Turbo Kid” may be the most mainstream superhero movie I’ve described so far.
That is, it’s the only film I’ve mentioned so far that fits a larger trend.
“Darkman” and “Unbreakable” were experiments, movies that meshed genres or fit in really small subgenres.
“Turbo Kid” opens with grey smoke rolling across a desolate landscape and a narrator informing us acid rain and other problems caused an apocalypse, leaving a wasteland where people fight for what’s left.
“This is the future,” the narrator intones. “This is… 1997.”
1997, as Terminator fans remember, is the year Judgment Day was supposed to happen.
From there, we’re introduced to The Kid, an orphan who spends his time hiding from pillagers and collecting junk left from the old world (anything from cassette tapes to garden flamingoes).
Depending on what the Kid finds, he either resells the junk or adds it to his collection.
The Kid particularly loves comic books and anything else associated with Turbo Rider, a superhero who fought in the last war.
His routine gets upset when he befriends a strange girl who gets captured by Zeus, the head pillager.
Fortunately, the Kid finds Turbo Rider’s corpse and with a superhero’s gear and a few friends, he’s ready to end Zeus’ oppression.
Essentially, all this movie’s elements connect somehow to 80’s entertainment.
The Kid is a Spielberg Boy, a good-natured young male who somehow survive strange situations, like the heroes in “The Goonies” or “E.T.”
Turbo Rider’s gear gives the Kid powers similar to someone from 80’s cartoons like "Super Friends."
Zeus and his gang are classic Mad Max villains, down to the weird costumes.
The fight scenes emulate the violence from “Lethal Weapon” or “The Terminator.”
So, why do this crazy love letter to the 80’s work as a superhero film?
One reason is simply the fact “Turbo Kid” is a very well-made movie.
It has a TV pilot’s budget, but the directing and tone make it feel like a grand theatrical movie.
The other reason is it makes superheroes’ inherent absurdity work within the story.
Like “Darkman,” this movie pairs superheroes with other genres and lets them feed off each other.
But “Turbo Kid” takes a slightly different route than “Darkman” because it doesn’t just pay homage to certain genres.
As Michael Ironside (who played Zeus) noted, “Turbo Kid” is really a satire.
It takes elements from 80's entertainment and exaggerates them, blows them out of proportion.
Being a satire, “Turbo Kid” can go to strange places and still be a coherent movie.
It can have brutal violence and lovers kissing under an umbrella in the same scene.
It can have a hero who finds a lost superhero’s gear and learns to use it, even when that’s highly improbable.
Satire allows us to enjoy silly or strange ideas.
Therefore, superheroes feel right at home in a satirical story like “Turbo Kid.”