All entries for Monday 29 September 2008

September 29, 2008

'The sun rises on a new dawn'

2 out of 5 stars

Once upon a time, before he made very bad movies, M. Night Shyamalan made very good movies.

One of these, called Unbreakable(2000), succeeded excellently because it was built on a solid premise. Shyamalan was well-versed in tales of superheroes. Having read many graphic novels and watched countless films, he realised that the common element that he found most engaging was the rite-of-passage of a character discovering his/her supernatural ability; he undergoes extraordinary experiences, but is a sympathetic figure because he remains identifiably human. Shyamalan decided to make this aspect of superhero myth the focus of his film, eschewing the usual main course of superhero narrative – the cosmic battle between demi-god hero and villain – and portrayed a man coming to terms with his powers at length. It worked well, and I think series 1 of Heroes worked well, at times, for the same reason. And in the successes of Unbreakable and the first series of Heroes, we have hints as to why the second instalment of Heroes is so bad.

What do you do when your superheroes have graduated from their Universities of Superhero Life, when they have bypassed the stage of self-discovery? To me there seem to be three possible directions. The first I call The Eternal Struggle, in which the developed hero is pitted against an endless gallery of worthy foes. The second option is to explore the aspects of the hero that remain human; our Superman needs a Lois Lane. The third avenue is to introduce new characters and start again. Heroes pursues each of these option in series 2, but, faced with the question ‘what next?’ it seems to come up with a wrong answer every time.

To start with, two observations:

1). Series two of Heroes begins with the line, ‘the sun rises on a new dawn.’

2). The person responsible for this felt entitled to join in a script-writers’ strike for higher wages.

This marvellously awful narration signals the standard of dialogue in an impending storyline that exemplifies all that induces sorrow in Heroes s2.

We find ourselves in oIreland.

This is not a typo.

Somewhere in Cork we encounter a family whose members speak with inexplicably different Irish accents that, if containing no regional similarity, share a common heritage of Irish Stereotype. T’be shore, t’be shore, t’isn’t it one o’ them he-roes? A pint o’ Guinness for me Hero friend in the name of Pete. We have arrived in Cork, via an act of Contrivance, in the company of Peter Petrelli, who – brace yourself – has amnesia! The amnesia storyline (such a hackneyed vehicle in drama that it is derided gleefully in Futurama to the tune of every character in the soap opera having amnesia) allows the series to tread water as Peter rediscovers what we already know, meets an oIrish slip of a girl he wants to poke, and weighs up whether a future global holocaust might not actually be preferable to an entire series of this nonsense.

Meanwhile, all your favourite characters are ticking over. Horsey Woman is on anti-hero meds. Annoying Cop is playing house with little girl. Dr Mohinder, the Asian Jose Mourinho, fancies a spot of infiltration, which does jolt a bit of excitement into this twitching corpse. Cheerleader is told by daddy that she can’t cheerlead, until the show’s producers realise it is perilous for viewing statistics not to have her bouncing around in a cheerleader’s outfit. Also, she is told she cannot date and ends up doing so! It’s teenage rebellion, my friends. But it is badly executed, and if there’s a fantastic element to her realtionship with drippy fellow-hero boyfriend, it remains mostly the kind of teen dross I spend my life trying to avoid. The couple of new characters retread old ground covered by special effects. Most times they’re all wondering what to do with themselves while the main villain has lost his powers, an inconvenience to him which also removes the risk of the series having much tension. On it plods through a not-so-mystifying series of murders and confrontations, ending with a visual quote from X-Men that hints we might be back to square 1 in series 3.

The sliver of entertainment that earns this series its two stars is delivered by the cuddly Japanese bear named Hiro. I’d like to tickle him. Hiro travels in time to feudal Japan. What larks he has in the company if a legendary Japanese hero, who turns out to be a white man carrying a much-needed Threat of Villainy. The backdrops are stunning, the storyline has more going for it than any of the others, and Hiro gets some well-deserved booty for a change.

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