This '90s cult superhero comedy has what today's Marvel and DC movies lack
Despite its flaws, there are more lively and eccentric personalities flowing through this film than in the last four Marvel movies.
Blankman is a largely forgotten '90s cult comedy, though, and there's a lot to be said for the way superhero entertainment has been simplified and handled on a massive scale since the MCU took over our movie culture. Of course, this is not always the case. Quick show of hands: Who remembers superhero movies from the '90s?
Of course, some people have fond memories of darker-than-dark beings like The Crow or Spawn, both of which superficially flirted with the very particular heavy-metal horror imagery of the era. Or how about a wink, self-aware camp like The Phantom? A rambling yet inspired satire on Mysterio starring Ben Stiller? Or maybe you're partial to the bleak gothic majesty and Fritz Lang-inspired visuals of Tim Burton's Batman films, both of which remain genre-defining if subsequent superhero epics haven't been eclipsed. (Technically, Burton's first Batman adventures came out in '89, but we digress).
Marvel and DC Movies Have Become Generic
Long before Blankman, the Marvel Cinematic Universe seemed like an exciting prospect for a time. In most cases, however, it becomes incredibly difficult to actually get excited Whether it's a Marvel or a DC product these days - mostly because the movies have become so generic and interchangeable. For better or worse, the recipe remains the same: it always involves traditionally handsome movie stars donning clumsy superhero suits, ditching the glib, one-liners that have been rewritten after the success of the superhero genre. Essentials is Iron Man first, occasionally venturing out to find things like the Sorcerer's Stone. As they say: rinse, lather, repeat.
Every now and then, a Marvel movie reminds us of the magic that made those movies so fascinating in the first place (last year's Oscar-nominated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was certainly good). But on the whole, these movies don't offer any status-worthy luxury. They are not tools that filmmakers, writers, and actors use to test exciting or challenging ideas; instead, they have become impersonal cinematic puzzles that exist in a vast, interconnected, and largely uninteresting superhero multiverse .
'Blankman' Spoofs the Modern Superhero Movie
For the most part, Blankman was a broad parody of the superhero trend that would continue to dominate Hollywood. To be clear, Blankman is not A great movie, and not a particularly good one either. It's lumpy and scattered: a collection of half-assed comic ideas and undeniably spirited performances, looking for a film to lock on. Blankman is fun: Especially by today's depressing standards of superhero entertainment, Blankman is almost an odd success. Despite its flaws, there are more lively and eccentric personalities flowing through this film than in the last four Marvel movies.
Blankman stars Damon Wayans and David Alan Greer, former In Living Color co-stars, as brothers Darryl and Kevin Walker. Greer plays Kevin as a hapless douchebag: his philosophy of life simply imposes the idea of hard work, a plan that brings him nothing but misery and mediocrity. Wayans plays Darryl as the antithesis of his brother. He's closer to the typical Adam Sandler boy/nerd persona, with a high-pitched voice, clumsy mannerisms and resilience in the face of bullies and haters. Ironically, Blankman director Mike Binder went on to direct Sandler on the post-9/11 drama Reign Over Me, which co-stars Don Cheadle. It should be mentioned that Darryl is also a Inventor: Imagine if MacGyver was living in a crime-ridden metropolis, obsessed with old-school Batman TV shows, and dressed in a superhero costume that was 90% pajamas, and you'd be on the right track.
'Blankman' Is a Superhero Movie With Political Bite
Unlike today's superhero movies, Blankman's sense of danger is surprisingly rooted in reality. Darryl and his brother live in a dire part of town where working class citizens face daily muggings, violent crimes, and even unabashed political corruption. One of the film's most poignant depictions is reserved for the neighborhood cops, who are portrayed here as incompetent at best and harmful in appearance at worst. What's a loveless D.I.Y. inventor to do when those entrusted with maintaining law and order and keeping the local populace safe can't even do their job? Why, of course invent the superhero alias "Blankman" and start cleaning up the community!
For a film that is essentially a goofy '90s teen comedy, Blankman touches on many hot-button social issues; whether it manages to do so is a conversation entirely in its own right. The film is essentially about the act of personal sacrifice that comes with policing one's own neighborhood, that is, without traditional law enforcement. There's also a subplot about a smooth, affable mayor who may or may not be morally compromising, and the hot-headed boss of a shameless and exploitative tabloid news network, led by screaming, hot-blooded Jason Alexander plays, all of them. If Binder's film, for whatever reason, were remade today, one can imagine that Alexander's character might draw comparisons to the likes of Alex Jones.
Blankman, in his gruff manner, asks the audience what it means to be a hero in a hopeless world. Blankman's tone often feels akin to a full-length SNL flick, but the world in which the story unfolds is pure Larry Cohen: dirty, exacerbated, and sometimes brutal. Since so many of today's superhero movies lack some fundamental sense of place, it's hard to even pinpoint what's at stake with these more refined, often soulless Hollywood offerings. Of course, people don't watch Thor: Love and Thunder for its sense of place, just like people don't necessarily watch Blankman for any #DefundThePolice criticism. That said, it shows that Binder's much-maligned cult item feels like a real novelty Today, if only as a very unique counterpoint to the overwhelming sense of creative anonymity that plagues contemporary superhero entertainment.
Again, let's be clear that Blankman is not a home run. It's a film of ups and downs, with the protagonist and the script's most famous female character (a charming TV news reporter played doggedly by Robin Givens, a thanklessly conceived role). Nothing came of the romance between them. It's also a movie that manages to sneak in a rather cringe-worthy premature ejaculation gag just moments before the end credits roll. In other words, no, the movie wasn't fully developed, and that's not why we're writing about it today. We write it because Blankman has one quality that superhero movies lack today: personality.