It had been a long day. On my drive home all I could think about was what movie to watch that night. I like to put on a movie at the end of the day, crawl into bed, and get lost in another world for a few hours, forget about rent, utilities, groceries, all those things that consume many adult lives. As a comic fan I love superhero movies especially, but I had seen and re-seen just about every one I could think of. That’s when I noticed the package on my doorstep.
I was a fair bit giddy with excitement. I couldn’t recall ordering anything recently, and there was no return address on the little rectangle box. Curiosity had gotten the better of me, and I couldn’t even wait until I was inside before I was ripping the box open, finding a single DVD inside.
I vaguely recognized the title and logo from my comic shop days, an indie superhero book presented by William Katt (of Greatest American Hero fame) and published by Catastrophic Comics. It was simply called Sparks, and it was a superhero film I hadn’t even heard of until that very moment. I was instantly intrigued, especially upon seeing Clancy Brown’s name in the credits.
My editor and I have had many conversations about origin stories in the movies. Most times the origin is so well known or retold so many times that it feels like a retread, especially in the case of the most notorious perpetrators, Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man. This too was an origin story, but being unfamiliar with the character I was okay with it. The way the origin was told, through flashbacks, was done very well, perfectly breaking up the main story, but not feeling obtrusive.
“So what is Sparks about?” I hear you ask. Basically, it is the origin story of Ian Sparks (Chase Williamson), who lost his parents as a young boy in a car collision with a train, a collision that caused him to be doused in a river of mysterious chemicals. He dons a costume and begins fighting thugs and common criminals until joining up with other heroes to track and apprehend the Matanza Killer, played by the previously mentioned William Katt. Basic origin story stuff right there.
The story, however, has much more going on in the shadows. Sparks starts up a duo, as well as a romance, with Lady Heavenly (Ashley Bell), the former partner of hero Sledge (Jake Busey). This partnership doesn’t last long, as the duo is split up upon finding the Matanza killer, Heavenly is tied up, and Sparks is shot in the head and left for dead. Framed for the Matanza Killer’s murders, Sparks turns to the local paper to “report my murder”. Sparks has been watched by the powerful Archer (Clancy Brown) ever since the accident, and Archer is the one who brings the team together to help catch the killer, and clear Sparks’ name.
With this being a neo-noir film set in the 1940s (I did mention that, right?), of course nobody is who they seem on the surface, and there is a fair amount of turnabout and deception along the way. The good guys do bad things left and right, and every character slowly reveals flaws as the movie progresses. There are quite a few surprising moments as well, as various characters lay their cards on the table.
Adapted and directed by original series writer Christopher Folino, the story was the best thing about the movie. It was just different enough to set itself apart from most comic-to-film attempts, with plenty of common cliches and tropes to not stand out too much. The story was a fresh take on both the superhero and neo-noir genres, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The script did have some bits of hokey dialog, jumped around more than necessary, and could possibly be confusing to some viewers at points, but those are minor squabbles.
For a film shot on such a limited budget, it was exciting, full of action and intrigue, and only the slightly dodgy special effects reminded me of how little was spent in the making of it. They perfectly captured the look and feel of the era, and much of its tight budget must have been spent on period automobiles. You could definitely tell that much of it was shot against green screen, but it didn’t distract.
The acting was over all well done, with some decent performances from rising stars Williamson and Bell. Clancy Brown was his usual self, fully embodying the character of Archer, and all it entailed. There were plenty of subtle clues in his performance as to his true persona, but they didn’t ruin the reveal.
The DVD had little in the way of bonus features, but the outtakes, commentary, and making of documentary were all entertaining in their own way.
With a fresh story and pleasant performances by the actors involved, I would definitely recommend Sparks, but only to true superhero fans, as most mainstream audience members may not be able to turn a blind eye to the SyFy Channel level CGI effects. An admirable effort with a small budget that I felt really paid off in the end product.
Now, I’m off to the comic shop to track down Sparks the comic.
Sparks is available right now on DVD and Blu-Ray courtesy of Image Entertainment.