There are two movies I’ve been trying to get the time to review for Saturday Night Showcase, and now that my work schedule is open for it I have. Last week you saw the first one, well here is the other. M.A.N.T.I.S. was a superhero series on Fox that, much like the syndicated Super Force (anybody remember THAT show?) went off the rails when they went sci-fi. In fact, I’ve seldom see a series so ignore its AIRED pilot as this show.
Tonight I bring you that pilot, in two parts because that’s how Hulu set it up. Also, for some reason the NBC logo is in there, but both the pilot and the series aired on Fox. And if you think Sam Rami‘s first superhero work was Spider-Man, your wrong. This pilot came first. (He even has a cameo.)
M.A.N.T.I.S. is the story of Ocean City and it’s protector, the Mantis. You may be wondering why the title is an acronym.
That’s why. I think the series further explains that Dr. Hawkins created the exoskeleton (or harness here) as a way to help paralysis victims like himself walk, but ended up using it to fight crime. (I’m assuming the headgear, dart launcher, and the ability to jump really high weren’t going to be standard issue.) In the series, Hawkins doesn’t wear the long coat and the rest of the suit, making the exoskeleton visible. Personally, I like the business suit and long coat better. The exoskeleton looks cool and all, but the suit disguises the exoskeleton and makes it look like he’s just some guy with a weird helmet and dart launcher. They aren’t ready for superhuman strength or jumping real high.
That said, the series refers to this model as a “prototype” in one episode, and I would think making it waterproof and giving it a battery that can take more punishment than one hit with a crowbar would have been important factors in designing a supersuit.
The acting was well done, which is why I missed the supporting cast in the series. Missing from the Hulu video, but I’m sure I remember it happening, is a scene where the reporter and morgue doctor are given a box with a mobile phone (they grew them big back then) and it appeared that they were meant to be his “agents”, much like if the Alec Baldwin version of The Shadow had gotten that part right. (In the movie, the Shadow practically forces the people he rescues to join up.) Also gone are the African (?) interns, replaced with a British guy that helped design and maintain the exoskeleton, and a courier who just gets drawn in and once helped saved the day with an army of couriers on bicycles. Yes, that happened. Only actor Carl Lumbly returned to play Miles Hawkins/MANTIS.
However, the “bigger threat” hinted at here could be considered realized in the form of Solomon Box, who was the big bad before the tone shift matched the cast change. He was the center of a big conspiracy in Ocean City (renamed Port Columbia in the series). The new cast (except fans weren’t pleased with the addition of the courier kid) was pretty good, including Gary Graham (whom you may know from the series version of Alien Nation).
The thing I have to note is that this was the first superhero series to star a black man in the lead role, and a surprisingly conservative one. (Hollywood seems to frown on good conservatives, especially one who isn’t a white guy.) He’s a successful businessman who found a way to overcome his handicap to take on a corrupt system. You also have a reporter who is good at his job and a mortician who has a brain to match her beauty. It was a great cast, so I have to keep harping on the change to where there was only one other black main character besides Hawkins, a detective/potential love interest.
Despite the complaints, the TV series wasn’t that bad for the lowered budget, at least before the sci-fi element was shoehorned in, but the pilot alone is worth the DVD purchase or the time watching it on Hulu. It really is a good show.
[…] about this character because of a few movies and nobody told you The Meteor Man, Spawn, Blade, M.A.N.T.I.S., various Power Rangers, or every black superhero I’ve written about on this site and grew up […]