It is the Second World War. The Nazi menace is threatening the world, but fear not! We can always count on Captain Invincible (a sort of amalgam of Superman and Captain America) to swoop in from the skies and defend what’s right against Hitler and his minions.
But then the war ends, and the next thing you know, Captain Invincible is arraigned before HUAC on charges of premature anti-fascism, flying without a licence, and wearing underwear in public (red underwear too, which the Committee finds significant). Cap storms out of the witch-hunt, and disappears from public view.
Fast forward to the early 1980s. Cap surfaces once again, in Sydney of all places. Sad to say, our superhero is now a washed-up alcoholic. And yet what the world needs now is a shining hero. Cap’s old nemesis Mr Midnight has raided a military base and stolen the top-secret Hypno-Ray for use in his latest dastardly scheme. (It’s a real estate scam, as it happens, and suspiciously similar to Lex Luthor’s real estate scam in the recent Superman Returns.) So there’s nothing for it but to find Cap, dry him out, and send him into battle.
This is a very silly movie, but scarcely more silly than most of the superhero movies that do big box office nowadays. And yet, there’s lots to like about it. It’s an affectionate but quite accurate send-up of the Golden Age of comics. It’s also an Australian production, which means lots of vaguely familiar-looking Aussie character actors. (This being the time when there only were about fifteen actors in Australia.) There’s plenty of the dry Antipodean humour that made Starstruck so much fun. There’s also a nice cameo of the US president striding around purposefully, followed by a hilariously grovelling Australian prime minister. Part of the Vietnam hangover?
And the cast doesn’t hurt either. In the lead is an appropriately world-weary Alan Arkin, playing a very Lower East Side superhero of the kind that Jack Kirby would have recognised. And as the villain, Christopher Lee, who’s never been shy about sending up his own image, strutting about in black leather and being generally menacing.
Oh, did I mention it’s a musical? Yes it is, courtesy of Richards Hartley and O’Brien, of Rocky Horror fame. If you like The Wicker Man, and are dying to see more of Christopher Lee in all-singing all-dancing mode, this is the picture for you. Just unplug the old brain first, and go with it.