Superheroes are big at the movies, but so far, they've failed to gel on the small screen. "Heroes" started out with big ratings, but slowly slid into cancellation amid writers' strikes, retoolings, and a failure to capitalize on the show's elaborate, mysterious mythos. "Heroes" seemed to take its cues from "Lost" in the way it raised three questions for every one it answered, and maybe viewers weren't interested in more mysteries to keep track of every week. "The Cape" takes a more straightforward approach, but a cast of likable characters still couldn't save it from becoming the latest superhero television casualty.
David Lyons is Vincent Faraday, an honest cop in an increasingly corrupt town. When the chief of police is murdered by a masked villain known as Chess, Vince and his best friend Marty (Dorian Missick) finally decide to turn in their city badges and head to businessman Peter Fleming (James Frain), who is building a privatized police force at his company Ark Security. Vincent is looking forward to working with a team free of corruption, but everything falls apart when a tip from an investigative blogger known as Orwell reveals that Ark is smuggling illegal weaponry, Fleming is Chess, and Marty is looking the other way. They frame Vince for the chief's murder and numerous other Chess killings, then let him loose with Ark Security right behind him, but Vince falls into a sewer just in time to avoid a massive explosion that has both Vincent's family (Jennifer Ferrin and Ryan Wynott) and the villains thinking he's been killed.
Being a superhero is not necessarily the first thing someone thinks of when they've been framed and betrayed, but being "dead" is to Vincent's advantage, forcing him to create an alter ego to stay hidden. Fortunately, he finds himself pulled from the sewer by masters of illusion: The Carnival of Crime, a circus act that robs banks in their free time, led by the charismatic Max Malini (Keith David). Yes, you read that right: "The Cape" includes a bank-robbing circus with Keith David as the boss -- almost as awesome as Point Break's skydiving "Ex-Presidents." The other members of the group: an angry little person named Rollo (Martin Klebba); Ruvi, an edgy hypnotist (Anil Kumar), and a beautiful contortionist, Raia (Izabella Miko). The alliance between cop and criminal is shaky, but Malini offers to train Vincent in exchange for information about some of the city's banks. Malini also gives Vincent The Cape.
The Cape is Vince's superpower: made out of "spider silk," it has the ability to stretch when whipped, allowing a wearer with the right skill set to disarm perps or even grab and throw them. It's also bulletproof, which comes in handy from time to time. Max and the crew also teach Vince how to fight, how to hypnotize, and how to disappear. It's silly, but it's addictively silly thanks to David, who is just perfect for Max, mixing a bit of threatening criminal, wise mentor, and carnival showman into one funny, endearing character. In fact, the show has an eye for actors, bringing in Thomas Kretschmann, Mena Suvari, Tom Noonan and Elliott Gould for well-suited, well-written guest spots, and making some of the best use of reliable madman Vinnie Jones since Guy Ritchie. His character Scales (named for his lizard-like skin) is one of the few that capitalizes on Jones' dry British wit (in one episode, he slowly reveals a rat by putting a cake on a table and giving a piece to the henchmen he knows are clean), which is slightly funnier coming from a weird man-snake. Vince also gets help from Orwell, who eventually turns out to be geek TV mainstay Summer Glau.
There's no hint of it on the show's packaging or any of the print ads I saw when I Googled "The Cape", but the show (as evidenced by the bank robbing carnival) has a great sense of humor that elevates it beyond average TV drama. I wouldn't go so far as to call "The Cape" a comedy, but it embraces its inherent silliness with a readiness that I wasn't expecting. In one episode, "The Cape" saves a city official named Patrick Portman (Richard Schiff) from being rubbed out when he won't support one of Fleming's power plays -- pretty straightforward -- but The Cape then runs into Portman again in another episode at a costume party, where he's dressed as...The Cape. Portman then proceeds to tag along for the rest of the episode, trying to play sidekick. Scenes where The Cape throws out one-liners or has to do something with traditional superhero posturing are also nicely deflated by the writing, without turning The Cape into a goofball or a dope.
The story, of course, centers on Vince's efforts to get proof of Fleming's evil, clear his name, and return to his wife Dana (Ferrin) and his son Trip (Wynott), who are struggling without him. Trip, who idolizes his father, struggles at first with the thought that his father might've been a criminal, and later with the fact that other kids believe it even when he knows it isn't true. Dana, meanwhile, returns to her old job as a public defender, where she tries to find out more about the corruption her husband was supposedly involved in. Meanwhile, Marty's guilt slowly but surely starts to gnaw at him, and Messick finds a way to make it believable that he would be both a decent guy yet still side with the villains. The entire central cast, from Lyons to Frain, are solid, relatable, and reasonably interesting, even when the fringe characters like Max and Scales are more interesting.
The only issues with "The Cape" are the usual things that plague either action television or live-action superheroes. Every once in awhile, the show turns to CG to create an illusion, and most of the CG is awful, particularly the explosion that kills the chief in the pilot episode. Some of the hand-to-hand action direction is poor, involving too many whip pans and quick cuts that don't actually add up to a coherent picture of the fight (the finale uses some actual stunts, which is a noticeable change of pace for the series). There's also the fact that both Vince's wife, son, and best friend don't recognize his face or his voice, which is especially absurd in the episodes before Vince adds an eye mask to the cape (in the first episode, he's just wearing a hood that throws shadow over his eyes!). It comes with the territory, but it's still sort of distracting. Finally, "The Cape", as are most canceled television shows, is robbed of a true finale. The final episode does its best to arrive at a form of closure, but it falls short of the satisfying triumph I would've wanted to see.
The episodes on these discs break down as follows:
Disc 1: "Pilot", "Tarot", "Kozmo", "Scales", "Dice"
Disc 2: "Goggles and Hicks", "The Lich: Part 1", "The Lich: Part 2", "Razer", "Endgame"
Universal's artwork for "The Cape" is both good and bad: it's pleasing that it isn't just designed to look like a comic book, but the sun-drenched orange packaging is wrong both in that much of the action takes place at night, and that the artwork and box copy don't convey the lighthearted, oddball tone of the show. The standard, two-disc case is slipped inside a cardboard sleeve with identical art, and inside the case next to the discs is an insert promoting "America's Got Talent".
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, "The Cape" looks pretty good in mid-range close-ups, revealing a fair amount of detail in both faces and clothes. I also scoured the show's frequent nighttime scenes and came up empty. Fine detail is weak in wider shots, and the film's black levels are a touch steep (turning to crush in some of the darker scenes with The Cape standing in front of a black background), but this is basically what one expects from a modern television show on DVD. Dolby Digital 5.1 audio has good separation and directionality when it comes to the score by Bear McCreary, dialogue is strong and crisp even during loud action moments, and sound effects have the kind of weight and depth that I want to hear in these kinds of productions. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also provided.
None. Trailers for "The Event" Season One, "Heroes": Season 4, "Friday Night Lights": Season 5, a general spot for NBC comedy, and "America's Got Talent" on DVD play before the main menu on Disc 1. On the menu for Disc 1, you can also go to a page with further previews for Blu-Ray disc, "Law & Order", Bring it On: The Musical, "In Plain Sight", "Psych", "Destination Truth", "House", and "Royal Pains". The pre-menu promos are not selectable from this page.
"The Cape" is a good show that was gone too soon. Sadly, Universal's DVD has no extras, and the last episode isn't much of a grand finale. The actual program is strong enough to warrant a recommendation, but considering the DVD package as a whole and the show's mild replay value, I suggest you give this one a rental over a purchase.
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