Thursday, April 14, 2011

CAPTAIN BARBELL 2011: Certified Blockbuster or Complete Bust?

"The new Captain Barbell show sucks."


Some people have already said as much, and considering how much I despised GMA's previous 2006-07 television series, it would be very easy for me to agree with them. But then, I've never been one to jump the bandwagon. Instead, I'll call it as I see it and give as fair a review as I can. Brace yourself, this is going to be quite lengthy.


CONTINUING BATTLE


For Captain Barbell, everyday is a workout.

Believe it or not, the 2011 Captain Barbell TV series is actually a marked improvement over its predecessor, at least on the surface. For one thing, there is much more emphasis this time around on the superhero aspect of the story. In the previous series, the Captain would usually appear in an average of 1 out of 5 episodes a week, each appearance lasting about 2 minutes (I exaggerate; it could've been even shorter than that). In the new show, CB (once more played by Richard Gutierrez) sees action in practically every episode.

As such, the sequel series seems to use a lot more special effects per episode than any telefantasya I've ever seen (correct me if I'm wrong). But as for the quality of those effects-- well, let's review it in the proper context. If we try to compare it to the quality of Hollywood special effects, as most of us tend to do, it just wouldn't be fair. Not to belittle the efforts of our local effects artists, but the fact is that there really hasn't been anything demonstrated on Philippine film and television so far that is on par with what Hollywood has to offer. Some have come close, but we're not quite there yet. So, I can't rightfully set this show's effects against a standard that we have yet to reach. Compared with other local shows, however, the new CB's special effects can be quite spectacular in their own right, definitely moreso than the previous series. I mean, they went from this:




...to this:





You have to give them some credit. It may not be perfect, but it's a huge improvement nonetheless. That said, I've always thought that our local fantasy shows would be better served if they were aired weekly rather than daily. They could really use more time and care in developing their effects.

COSTUME BLUES


Fun Fact: Richard Gutierrez' uncle is actor Bob Soler, the original Captain Barbell!

The redesigned costume appears to be made out of cheaper material than the rubber muscle suit from the previous show (critics have even compared it to upholstery). Now, call me crazy, but... I kinda like it. It's actually much better than the old suit if only for the fact that Captain Barbell can actually MOVE in it. In the old costume, he was much more of a statue than Machete ever was; no wonder they used to call him Ang Bigating Superhero ng Bayan ("The Heavy-duty Superhero of the Nation"). And he didn't fight the bad guys, he swatted them aside as they ran towards him. But in the new suit, CB can finally get a lot more physical in his fights; heck, just the fact that he can now RAISE HIS ARMS is an achievement in itself! Also, the new suit seems to have a bulkier appearance. The old suit may have had more muscle definition, but it never really made CB look that big to me. The new outfit may look "puffed" as opposed to buff, but at least now CB actually looks noticably bigger than the show's not-very-skinny version of his alter-ego Teng.


It's morphin' time!

Not that it should make it easier for our hero to hide his secret identity, because (and this is where the ranting starts) CB and Teng still look a hell of a lot alike! At least in the old show, Teng had that big ugly scar on his face, but he doesn't have that anymore. Well, that's not entirely true; he now has a teeny-tiny scratch on the tip of his left eyebrow. I guess that's enough to hide his identity. But seriously, it's ridiculous that no one can tell Captain Barbell and Teng are the same person. In one episode, a character is looking at a poster of CB, then Teng shows up, and SHE NEVER NOTICES THE RESEMBLANCE. And then there are the other super-powered characters, most of whom actually know Teng personally, and they don't notice it either! Hell, there's a giant statue of CB in the middle of the city, how can no one know what he looks like? They should have just brought back the mask from the original komiks version.

CRIMEFIGHTING BABES


CB: "Uh, guys, a little help here?"

Speaking of other super-powered characters, the show also introduces a new team of superheroes, the Liga ng Kalayaan ("League of Freedom"). Now, obviously this is a riff on the Justice League of America, but I wouldn't say that they're a total rip-off. Well, okay, one of them is a wind-powered heroine named Cyclone (played by Michelle Madrigal), and there actually is a character of the same name and powers in DC Comics' Justice Society of America. But the latter character is relatively unknown to the general public (and especially Filipinos), so I somehow doubt that the similarities are deliberate (but in case they are, I guess they didn't expect some comic nerd would call them out on it).


And then there's the teenage sword-slinger Blade (portrayed by Bea Binene). Obviously, the first Blade you'd think of would be Marvel's vampire slayer, made popular on film by Wesley Snipes. But then, there's also a villain named Blade in the Masters of the Universe series (you know, He-Man?). And then there's Kamen Rider Blade and Tekkaman Blade, and I'm kinda sure there are a bunch of others. The CB writers were probably just thinking of a name for a sword-wielding heroine, and they just settled on Blade. So I'd chalk it up to laziness more than anything else.



Another member is Sonica, played by singer Frencheska Farr (why are most of the members female?), who has sonic-scream powers. Of course you'd say, "Heh, they're ripping-off Black Canary," but I'd give it a pass if only because the characters' backgrounds, personalities and appearances are different. Besides, there are other sonic-screamers like Siryn, Banshee and the Black Bolt, so it's a pretty common superhero power (I think even Superman did it once). Similar powers are fine, as long as you do something different with the character.



It may sound like I'm making excuses for these characters, but the thing is, what constitutes a rip-off to me is when you borrow/steal from an existing concept, present it in a manner that is virtually similar to the original with very little variation, and pass it off as a completely new creation. While it's a given that the Liga is capitalizing on the JLA, it doesn't really mirror them in any significant way. The way it looks, the show appears to be making some effort to avoid being a shameless imitation (or at the very least, they're trying not to be too blatant about it). Case in point, early teasers for the series actually referred to the group as Team Kalasag ("Team Shield"). My guess is that they changed the name after someone pointed out it's too similar to a certain US agency headed by a guy wearing an eyepatch.


COPY BAT


There's hardly even a mention of Captain Barbell's origin from the previous series (which is just as well; let's just pretend that "Smallbell" crap never existed). It would seem that the new show has learned from the pitfalls of the old one. Although they did have a fakeout moment when, at the end of their April 5 episode, the preview for the next episode showed the Captain being summoned by A "CB" SIGNAL.





The signal appears at the 1:50 mark.

Fortunately, that little bit was removed once the actual episode aired, so either someone caught it in time and made the necessary corrections, or it may have been a deliberate prank to see if anyone was paying attention. Whichever the case, I'll let it slide, but I had better not see that damn signal again.


COMIC BELIEF


But you know what I find really weird? That in a show that has superhuman characters all over the place, the least believable part of it for me is that the Philippine government can afford things like an ultra high-tech law enforcement organization, futuristic weaponry and a supervillain prison. I don't know, I can buy stuff like that in a comic book, but I just can't get myself to go along with it in a live-action show. And CB isn't the only show who has done this, other shows tend to portray a technologically-advanced vision of the country. Sure, I suppose they just want to depict our nation in an optimistic light, but suspension of disbelief can only go so far. I just find it funny.


Speaking of funny, one thing that the show is largely lacking in is humor. Sure, there are humorous moments provided by child star Jillian Ward as Teng's adopted daughter Lelay, and they recently reintroduced Teng's comic foil Bobby (Ryan Yllana) from the previous show. And even TJ Trinidad as the villain Metal Man (these writers sure come up with such imaginative names) can get wickedly funny at times. But the series' overall tone (not to mention the title character himself) is still way too serious. I mean, let's face it, you don't come up with a title like "Captain Barbell" with a straight face. Humor is a significant part of the CB mythos; it's no accident that in previous filmed incarnations of the character, his alter-ego was always played by a comedian. Heck, in the original komiks, Tenteng was practically designed after Dolphy. Basically, Captain Barbell is a hero who shouldn't need to have a comic relief, because his alter-ego is the comic relief.


Unfortunately, Teng's angsty personality in the show is already too well-established to suddenly turn him into a funny guy, and I wouldn't know how good Richard Gutierrez is at comedy anyway. As for his portrayal of CB, he comes off as rather moody and somewhat distracted. He has this tendency of staring off into space; might as well call him Captain Catatonic. Okay, we get it, superheroing is serious business, power and responsibility and all that. But crack a smile every once in a while, quip at the bad guys, just... LIGHTEN UP!



CONCLUDING BABBLE


I can go on about this show, but this review has gone on long enough, whatever else I have left to say is really little more than nitpicking, and I think I've already touched upon the show's main virtues and flaws. The bottom line is, it may not be quite as good as it could be, but it's not as bad as it could have been, and certainly not as terrible as its predecessor was. There's still room for improvement, but I'd say at least half the room's filled already. On a scale of 1 to 5, I'd rate it a 3.



But my warning stands. No more CB signals. Or else, I'll take your damn signal, shine it up real good, hold it up, turn it sideways, and shove it straight up where the sun don't shine. I mean it.


Just ask this guy.

20 comments:

  1. You have a terrible review of the series. It may not be comparable to western shows in terms of special effects but I certainly believe it is a huge leap for a local superhero to have an excellent show. I am not a fan of Cpt. Barbell but I think they did a really fantastic job on this one. Love your country more and be proud of what we have achieved Don't be too proud of western films, they're not even ours to be proud of them.

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    1. Maybe you love this show but many people who are aware of the foreign stuff they ripped off will hate this. Besides, if you have read the Captain Barbell comics, this show has bad writing and worst Captain Barbell costume. GMA is trying to make Philippine DC/Marvel out of him.

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    2. Special effects were good although story - not! You can't expect Filipinos who know of quality writing to love something that is poorly written. Instead of forcing Filipinos to love horrible stuff why not make a change and do better stuff which are lovable. This is what's wrong to many Filipinos.

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    3. Instead of "tangkilikin ang produktong pinoy", why not change slogan to "gawing katangki-tangkilik ang produktong pinoy."

      I believe that the writer loves his country which is why he wants good quality for Captain Barbell. Your embarrasing your country for being proud of a rip-off. The writer is not being proud of foreign industry, he is just pointing out what ideas the show has ripped off.

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    4. Don't you know why Philippine Comic Industry died? Luckily people are currently trying to revive our comic industry which is why we now have a comic convention. Please search METRO COMIC CON and support it, you will see lots of NEW Filipino comics which are trying to BRING BACK QUALITY. A filipino comic legend joined the talk there and told us how filipino comic industry died; it was all because of horrible writing.

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    5. Kakainis. Mga anonymous comments.

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  2. I think I reviewed the show as fairly as I could (I may even have been too kind, actually), but you have a right to your opinion.

    But the problem is, I don't see how you can disagree with my review (are you sure you even read it?), because you make almost the same point that I did. While I wouldn't go as far as to say the show is excellent, I did say that the effects are a big improvement in local superhero shows. I did say that it wouldn't be fair to compare it with Hollywood films, and I didn't (in fact, one of my main points is that they shouldn't blatantly copy foreign films, like the previous series did). So I don't know how we disagree there. Basically, I judged the show on its own merit and not according to western standards.

    That said, I do love my country more (why do you think I started this blog?), but just because something is Philippine-made doesn't mean I will blindly praise it regardless of quality. If there's something I don't like, I will say so. I won't settle for puwede na yan. Kung may igaganda pa, e di gandahan na. If ever I gave this show a bad review (and I don't believe I did), it was not to put it down, but so that maybe, MAYBE, those involved might put my views into consideration and improve their craft. Because I do want these shows to succeed. I do want to see local shows that I can really be proud of.

    So no offense, but to coin a phrase, your argument is invalid.

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  3. "But you know what I find really weird? That in a show that has superhuman characters all over the place, the least believable part of it for me is that the Philippine government can afford things like an ultra high-tech law enforcement organization, futuristic weaponry and a supervillain prison. I don't know, I can buy stuff like that in a comic book, but I just can't get myself to go along with it in a live-action show. And CB isn't the only show who has done this, other shows tend to portray a technologically-advanced vision of the country. Sure, I suppose they just want to depict our nation in an optimistic light, but suspension of disbelief can only go so far. I just find it funny."
    Most western films have used the same plot before a thousand times before but I haven't heard from a Filipino compaining on foreign films using too advanced technology not presently seen today.. .But when it's a local film, it is already considered FUNNY because the Philippines is too poor to buy those advanced technology weapons in reality EVEN just for Sci-fi and Entertainment.
    My point now is valid.

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  4. Perhaps, but that wasn't the point you mentioned earlier, was it? You basically just said stuff that I actually agreed with in my review. Why didn't you just mention what the problem was in the first place?

    So fine, you may have a point in this regard. It's a matter of personal taste, I suppose. I just think it clashes with the local ambiance, but that's just me. Strangely enough, I only have a problem with the idea of the local sci-fi technology when the government is involved, but whenever it's shown being used by private citizens, I'm okay with it for some reason. You could come up with some contrived reason for it, like maybe some kooky mad scientist type invented it or maybe it came from aliens, and I'd be fine with it, but when it comes from the government, I just can't help but get skeptical. I guess my feeling is, okay, if the government has access to such awesome technology, they could really turn things around in the country. But other than that, the state of the nation depicted on such shows is pretty much the same situation in the real world. It would probably help if they went and said, "well, this is actually set in the future." But even then (especially then), things should be very different.

    Maybe I'm just overthinking the whole matter, in which case the fault is probably mine. But I never made my criticisms under a "local shows suck, Hollywood rules" mentality, as you are apparently accusing me of. I'm just trying to understand how such high concepts can make sense in a local milieu.

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  5. from Zaido to Captain Barbell... they all suck! GMA 7 makes em all like crap. Dominic Zapata's Zaido was the worst ever rip-off of the original Shaider series. Now, he's at CB... check the story lines, the effects and the dragging sequences... I'd rather watch GMA NEWS TV.

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  6. Captain Barbell series needs to end early... congrats Dominic Zapata. You're a crappy director eversince. Try mo naman mag direct ng indie films na lang. lahat ng sequences, boooorrrinnng!!!!
    remember your Zaido shit? you made the Babilos robot a walking balikbayan box with rubber shoes!!! nakakatawa ka talaga. GMA talaga, walang maisip... next siguro Captain Barbell loves Darna... sige GOOO!!! crappy GMA shows. let's just watch Channel 21 at least maraming good shows dun.

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  7. I used to watch Zaido just to ogle the Amazonas. Otherwise, it's crap. Yung armor mukhang kartolina, yung robot mukhang kutson.

    Well, the good news is GMA can't do Darna anymore. Reportedly, ABS-CBN now has the rights.

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  8. Just wanted to comment on the final episode.

    So, the moral of the story is-- it's okay to murder people if you're a superhero?

    Come on, my 3-year old nephew watches this stuff. Way to be a role model.

    I saw no justification for it at all. The bad guy was pretty much beaten. He looked like he was dying anyway. Besides, if CB was just gonna chuck him into the sun, he should've just done it in the first episode. Would have saved him all that trouble.

    Ah, well, there's no point in complaining now. The show's over and done, and good riddance. The last several episodes just felt like they didn't care anymore. And if they don't care, neither should I.

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  9. If I could be a doctor I would find a cure for Colonized Mentality (as my professor used to say it). I always get the feeling that many Filipinos use the Pixar/Marvel Standard for quality. I think they have raised the bar too high and it made many Filipinos think that everything that is done in their home country will never be good enough and will always be boring and a total crap. I hope some people could give some positive comments on the "achievements" and "improvements" of our films.

    I've seen gazillion foreign movies and tv shows and many I would say were total crap but they always get positive responses...I wonder why...

    I hope in the future we could cure colonized mentality and maybe a therapy on crabe mentality so we can all enjoy the hard work of our own artists and our own ideas.

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    1. Are you sure about that "gazillion"? How sure are you those always got good responses? Because I know very many marvel and dc films which were even considered worst by americans themselves. U.S. have critics and fan reviews may it be good or bad review so why can't Philippines have?

      *Instead of "tangkilikin ang produktong pinoy", why not change slogan to "gawing katangki-tangkilik ang produktong pinoy."
      Evertime there's a bad comment about something "Philippine," from a filipino filipinos go wild and are like: "Oh! you're evil. Tangkilikin mo 'to. Mahalin mo 'to."

      It's not crab or colonial mentality. You don't even know what it means. Don't you know that the comic industry of Philippines died because of poor writing? People wouldn't support comics during the 90's anymore because it's becoming rip-offs and if not, horribly written.

      There is no Pixar/Marvel standard of judging. By saying Pixar/Marvel standard, you are the one that has colonial mentality. You think Pixar/Marvel is more superior than our industry. Our films and tv shows are improving in terms of special effects but what's being pointed out is this tv show's quality so stick to it. Don't bring up the whole Philippine industry.

      *Colonial mentality is defined as the feeling that the foreign who colonized your country are more superior than you.

      **We also have our best and worst products.

      If you were a doctor why not cure dullness - in general and Philippine Criticism Fear.

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  10. ..About Captain Barbell not being recognized as "Teng" If I'm not mistaken there was an episode where Teng explains to Lelay how as Capt. Barbell he is covered by some sort of cloak or aura so that no one really sees his real face.. I promise I'll get back to you on that one.. I am sure I watched that in one of the episodes..

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    1. I found it! Eureka! The episode where Captain Barbell explains to Lelay why no one recognizes him.. Captain Barbell April 26, 2011 Episode.. Part 3.. here's the link.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=it7kbhKtV_g&feature=related

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    2. Yeah, I caught that episode. It's about as good an explanation as any.

      That would also have to be the same explanation for why no one recognizes Darna. Strangely enough, I never questioned it then. I guess I just chalked it up to "magic."

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  12. "But you know what I find really weird? That in a show that has superhuman characters all over the place, the least believable part of it for me is that the Philippine government can afford things like an ultra high-tech law enforcement organization, futuristic weaponry and a supervillain prison. I don't know, I can buy stuff like that in a comic book, but I just can't get myself to go along with it in a live-action show. And CB isn't the only show who has done this, other shows tend to portray a technologically-advanced vision of the country. Sure, I suppose they just want to depict our nation in an optimistic light, but suspension of disbelief can only go so far. I just find it funny"

    Not weird and not funny at all

    Advance weapons system ng AFP
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djd2R-mzats

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