The Film: The Return of Captain Invincible (1983)

The Principals: Alan Arkin, Christopher Lee, Michael Pate, Kate Fitzpatrick. Written by Steven E. de Souza. Directed by Phillipe Mora.

The Premise: Captain Invincible (Arkin) is a fairly classic multi-powered superhero. He can fly. He’s got super strength. He has a brain capable of almost robotic functioning. And he also has the power magnetism. The film opens with a black and white newsreel prologue. The Captain was an American hero during WWII, but during the 1950’s he got roasted by Senator McCarthy for possible Communist ties. This sent Captain Invincible into shameful retirement. When we jump to the present we find Invincible homeless and drunk in Australia. When the President of the United States (Pate), who idolized Invincible as a kid, discovers that Mr. Midnight (Lee) is plotting some villainous shit, Invincible is tracked down and brought out of retirement with the help of an Australian female police detective (Fitzpatrick), who constantly seems to get her shirt ripped off.

Is It Good: It is good silly fun. But boy is it silly. Not to mention fucking weird. The film is part Adam West Batman, part Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker joint, and part rock musical — featuring songs by Rocky Horror Picture Shows‘s Richard Hartley and Richard O’Brien. Even weirder than being an intermittent superhero rock musical (there are a couple long stretches between numbers, and we don’t even get to our first song until about 10-15 minutes in; though there are a lot of songs) is how much the film will remind you of The Incredibles and the first half of Hancock. Even as a pun-laden doofy comedy, the film frankly does more interesting things with the drunken hobo set-up than Hancock, as booze is essentially Captain Invincible’s weakness — the best musical number in the film is “Name Your Poison” sung by Christopher Lee, which finds Mr. Midnight tempting Invincible with a pyramid of alcohol.

Not all of the musical numbers are great, but none of them are terrible either. Arkin has a much better singing voice then you’d guess. And though he doesn’t have the best tone for song, I frankly just like hearing Christopher Lee sing anything in his haunted well-deep voice, which at times seems to struggle to hit the higher registers of a normal mortal. Arkin is tops as Captain Invincible, completely getting the tone of the film. Arkin is great for this kind of humor, as his best comedic performances always seem to hover in this weird equilibrium between straight-faced total investment and winking ironic detachment. It takes a lot of confidence and talent as an actor to hit that mark, but that’s why Arkin has had such a long career. Lee’s character doesn’t make much sense, as he’s an ex-Nazi whose dastardly plans are motivated by a desire to cleanse the human race, yet his one companion in the film is a Yoda-like goblin. Seems like that creepy thing would be the first to get “cleansed.” Director Phillipe Mora (The Beast Within) is quick to admit this was a very blatant Star Wars toss-in, as he was taking a kitchen-sink approach to the film (which wasn’t originally going to be a musical or ZAZ style comedy either).

Is It Worth A Look: I just said “pun-laden.” This is a very corny film. At times it almost feels like your dad wrote it (I’m just assuming your old man loves terrible puns as much as mine). I love terrible puns. Do you? Would you laugh if, at the end of a long scene in which Captain Invincible is attacked by a store full of vacuum cleaners, Alan Arkin said, “I guess that’s why nature hates a vacuum.” Or if when we cut to a sequence in Poland we get a quick glimpse of four Polish men holding a woman up in the air and spinning her in a circle so she can replace a light bulb (the visual answer to the old Polish joke, “How many Poles does it take to screw in a light bulb?)? Cause that’s what we’re dealing with here. Though there are some more legitimate laughs to be had. I loved the moment when – after Captain Invincible has sobered up for the first time – he and the lady cop are walking around Sydney and we realize Invincible thinks he’s in New York. “Australia?! That’s where I’ve been all these years?”

I should warn you that I saw this movie at a superhero marathon attended by CHUD vets Devin Farci and Jeremy Smith, and they both thought it was completely retarded. So did I, but I mean it in a good way. So there you have it, folks. Though, siding with my team, author Terry Pratchett lists this as one of his favorite films (that’s pretty extreme). In either case, I don’t know how that above still doesn’t make you want to see this movie. Christopher Lee singing rock show tunes!

Random Anecdote: According to Mora, Alan Arkin was interested in doing the film because his father was black listed during the McCarthy senate hearings. Another good Mora factoid involves one of Lee’s first days of shooting. Lee kept moving his head forward during a tracking shot, which Mora found conspicuous. Eventually Mora pulled Lee aside to ask him what the fuck was going on, to which Lee replied something to the effect of, “I have made over a hundred films, and I know the camera. Your focus puller is shit. So I am trying to correct him.” Mora says that Christopher Lee is the only “self focusing actor” he’s ever worked with.