Comic book icon Stan Lee, the man behind such legendary fare as "Spider-Man," "X-Men," and "The Incredible Hulk," has certainly had sufficient years of success and experience to earn his reputation and stature as the head of Marvel Comics. His stories are celebrated for their complex development, rich characterizations, and multifaceted worlds. He is largely responsible for the contemporary superhero character as we know it. His latest excursions in this ongoing industry have been in the direct-to-DVD market, adding new heroes to his long line of names. Perhaps not surprisingly, Lee's latest creations do not live up to their predecessors, and the new animated "The Condor" falls into a stream of derivative formula.
The hero of this story is Tony Valdez (voiced by Wilmer Valderrama), a young skateboarder with little on his mind except winning the next competition. His parents are both brilliant scientists who are on the verge of developing a new, fantastic technology that will enhance the creation of robots. Sammi is Tony's friend, a bright young girl who is just as brilliant as his parents and pleasantly attractive, though Tony ignores her romantic advances toward him. One day, while wandering through his parents' plant, he overhears a conversation between them that leads him to believe they are involved in some sort of illegal scam that is using their technological advances for mind control. Angry and disappointed, Tony retreats further into his skateboarding, failing to give his parents the chance to defend their innocence. They never do get the chance, as it turns out, since they are killed in a car accident by whoever it is who is really behind the evil scheme. That same day, Tony is beaten by a pair of mind-controlled henchmen, permanently damaging his legs and ending his skateboarding career.
Luckily for Tony, Sammi has been doing some scientific research of her own. Blending her own discoveries with the research his parents conducted, she manages to invent a kind of prosthetic super-leg that gets him back on his feet in no time. Considerate person that she is, she even creates a special skateboard with magnetic force that will be impossible for him to fall off of, with a night-vision enabled helmet to match. The board even folds up for easy travel! In spite of all this, Tony has his eyes set on another woman, a ridiculously buxom seductress whose no-good intentions are obvious to everyone—except Tony. When one of his friends is attacked by the enemy's henchmen, Tony quickly straps on Sammi's super-leg and takes off on his new skateboard, announcing himself as The Condor, a new superhero named for a necklace his mother gave him.
While all of the superhero expectations are served in this story, what is most striking about it is how unbelievably dull it is. Tony Valdez lacks any real personality, both before and after he becomes a superhero. He is simply never engaging or relatable. What makes things even worse is that he neither possesses nor demonstrates any real innovation or heroism on his own. It is only because of the 007-esque gadgets that Sammi invents that he is able to go out in the night to fight for justice, and considering how he distrusts his parents but falls head over heals for the wicked seductress, he is also an incredibly poor judge of character. As I write this review, I wonder why Stan Lee did not simply make Sammi the hero. Although she is only a supporting character, it is she more than any other who has the drive, the intelligence, and the ingenuity to be a real hero. She is infinitely more interesting than Tony Valdez, who it must be said is a consistently flat and one-note character. And wouldn't it have been exciting to see a female action hero who, for once, relies on her brain instead of her body?
I have always enjoyed actor Wilmer Valderrama's comedic abilities on the sitcom "That '70s Show," but his voice work on "The Condor" is as flat as his character. He delivers all of his dialogue in the same monotonous drone and exhibits little to no emotion. The rest of the voice work is competent, though nothing spectacular. Actress Maria Conchita Alonso provides the voice for Tony's ill-fated mother. You might remember her from her work in 80s action movies, or from her participation in the disastrous reality TV show "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!" She is pretty much wasted here, as this small role could have been played by just about any actress with equal results.
On the plus side, the animation here is quite good. The backgrounds are generally static, but the film has the look of a comic book, which was probably the general idea. I suppose one could argue that this film looks no different from a typical Saturday morning cartoon, but the content will quickly stifle that accusation. There is quite a bit of sexual innuendo and violence (though surprisingly not as graphic as I expected). Female characters are drawn in exaggerated voluptuousness, and there is some mild profanity. Were this rated, it would probably be a PG-13. Basically, keep this one away from the pre-teens.
Released through Starz Home Entertainment, the new banner for Anchor Bay, "The Condor" looks very good indeed in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. Colors are bold and brightly rendered, showing off the rather nice-looking animation. Black levels are rich and deep. The image is sharp and crisp, with no visible artifacts, making this quite a pleasing visual experience.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track features warm, clear voices in the front and some nice ambience in the rear channels. The surround is best utilized in the action scenes toward the end and during the Valdez's car accident. Although it will not give your system a workout, this track does the job adequately. English and Spanish 2.0 tracks are also provided, as well as English captions.
Starting off the special features, Stan Lee himself provides a brief video introduction to the film. He seems like a jovial fellow, but he reveals very little here, except that he wanted his superhero to be Latino. This introduction is just slightly over a minute long.
Up next is a 12-minute featurette, "Meeting of the Giants: Stan Lee vs. Wilmer Valderrama: The Making of The Condor." This title is a bit misleading, as I'm not sure when Wilmer Valderrama ever became a giant of anything, and he is hardly shown in the featurette at all. Instead, this mostly consists of interviews with Lee and the film's director Steven E. Gordon. They provide some fun and interesting information about the creation of the character and making of the film. At times, it seems a little too self-congratulatory, but Lee is really fun to listen to, and it's ultimately worth watching just for him.
"Outskating! The Condor DVD Game" is a rather fun, if simplistic, game that allows you to help Tony win a skateboarding race using the arrow keys on your remote control. The game is offered in both a training mode and arcade mode, with Stan Lee popping up throughout the latter to cheer you on.
A character gallery rounds out the features on the disc. Six of the main characters are showcased, each with a brief audio description as well as Lee's own brief commentary on each. As an insert in the package, a comic book version of Stan Lee's "Mosaic" (which is also available on DVD) is included. It is a well-drawn, quick read that nicely caps off this release.
"The Condor" is a real disappointment, considering what Stan Lee has proven he is capable of in the past. Its by-the-numbers story is derivative and unimaginative. Worst of all, it is bogged down by a hero who simply fails to incite viewer sympathy or support. The man who gave the world so many enduring characters seems to have gone on auto-pilot for this one, offering nothing new for his legion of fans and creating a film that completely lacks excitement. If you are a Stan Lee devotee, then you may want to check this out for the sake of completion, but everyone else would do better to seek out his more legendary material.