the bruises tries to explore the repercussions of the violent clashes that are glamorized in cartoons and comicbooks when they are mimicked in reality.

The Meteor Man - A green meteorite gives powers to a mild-mannered school teacher, played convincingly by Robert Townsend, and he tries to clean up his Washington, D.C., streets from some hoodlums who are terrorizing them. It's a harmless, light-hearted flick, with an exceptional cast -- Marla Gibbs, Eddie Griffin, Robert Guillaume, James Earl Jones, Don Cheadle, Bill Cosby, Frank Gorshin, and Sinbad.

Misfits of Science - The title says it all for this short-lived TV series. Before she hit it big on Friends, Courteney Cox played a telekinetic teen who is teamed up with the seven-foot-tall Kevin Peter Hall who can shrink down to the size of an action-figure, an electricity-powered rock star, and an "ice man" who only appeared in the pilot episode (because Marvel Comics threatened to sue). It was an admittedly cheesy show way ahead of its time.

Mystery Men - Amateur crimefighters try to save superhero Captain Amazing (played by Greg Kinnear) from the evil Cassanova Frankenstein (played by Geoffrey Rush). The decent cast (Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, Janeane Garafalo, Paul Reubens, Lena Olin, Eddie Izzard, Artie Lange, Wes Studi, and Tom Waits) barely manages to make it all somewhat interesting.

Sky High - The son of two great superheroes (played wonderfully by Kurt Rusell and Kelly Preston, tries to find his place in the world through the prism of high school -- one for superpowered folks.

The Specials - Here's another low-budget attempt to tell the story of under-rated, over-achieving superheroes, this one starring Rob Lowe, Jamie Kennedy, Thomas Haden Church, Jordan Ladd, and others.

Super - Despite the always excellent Ellen Page and Rainn Wilson as the stars, this is a pretty terrible movie about an everyday short-order cook who tries to be superheroic to save his wife. The heart is there, the execution is awful and embarrassing.

Super Capers -- Here's the description for this z-grade motion picture (I cannot vouch for its quality): "A good guy with no powers joins a superhero team with no clue against a bad guy with no shame."

Superhero Movie - At least this film wears its intentions on its sleeve. It's just trying to be the next Airplane and Naked Gun. If that's where your tastes lie, give it a shot.

Zoom - Very similar to Sky High but not as fun, this flick centers on Tim Allen as a superhero who comes out of retirement to train some kids at a superhero academy.

Did I miss any?