Disney wasn’t always the brightly shining beacon of intellectual property buy out that it currently is. Before they shelled out $8.8 billion to get their hands on Marvel Comics and Star Wars they lost their way a little bit. I’m talking about Tron, The Black Hole and the other few late 70’s, early 80’s live action failures that have since gone on to cult status.
Personally, I love this era of Disney. You can almost feel the manic desperation for some sort of success. The studio had no real direction, no corporate voice, and no identity. It’s an amazing thing when a massive studio/corporate entity/merchandising juggernaut/ theme park giant loses their way. Crazy stuff happens. It’s fairly obvious that they didn’t know ‘what the kids wanted’ so they just started throwing things against the wall, in the hopes that one of the would stick. Unfortunately for Disney, but fortunately for us, that’s not always the best business plan.
I’m a die-hard Tron and The Black Hole fan, however both of those movies are pretty well covered as far as ‘cult’ status goes. The ugly stepsister of the weird Disney movies is by far Condorman. The film reeks of the ‘dear god let someone like this’. It’s both a travesty and a joy to witness.
The film chronicles comic book illustrator Woodrow “Woody” Wilkins in his attempt to assist an ex-kgb agent in defecting. Why would a comic book illustrator become involved in a global game of espionage, you ask? Well, the reason is quite simple. Woody isn’t your average comic book creator. He’s also an engineer. He builds all the gadgets and apparatuses that Condorman uses in the comics in real life, to ensure narrative authenticity.
The film opens with Woody, dressed in an amazingly garish spandex suit, preparing to jump off of the Eiffel tower, in order to test a new pair of condor wings that he had designed. The film only gets more amazing from there.
As previously stated, Woody (Or Condorman) falls backwards into a life of espionage and intrigue and… amazingly garish pseudo-super heroics. The film is an insane mix of Bond pastiche, super hero spoof, and slapstick comedy.
The film plays like From Russia With Love meets the 70’s live action Spider-man TV show with dentures. The film is so intent on not alienating, what they perceived to be, their core demographic of 7 to 10-year old boys that it rarely strays into anything resembling a real fight scene.
That being said the film exceeds expectations at two points, one being the charming, yet still goofy, implementation of Woody’s inventions, and the film’s fearsome glass-eyed heavy Morovich. Let’s be honest, the best part of the original four or five Bond films was the gadgetry. It was revolutionary. Who would have thought of a gyrocopter or a wrist computer or a suitcase that had a bomb in it would be so close to reality someday? They might not age that well, but they were revolutionary for their time. Condorman is a pale facsimile of that rush of creative militaristic futurism. Nonetheless, it’s still really fun to watch cars morph, Woody wear a goofy superhero suit, or a condor themed speedboat. What the film lacks in production value or quality it makes of for with charm and charisma. Furthermore, the films heavy, Morovich is amazing. He’s the perfect unstoppable, cartoonishly simple villain with a facial deformity. Honestly, he seems out of place in the film because he’s handled so well. Christ he’s a better heavy that Brosnan had for his entire run. Sorry, Diamond-Faced-Dude-From-Die-Another-Day.
The film goes through its paces of the usual spy formula, throwing in a rare gem of an idea. But it doesn’t matter that the film isn’t as good or mind-blowing as Black Hole or Tron. I’m not sure it wants to be. It’s a strangely beautiful cocktail of desperation, parody and high concept perfection.
I first discovered this film at a local video store, while renting Superman 3. The clerk suggested I try out Condorman and as soon as he gave me the high concept tagline my 8-year-old brain exploded. At that point in time there weren’t many live action super hero movies and the fact that it was a SPY/SUPERHERO movie that I’d never heard of blew my mind.
Now, this was in 1996 so, obviously, I took Condorman on VHS. I popped it in and instantly fell in love and then around the 50-minute mark everything exploded. No, I don’t mean that Disney actually sprung for explosions instead of those Fourth of July sparkler things they used to use. I mean my VHS player literally exploded. The screen went to static and the player started to smoke. I have vivid memories of attempting to find another copy of Condorman at other local rental houses with no luck. I went for a good decade having this amazing Holy Grail burned into my pre-pubescent mind’s eye. Eventually, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I found a copy on some back alley streaming site. And I must say I still love this thing. And more importantly, I completely understand why my younger self fell so head over heals for it.
Condorman is a perfect example of a successful failure. The movie got panned, didn’t make any money, but has gone on to cultivate this weird cult following of enthusiastic nerds who completely embrace it. That’s pretty rad in my book. Even if you can see the wires when Condorman flies. Who cares? It’s still a grown-ass man in bright yellow and orange flying without CGI. That’s dope.