Back in the heady days when ‘America: f**k yeah!’ was hilarious satirical hyperbole rather than a Presidential election-winning political philosophy, the creators of South Park set out to spoof the overbearing machismo of Michael Bay-style action cinema through an inspired homage to the genius of “Thunderbirds” creator Gerry Anderson.
The world is ever more dangerous and only a crack team of heavily armed American special forces have the brass cohones to keep us safe. But the team needs someone with a particular set of skills to tackle the latest growing threat identified by INTELLIGENCE and patriotism comes calling for actor Gary Johnston who must tackle terrorists, celebrities and even the evil dictator Kim Jong-Il himself to defend freedom, justice and the American way!
Celebrating its fifteenth anniversary, it’s become a victim of the passage of time but more in that its prescience at the time makes it look lazy and obvious now. It’s full of the trademark Trey Parker and Matt Stone equality of offence humour which plays very differently in today’s more neo-puritan climate but I’d be lying if I said the movie didn’t make me laugh until I cried then and still cracks me up now. As you’d expect from the “South Park” duo, they weaponise racism, sexism and any other kind of -ism you may care to be offended by in service of underlining the stupidity and irony of such sincerely and uncritically held attitudes.
Whether or not you appreciate it’s sharp but sophomoric humour, you can’t deny the artistry and filmmaking skill on show as they both lovingly homage and gently parody the art of puppetry and Supermarionation in particular. The sets are packed with exquisite little details and while the parade of celebrity parodies often borders on cruel or silly, its commentary on celebrity interventions in geopolitics feels more on point now than ever. It’s a wonder, really, that this film hasn’t been picked up and mistakenly championed by the MAGA crowd given they embrace so much of the hawkish paper tiger sabre-rattling this film is lampooning so mercilessly.
As you’d expect from Parker and Stone, the film also has plenty of musical numbers with whip-smart lyrics, from the opening which parodies the musical ‘Rent’ to the savagely on target ‘Montage’ song. At the movie’s heart is actor and reluctant international man of action Gary, who in retrospect bears more than a passing resemblance to the then up and coming Chris Pine but if it is intended to be Pine, he still gets off lightly compared to Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who arguably gets worse treatment than the Hodor-esque pastiche of his Good Will Hunting writing partner in a song skewering his performance and acting skills in the movie “Pearl Harbour”.
It gets the triumphs and follies of Bruckheimer-style action movies absolutely spot on in both character and set-pieces and it’s both a celebration and roast of a very particular genre of cinema, from the wanton collateral damage in pursuit of the bad guys to Chris’ backstory of why he hates actors, now cinema’s second most traumatic story of Cats, right behind the 2019 musical itself.
Of its time and slightly uncomfortably of the present day, it may not be to everyone’s taste but if you’re a fan of their work, Trey and Matt will definitely pull your strings with this action puppetry epic.