Friday, January 8, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Mirageman (2007)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

When he and his brother were young, Maco's (Marko Zaror) parents were killed in a robbery. Maco now works as the bouncer of a slightly classier strip club, but his parents' deaths hasn't left him with much of a life - he's honing his martial arts skills alone in his nearly empty cellar hole of an apartment and is obsessed with physical fitness, and that's all he has in life. He certainly has neither friends nor lovers.
Maco is still less hurt than his brother who lives in a mental institution, traumatized and depressed and unable to even leave his room.

One night on his way to work, Maco witnesses a robbery. He kicks the perpetrators' asses, donning the mask he takes from one of them for no reason he himself could explain, rescues their victims and flees. One of the victims (Maria Elena Swett) is a TV reporter and on the next evening news, Maco finds himself styled as a masked vigilante hero.

His brother sees the news too, and the newly made hero seems to help him to get in contact with reality again. With a motivator this strong, Maco really doesn't have much of a choice. He buys himself a reasonably silly outfit and tries to become the masked vigilante his brother dreams of.

At first, his exploits aren't always dignified, but everything goes reasonably well. Things change for him with rising popularity, though, and soon he has to cope with the dark side of the vigilante business - a media circus that wants to use him and eat him up, criminal enemies who are more dangerous than your typical street thug and the simple fact that Maco himself is not made of steel nor a millionaire playboy.

Mirageman demonstrates admirably that you don't need Hollywood blockbuster money to create a good superhero movie. Director/writer Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and his star and martial arts and stunt expert Marko Zaror (who before made Kiltro, "the first South-American martial arts movie", if I can believe what I read) take the whole masked vigilante thing down a to the street level and into something more akin to reality as we know it and ask the question how and why a physically normal man in modern Chile would go about being a hero of a sort. It's probably as close to realism as you would want a film like it to be.

The film's low budget aesthetic helps a lot to build this mood. Espinoza uses a lot of handheld camera (not to be misinterpreted as "shaky-cam"), while at least some of the film is obviously shot guerrilla style on the streets, giving everything a gritty sheen which reminds every reviewer writing about the film - me included -  of 70s cinema, as does the third generation funky soundtrack. The colours are unfortunately very much of the yellow, blue and grey 2000s, but I'm willing to let this slide as one of the compromises people making movies without much money have to make to be able to produce something at all.

The first half of the film plays at least in parts for laughs, but it never overplays the humour in the way your typical spoof would do it. The film's humour instead arises mostly from thinking the difficulties of things like costume changes in real life through and looking at them in a clever and dry sort of way without any need to fall back on meanness or slapstick.

But Espinoza is also able to handle the darker and more tragic parts of his film well, shifting its mood from lightness to grimness in a fitting replica of the history of superhero comics. If one goes into the film only expecting sweetness and light and broken bones, one would probably be shocked by the big final battle.
There are also some very fine fights on display which Espinoza decides to show instead of hiding everything in them away by way of fast cutting and stupid camera effects. It does of course help that Zaror is an actual martial artist who is able to perform authentically enough looking fights without problems. To my surprise, Zaror shows himself also to be quite a decent actor, able to sell the psychological scars of his character well enough.

Of course there are flaws - the film's pacing is a little jagged and not every element and character is as clearly or logically developed as our hero and his brother. I found the deus ex machina character who helps Maco a few times especially clumsily inserted.

Still, its healthy mixture of believability and playfulness, comedy and tragedy is what makes Mirageman so satisfying. It's the great little superhero movie that could, even though too few people know about it.

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