Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tuesday Review: Space Adventure Cobra (1982)

    Trapped in a glass case of emotion.

    Perhaps best known as clips in Matthew Sweet’s music video for “Girlfriend,” Space Adventure Cobra has all the hallmarks one typically associates with anime: beautiful, scantily-clad ladies, scenes of spectacular, choreographed violence, a simple story blown wildly out of proportion with overwrought and unearned emotions. And although anime has come a long way since, it’s still wildly overpopulated with the type of style-over-substance claptrap that keeps much of it from being taken seriously. Of course, when the style on display is as psychedelically cool as it is in Space Adventure Cobra, it doesn’t matter so much that the story and characters don’t really make any kind of sense at all.

    Adapted from the manga by Buichi Terasawa, Space Adventure Cobra features the space-faring pirate Cobra (… duh), who along with his dominatrix robo-lady named, uh, “Lady” gets involved with a bounty hunter named Jane Fowler, who - upon learning he really is who he says he is - immediately declares her love for him, because… She’s prophesied to? And she and her two identical sisters are the Queen of the Universe? Whatever. Anyway, Jane enlists Cobra to help rescue one of her sisters, Catherine, who’s been kidnapped by the menacing, um, “Crystal Boy,” who has an army at his beck and call and wants to take over the universe. Or something.

    As you can probably guess, the details of the story are a little vague - it’s really nothing more than an excuse to string along one fantastic action sequence after another. The filmmakers’ were definitely making this one up as they went along, and didn’t really have all that much to go off of in the first place. The characters are even worse - Cobra himself gets by mainly due to his cigar-chomping, Han Solo-like swagger, but the females of the film are woefully drawn *; the only really defining characteristic of Jane is that she has stars for nipples, and she loves Cobra. She’s so bland and interchangeable that even after she’s killed, her other sister Dominique comes into the frame and pretty much picks up where she left off, making you wonder why the filmmakers even bothered to kill of Jane in the first place (oh, right - they needed an overly-emotional death scene to give their threadbare story some semblance of  “weight”). Even worse, Dominique also inherits Jane’s love of Cobra, which she declares over and over and over again. Each time she tells Cobra she “loves” him, I kept pulling an Inigo Montoya and thinking to myself, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

    But none of that really matters, at least not for this movie - it’s all about the set-pieces, which are both imaginative and infused with the kind of leftover 60’s psychedelia that made many a lame Eurospy movie tolerable to sit through. From Cobra’s “Psycho-gun” (which transforms his entire left arm into an energy cannon - how it’s “psycho” is beyond me) to the main villain who uses his ribcage as a weapons rack, the film keeps a nice, lighthearted sense of fun throughout, and the visuals are just trippy enough to warrant a view in their own right.

    In the end, Space Adventure Cobra had just enough of a swinging sense of fun to keep me entertained. But I also have incredibly low standards, so take that how you will.

    * The movie’s pretty misogynistic, but at least it’s the old, “chivalrous” misogyny (where the hero has to rescue the girl because they’re oh so pretty and fair) instead of the creepy misogyny found in a lot of anime today (which sees a lot of awkward male protagonists looking up girls' skirts). Which is… Better? Okay, maybe not. 

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