Super hero stories seem to be leaping over tall buildings, coming out of dark bat filled caves and smashing their merry green giant way onto our cinema and TV screens with increasing regularity.
It’s almost as if Hollywood has finally realised that some of the greatest characters and tales ever told actually reside within an art form written off by many as being purely being ‘for kids’.
Sparks started life as a graphic novel penned by Christopher Folino who has transferred his morbid mature vision from the printed page to the silver screen, having not only written but also directed the cinematic adaptation.
Set in an alternate America, Sparks opens in the 1920’s when a meteor strike devastates Rochester New York leaving only 13 survivors. These lucky few are left with much more than bad memories however as it transpires they have all gained strange powers.
Flashing forward 28 years we get to hear the twisted tale of Ian Sparks (Chase Williamson from John Dies at the End) who has dedicated his life to fighting crime, even though he has no real skills apart from a catchy surname and a knack for taking a good beating.
Orphaned as a child, Sparks ends up moving to the big city to take on thugs – a task he is helped along with by his partner in crime fighting and love of his life Lady Heavenly (the brilliant Ashley Bell of The Last Exorcism).
Things take a turn for the terrifying however when psychotic mastermind Matanza (Carrie’s William Katt) slaughters a building full of people, catching the duo unawares and abducting and raping Lady Heavenly while Sparks is unable to stop him.
Disgraced as a hero, abandoned by the love of his life and living with the guilt and pain that he couldn’t protect those closest to him, Sparks hits the skids drinking and brawling to take away the pain.
When the mysterious Archer (Highlander’s Clancy Brown) appears it seems Sparks is saved but Archer’s band of merry men and women, some with real super powers, are up to something far more than the unwitting wannabe hero realizes. All of this sets him on a path of discovery packed with betrayal, violence and pain.
Dark and disturbing, Sparks may be a super hero movie but it is grounded in the evil twisted underbelly of human desire found deep within the real world. This is expounded by the excellent cast and alongside those already mentioned comes solid performances from other cult and horror character actors like Clint Howard, Jake Busey and Marina Squerciati.
Bell is great as ever and Williamson caries the film well, telling the story of his rise and fall to a reporter in flashbacks while he hides out after going on the run as the prime suspect in multiple murders.
Reminiscent in style, content and story to comic classics Watchman and Sin City (among other things) the effects are reasonably well done considering that it is obviously such a low budget production. However there are points you wish they just had that bit extra cash to splash to make it look more slick and stylish.
Overall Sparks is a valiant effort at an alternative super hero movie made independently on a small budget. And masks off to Folino for keeping creative control over his comic and shaping it the way he wanted – something many other artists and writers have failed to do when their heroic inventions were filmed.