Action Man, the Greatest Hero of Them All!

I’m not sure what prompted me to write this review having slept since I watched the episodes and took my notes, but it may be an inherent awareness of the Action Man commercials from the nineties with the “Action Man, the Greatest Hero Of Them All!” slogan. Dr. X always seemed to have some plot going on and Action Man always seemed to foil it. I have never owned an Action Man figure or watched an Action Man show or film, but I thought I would and see what my reactions to them were.

Action Man – Explosive Situation

This was the original show with the reimagined Action Man, with Hasbro rebooting him from soldier with swappable costumes to man of action. There must’ve been a desire to tap into the popularity of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers as there is a live action wrapped around the animation, starring English bodybuilder/actor Mark Griffin, who at the time was Trojan on Gladiators. He brought good looks, muscles and some suave charm to the role. At the beginning of this episode, he eludes some of Dr. X’s Skullmen in a speedboat chase filmed at Universal Studios. It’s a bit of a pantomime stunt scene and there are no fatalities, but it’s fine.

I was actually surprised when the story segued into the animation that Griffin performed the voice role of AM too. His story is of having lost his memory and working to regain it. Part of this is helped when Dr. X, who has one of a series of funny accents in the shows, aims to gain possession of a nuclear warhead. AM and his team of strongman Knuck, action girl Natalie (played by the daughter of Phil Collins!), and French boy genius Jacque (although it sounds like Chuck, but the accent confirms it) try to stop him. AM has his catchphrases, which all depend on the then-contemporary theme of “extreme” (“OK team, let’s get extreme!”, for instance).

Mixed in is a mysterious girl called Ursula, who might be good, might be bad, and may have a past with Action Man. It’s strongly hinted at here, but not confirmed that they had a prior relationship. The plot is a pretty standard trap and capture/rescue and escape one, but it’s inoffensive and passes the time fine. The episode ends by reverting back to AM going into a virtual reality scan and trying to plug the holes in his memory, before we’re provided a moral message about not being scared to make mistakes and how we learn more from mistakes than successes sometimes.

I liked this episode. I had the preexisting liking for Mark Griffin, who wasn’t a main star of Gladiators like Jet or Wolf or Saracen, but came across as a nice guy and a good athlete. That transfers to this show, where you can tell he could be as wooden as oak furniture but seemed to really be trying hard to make something of the role, and I can’t fault that even with flaws.

Action Man – Competitive Edge

Now, a totally unrelated CGI show from 2000, produced by Mainframe, who gave us Reboot and Beast Wars (and Money For Nothing years earlier). It looks more developed than Reboot, but still primitive by today’s standards. Alex “Action” Mann is an extreme sports star, lead of Team Xtreme, who back him up. While competing against his friendly rival Brandon Caine, an accident occurs and Caine ends up in the hospital. They’re visited by the mysterious Doctor X (voiced here as an aged, decrepit, sinister figure by the fantastic Campbell Lane) who offers to transform them beyond their wildest imagination. AM declines, but Brandon takes him up on the offer.

When next they compete, a full transformation occurs that leaves Caine strong but grotesque, vengeful and looking to eliminate AM. AM has his own mysterious mentor come into play who enables him to power up to fight and defeat his old friend, related to the Action Man – AMP It Up theme tune of the show.

Whereas the last show was really trying hard, this was just a show that was trying way too hard. It aimed for comedy at times and ended up irritating. It also aimed for lots of action, which makes sense, but when you try to be exciting all the time and loud then nothing has an impact. It’s twenty years too late, but making this show better would be down to taking a lot of stuff out of it, including the irritating backup team, and that’s not just because one character, the now unfortunately named Grinder, has an awful English accent. The female videographer is far worse as she talks more. So, chalk me up as disappointed with this. I could see what the aim was, but the result wasn’t for me.

A.T.O.M. – Touch of Paine

Concluding with the similarly unrelated A.T.O.M., which stands for Alpha Teens on Machines. It’s got a heavy Action Man influence, with elements of M.A.S.K. sprinkled in too. A group of teens control transforming vehicles and fight the evil Alexander Paine. In this, the third episode, Paine tries to recover from the physical pain he suffered in the opening two episodes, but his nervous system is severely compromised. However, he can relieve the pain by passing it onto other people by contact, with the team leader of A.T.O.M. being the first he wants to reach out and touch.

The show has a cool theme tune and looks good, and I can’t fault the choice of influences. In the idea of developing the characters, the Teens try to gain their own independence from benefactor Mr. Lee, but can’t sever the relationship as both sides need to support one another. It was an OK episode, doing all the right things, but just wasn’t super-exciting. I’d imagine they did some episodes where you didn’t have all of the team members included and they had little adventures on their own, which would be good. To link it to this blog, Paine hires some masked wrestlers for muscles who argue like little kids. That was amusing, and I imagine it was related to wrestling being in the popular consciousness at the time.

Conclusion: I want to compliment all three shows, as I could see what their intentions were and they were all good, but I feel like the first Action Man was the better one on account of just giving it such a good go. Apparently it was a show that ended without proper conclusion, and that’s a shame because on the evidence of the first episode it seemed like it was going somewhere.