Sparks isn’t particularly shocking or super, but comic fans will enjoy
Ian Sparks started out as a graphic novel by Christopher Folino, and it was released as a graphic app in the Apple store. Now, with superheroes a huge part of the box office, it makes sense for Folino to turn his own story into a film adaptation. He pens the script for Sparks, and also co-directs the film, and so one would expect the original story’s main ideas are preserved in the adaptation.
Folino heads for ’40s noir territory, with tongue-in-cheek dialogue and a campy superhero vibe the most important part of his screenplay. Ian Sparks (Chase Williamson) the superhero was born from tragedy; his parents were killed in a freak car accident after a mobster’s car rammed into the back end of their vehicle, sending it sailing into a train full of a chemical called Red G. Afterward, Ian was never the same – he started training to fight the bad guys, attempting to clean up what the cops couldn’t do.
Flash forward a few years and Ian is running for his life, about to die. Before he does, though, he wants to tell his story to a journalist who can document the misadventures of a superhero. Sparks tells the story of his past, when he was courting the lovely Lady Heavenly (Ashley Bell) until they both were attacked by the evil villain Matanza (William Katt). After that, Sparks found himself wanting vengeance for both the deaths of his parents and the loss of his fiancee, leaving him wandering down different paths, churning with anger.
Folino sets up an appropriate inciting incident for Sparks the superhero, and he also manages to craft an exciting setting out of New York City in the ’40s. Clearly Sparks is a lower budget film, and some of the CGI environments look unrealistic (like a graveyard sequence featuring flurries of snow), but for the most part the film looks and feels like many bigger superhero action movies. That’s a great thing.
But Sparks is also a story that adheres to a rigid plot structure created years ago, and the origin of Ian Sparks doesn’t venture far from the unoriginal beginnings of many well-known superheroes. The prerequisites are here – sudden loss of parents, strange chemical to induce new powers, an overarching bad guy that spurs the protagonist on, a female superhero who continues to plague. There’s not much within Sparks that steps out of familiar boundaries, and that makes for a film that often matches viewer expectations.
The players put on a good show, and it’s nice to see Jake Busey show up as Sledge. The visuals are quite effective, surprisingly, and the use of Red G’s powers, along with the radioactive mutations of characters thanks to a meteor that struck in Rochester, allows Sparks to circumvent expectations. Characters are able to change their faces, leaving Ian perplexed as to who to trust.
Yet the most unsatisfying thing about Sparks is that it rips through the early background of Ian’s story. The film has a lot of loose plot ends, most of which it connects toward the end, but during the action it feels like Sparks speeds through the exposition to get to more exposition, not taking the time to actually delve into the emotional impact of the events portrayed.
That means that Sparks’ motivation for revenge is lost on the audience, especially in the opening scenes when he’s a kid and he’s just lost his parents. Obviously, he would be upset – there’s an inherent emotional justification here – but the film doesn’t spend any time with those parents, so there’s no link to them.
That doesn’t mean Sparks is a bad film, and for such a small production, the movie makes good use of what it has. Forino’s story is intriguing yet too familiar, humorous but not outlandishly so. The noir feel is present, but the dialogue seems a bit too forced. Fans of superhero stories will probably find things to enjoy about Sparks, but it’s not entirely electric.