Thursday, April 15, 2010

Kid Flicks: The Meteor Man (1993)

Every family has a movie (or movies) that, for one reason or another, takes the VCR/DVD Player hostage and receives more repeat viewings than it deserves. In our house, some of those movies were Sister Act, D2: The Mighty Ducks, and The Meteor Man.  These are just some of the movies I want to write about in my new series, Kid Flicks.

African-American superheroes aren't easy to find.  For every Blade, Storm, and Bishop, there's about a billion other superheroes hosting paler complexions.  While researching for my thesis ("Hollywood's Depictions of Inner-City High Schools") I repeatedly came across journal articles discussing the lack of minority comic book characters.  Even with the emergence of the graphic novel, non-white heroes are still few in number.  I bring this up mostly because as a kid I LOVED The Meteor Man but had no idea just how important the movie was.

Robert Townsend is grossly underrated.  He's written, produced, directed, and starred in a a number of films that are equally underrated.  Don't believe me?  Get your hands on a copy of Hollywood Shuffle, a comedic satire aimed at the stereotyping of black actors in Hollywood. After you watch it, revel in the fact that this was his first film.

Townsend stars as Reed Jefferson, a mild-mannered inner-city citizen who comes into contact with a space rock that gives him superpowers.  He's strong, he flies, and he's backed up by a concerned Neighborhood Watch group.  Together, they take on The Golden Lords, a vicious street gang complete with matching hairdos and gold Slinkys.  

This is (to my knowledge) the only superhero film that directly addresses the issues of inner-city gang violence.  Other superheroes have fought random gangsters and thugs but Meteor Man worked with Bloods, Crips, and the police to stop street violence.  This came out in 1993, a time where Los Angeles was rioting over Rodney King and the East Coast/West Coast rivalries were beginning to heat up.  Gang membership was on a rise and their violence was too. Looking back, it becomes clear just how important Meteor Man was.  An African-American superhero who fought the real evils of the time. 

Another reason to check out Meteor Man is its huge ensemble cast.  Actors such as James Earl Jones, Bill Cosby, and Don Cheadle play prominent roles.  Townsend also embraced the hip-hop community by casting Big Daddy Kane, Naughty By Nature, Cypress Hill, and Another Bad Creation.  

Where I grew up, there were only three radio stations I could pick up: a country station, a hip-hop station, and a Mexican music station.  I didn't speak Spanish and I hated country.  That left hip-hop.  Cypress Hill's "Black Sunday" was released around the same time as this  movie and it didn't take me long to recognize B-Real as one of the gang leaders who helps Meteor Man at the end.  The soundtrack definitely played a part in my repeated viewings.

When I was young, I thought Meteor Man was the coolest.  I owned X-Men comic books but the movies were a decade away.  Superman wasn't my cup of tea and his movies were boring.  Batman was one of my favorites but his movies were deemed "too violent" by my parents.  That left Meteor Man.  His movie has awesome action, the ever-coveted rap music, and was funny.  And while it epitomizes "The Nineteen-Nineties" and looks completely dated today, it's still a fun watch and carries a message more important than most other superhero movies.

Memorable Meteor Man Images:
1. The gold Slinkys.
2. The newly united Bloods and Crips appearing on the rooftops--packing automatic weapons--to help a weakening Meteor Man.
3. Bill Cosby living in a basement.  For some reason, this really sticks out in my memory. 

The Meteor Man
Directed, Written, and Starring: Robert Townsend
Co-Starring: Eddie Griffin, James Earl Jones, Bill Cosby, Don Cheadle, and Sinbad
Release Date: August 6th, 1993
Studio: MGM


Univarn said...

Gah this brings back memories. I remember when we first got cable I was around 12ish and this movie was on HBO pretty much every Saturday morning (for no apparent reason) and so when I transitioned away from Cartoons, this was one of my heavy landing grounds.

It's a very nostalgic movie to go back and watch, especially with all the talent involved. You are definitely right about Robert Townsend. Not sure how, but he's one of those talents that got lost in the fray of everything (post Parent Hood that is). Though I'm sure B*A*P*S didn't help his career much either (though both him and Halle Berry have managed to escape it)

Goose3984 said...

I literally watched this like 2 days ago, thank you Netflix instant. For me one of those movies was Cool World, I have been watching that movie since i was 8, it took a few years to understand all the sexual references, but it was still great!

Heather said...

I'm jealous that this was one of your (awesome sounding) kid flicks. I had Labrynth, Neverending Story, and a few others that have held up to some degree, but mostly I had the 1988 hit On Our Own, which I believe was one of those Feature Films for Families, and had the kind of music that nine year old girls loved because it was perfect for belting in their most affected voices.

Heather said...

"Hold on! Ho-old on! We can make it together!"

elgringo said...

Univarn -- B*A*P*S did a lot of bad for a lot of people. But for SOME REASON, my dad (whose favorite movies are Fiddler on the Roof and Yentl) loves this movie and watches it every time it comes on TV.

Goose - Isn't it safe to say that this is Sinbad's best movie? Well, then again...there's always First Kid.

Heather - I've never heard of On Our Own but I do remember The Buttercream Gang!

Nigel G Mitchell said...

Uh...okay, while I agree that it was a very progressive movie and it was great to see a black superhero, I did not think this was a good movie. If we had a plethora of black superhero movies, "Meteor Man" wouldn't even rank in the top ten. The only reason this movie looks good is that there really isn't much to compare it to. For one thing, Meteor Man's powers were not clearly defined enough. I mean, how exactly did he get that garden to grow? And the costume was lame. It was a nice attempt at a black superhero, but no one could hold him up seriously against characters like Batman. I'm still waiting for a black superhero movie that actually stands on his own rather than just a "hey, look, I'm black!" movie. If only they'd give Milestone's characters like Icon a movie.

elgringo said...

I think what's progressive about Meteor Man is not that he's just a black superhero but he's also taking on the real evils of his community.

Townsend wasn't trying to make a superhero on the same plane as Batman or even Superman but instead, he used the superhero mythology as a metaphor for strengthening communities to combat social issues. Name another superhero (white or otherwise) who relies on his/her community the way Meteor Man does.

And as far as costumes go, Meteor Man's is as dated as the rest of the film but it still upholds the everyman qualities of Meteor Man. Bruce Wayne was a millionaire with the technology to build a suit like he did. Superman crashed to Earth with the indestructible material to build his costume. Meteor Man's costume was pieced together on a low budget from stuff you could buy at a local fabric store. I'd compare it to Spider-Man's early costume (in the film). He made due with what he had and the costume was used as a statement about the man wearing it.

And not to be too confrontational, but your argument of Meteor Man's standing amongst a "plethora of black superhero movies" is unsubstantial. For all we know, a plethora of hypothetical black superhero movies could be "worse" than Meteor Man thus putting it at the top of the "Top 10."

Thanks for the comment. I love talking about Meteor Man.