The ‘70s anime series Steel Jeeg found popularity in Italy, building a strong fanbase there. Superhero movies are massively popular in all corners of the globe. So it’s perhaps fitting that when it came time for Italy to do their own riff on the modern comic book movie it was Jeeg they turned to for its genesis, not Marvel or DC.
Enzo is a thief we meet when he escapes from a police pursuit into Rome’s Tiber river and straight into a barrel of something radioactively noxious that also imbues him with superpowers. Spiderman learned pretty quickly to take the whole great powers and great responsibility gig seriously. The problem here is Enzo isn’t a gauche, inherently good teenager but rather a pretty shitty guy, spending his days mired in petty theft, living in a porn-strewn flat. So of course when he figures out he’s now special, he does pretty shitty super things. As with most of these films there’s an epiphany of sorts that motivates the central character to choose to become something more than they were, something that represents an ideal to strive for. Here, when the vulnerable Alessia mistakes him for the hero of her favourite TV show (Jeeg), the misanthropic Enzo might finally find a reason to care.
That means at its core this is not too far out from the standard origin tale. But the makers of this Jeeg are at least determined to be somewhat different. There are not many superhero films that feature the hero discovering his powers to a soundtrack of enthusiastic endorsement by the ‘adult actress’ currently on his TV but you’ll find that here. As much as being influenced by the anime that inspired it and the recent decade plus of costume-clad heroes, it’s aware of Italy’s film heritage too. With a background of political unrest and concerns over crime, we get a setting that echoes the Poliziotteschi films from the ‘70s that proved popular helping make Enzo’s world feel gloomily real and very Italian. This arguably makes Enzo’s journey a much more hard fought one than the likes of Steve Rogers. Where Rogers desired to be hero, Enzo instead seems to be treading water in misery, someone heading in no direction but down...until destiny calls.
Overall, it’s too long at nearly two hours, and whatever seedy reality dressing you give it, the story is a familiar one. Still, along with great performances from the central duo of Santamaria and Pastorelli, and an agreeably hissable villain in Marinelli’s ‘the Gipsy’, there’s plenty of ideas and some nice directorial touches throughout and should you fancy a different but still hopeful take on the origin story there’s much to enjoy as well.
THEY CALL ME JEEG ROBOT (LO CHIAMAVANO JEEG ROBOT) / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: GABRIELE MAINETTI / SCREENPLAY: NICOLA GUAGLIANONE / STARRING: CLAUDIO SANTAMARIA, LUCA MARINELLI, ILENIA PASTORELLI / RELEASE DATE: UK RELEASE TBA