Thursday, 25 August 2016

WWE Tagged Classics: Hardy Boyz - Leap Of Faith & Lita - It Just Feels Right

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 309 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: March 19 2012

With the Hardyz having generated plenty of buzz recently for their feud in TNA (which so far has included an unusual contract signing and the bizarre yet undeniably compelling Final Deletion match), it seems like a good time to provide a retro DVD review based on Matt and Jeff/Brother Nero.

Leap Of Faith, originally released in late 2001, largely focused on the careers of the Hardy brothers during the TLC era, along with some coverage of their upbringing and their early days in the WWF. Since their pre-WWF adventures are also covered on the 2008 DVD A Twist Of Fate, which I will also be providing a review of shortly, I'll just mention here that this release does a decent job of telling the story of the Hardyz prior to them becoming famous, as well as detailing some of their passions outside the ring, like Jeff's fondness for dirt-biking (which actually left him with a broken leg not so long ago).

Onto the crux of Leap Of Faith, then: we're guided through the Hardyz' biggest matches from 1999 to 2001, which included their first WWF Tag Team Title win over The Acolytes in July 1999, their breakthrough Ladder match opposite Edge and Christian at No Mercy 2000, their Tables scrap with the Dudleyz from Royal Rumble 2000, the three major matches in the Hardyz/Dudleys/E&C feud (Ladder match at WrestleMania 2000, TLC at SummerSlam 2000 and TLC II at WrestleMania X-Seven), and their second WWF Tag Team Title win over E&C in a Steel Cage match from Unforgiven 2000. These battles get plenty of coverage, some more than others, as the Hardyz talk through their memories of each big match and the impact on their careers where applicable, along with comments from Edge, Christian, Mick Foley, Bubba Ray Dudley (where is D-Von?), Jim Ross and others. Lita also provides comments throughout the presentation; I'll come back to her a little later.

Since this was before the era of three-disc DVD compilations and the Hardyz were still young in the wrestling business at this point, Leap Of Faith is as good a one-hour feature on Matt and Jeff as you could have asked for at the time. Adding to the appeal of LOF are some bonus matches, with the aforementioned Hardyz-Acolytes bout, the No Mercy 1999 Ladder match and the first two TLC matches shown in their entirety; the first of these is a basic doubles bout, but the Ladder-related scraps are simply amazing. It's hard to say one is better than the other, because they are all fabulous and each one set a new bar for the next one to follow, making it unfair to say, for instance, that TLC II is superior to the No Mercy scrap because of the additional bodies, tables, chairs and stunts. I would say, though, that much of the commentary for the original Ladder bout centred on Terri Runnels' "services" going to the winner and Jerry Lawler getting horny at the prospect, which weighs the presentation of that particular match down a little.

Also acting as Hardy extras are Matt and Jeff's Unforgiven 2000 championship win over E&C in full (I never noticed until this viewing that one side of the cage has a platform, making it safer for Jeff to fling himself off in death-defying fashion), and a peculiar inclusion of The Hardyz and Lita vs. Steve Austin, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. The result is a surprise but, coming early in Austin's heel run, the post-match scenes are shocking, and not necessarily in a good way. The theory is understandable - build heel heat on Austin, who fans still wanted to cheer - but having Lita take a clothesline and a Pedigree from HHH, and then multiple chairshots to the back and a Stone Cold Stunner by Austin is pretty hard to watch nowadays. The WWF of 2001 had a very different attitude on violence towards women than WWE does today, and whilst many fans complain about the PG rating nowadays, this is one area where the WWF/WWE has definitely improved. Chyna was perhaps understandable since she competed with male wrestlers, but having Lita take a beating like this is hard to justify, and ends disc one on a sour note (well, besides some home video footage of the Hardyz from over the years).

Focusing properly on Lita now: the second disc, It Just Feels Right (what a crap name), is based around her career. Unlike most female profiles during the Attitude Era, this one (released in 2001 as well, before the Matt and Jeff set, funnily enough) actually focuses on her as a human being and a competitor, rather than as merely a sex object. Yes, sexuality is covered in a lengthy section near the end as we go behind the scenes of some photo shoots, but the majority of this looks at how she wanted to become a wrestler after seeing the "Mexicans" (WCW goes uncredited at this point despite it being the real source of interest for Amy Dumas to become a fan; weirdly, WCW is briefly mentioned later on), her intriguing journey from an oblivious girl looking to somehow become a wrestler and actually achieving her goal within a year or so, her short tenure in ECW as Miss Congeniality (no footage is shown, since WWE hadn't yet acquired the rights to the ECW video library), and her eventful first eighteen months in the WWF as - yes! - Lita.

The chronology is all over the place during this documentary, at least within the WWF section: after covering her early days alongside Essa Rios (who provides comments, in Spanish) and her alignment with the Hardyz, we suddenly jump ahead to her involvement in TLC II at Mania X7, before going back to her first Women's Title victory over Stephanie McMahon from August 2000. This would presumably have ended the feature, but instead we cover some more highlights of her career, from a tough match with Ivory at Survivor Series 2000 that saw her receive a nasty cut to her title challenge against Chyna at Judgment Day 2001 (which would prove to be Chyna's last ever WWF match). There's also footage of her filming commercials alongside Matt and Jeff, and a section on her friendship and on-screen romance with Matt. Strangely, though, while this love story (which on-screen came out of a way-too-long and not believable plotline whereby Dean Malenko was trying to seduce Lita, which is also covered on this documentary) obviously mirrored the real-life relationship between Matt and Lita, but their actual relations are not referred to. This is a weird decision, since diehard Hardy and Lita fans (who will have bought the original DVD) would obviously have been aware of this.

That aside, the documentary is worthwhile, and the most flattering feature yet on a female during the Attitude Era. The bonus matches cover that fine line between Lita as the fearless performer and Lita as eye candy: an intergender bout from Fully Loaded 2000 (Team Extreme vs. T&A and Trish Stratus) is pretty good; Lita vs. Jacqueline under Hardcore rules is alright; and Lita vs. Molly Holly is decent. Then, there are the matches that provide sex appeal, like Lita vs. Trish under Strap and (of course) Bra & Panties rules. A six-person match from Armageddon 2000 (Team Extreme vs. The Radicalz) isn't as good as the Fully Loaded bout, and again raises questions as to how the WWF willingly allowed females (Lita in this case, obviously) to take such a beating from male performers. Lita vs. Malenko exists to set up Lita and Matt's first on-screen kiss, and for some reason a Jeff Hardy-Big Show match is thrown on here, despite Lita's only real involvement being a moonsault to Show. (This bout has an interesting finish: all three members of TX pummel Show, cover him at once - with Jeff's shoulders also down - and the referee Jimmy Korderas providing a fast three-count. It all makes no sense in a regular bout, until Michael Cole provides the missing piece by saying that Korderas wasn't happy with Show shoving him moments earlier. Suddenly, it all makes sense, by WWF standards, and is a little reminder of the mini-moments that are missing from WWE television today). There's also more clips from behind the scenes of photo shoots, a picture collage and more home video clips.

Lita fans will have loved this at the time, and probably would do today, as well. That being said, the biggest thing I took from it is just how much the WWF based its female division from 1998 right up to around 2007-2008 on sexuality. That's stating the obvious, I know; but comparing it to today's WWE, whereby Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Bayley are putting on genuinely great matches that steal the show and are threatening to main event PPV events, and with all being treated as real athletes and women with integrity, the WWF's portrayal of females back then is questionable at best and almost offensive at worst (I haven't even mentioned storylines where rape was implied and where a woman's sexual services were quite literally at stake for the winner). Of course, all of this seemed normal back then, but it does show how times have changed. By the way, I don't have a problem with the sexual, raunchy side of WWF television during that era - you won't see me complaining that Lita's thong was popping out of her trousers - but comparing how females were treated back then to how they are today is like night and day.

However, the decreased emphasis on sexuality on this feature indicates that Lita was amongst the women who would force a change in WWF philosophies (along with Trish Stratus a little later on). Women like Sensational Sherri and Alundra Blayze had been straight-up wrestlers, but few took real notice. Women like Sunny, Sable and Debra were merely there for sex appeal. And Chyna was a ground-breaker, but no female has followed her path since then. However, Lita was one of the first ladies to actually get people out of their seats because they were amazed at her athleticism and her ability. The balance between ability and eye candy was perfected by Lita and Trish, and whilst it took WWE to go PG and Sara Del Ray to become a trainer at NXT before things truly changed, it is true to say that Lita and Trish really did pave the way for the likes of Sasha and Charlotte today to be respected because of their in-ring ability.

As it turned out, this period marked the peak of Lita's career, at least in terms of popularity. After suffering a serious neck injury in 2002 on the set of a non-wrestling show, she only returned in September 2003, and after an extended feud with Trish Stratus and a second injury (this time to her knee), the rest of Lita's WWE tenure was spent as the valet to former rival Edge, before her retirement at Survivor Series 2006 and well-deserved WWE Hall Of Fame induction in 2014. Of course, the partnership with Edge was instigated by a major series of events off-screen - but we'll cover that in the next Hardyz DVD review, where that particular topic receives extensive coverage.

Summing up this DVD set, then, the link between the Hardyz and Lita makes the two features an obvious companion set. If you were a fan of the Hardyz in 2001, chances were that you also supported Lita, and vice versa. By the standards of early 2000s DVDs, the features are very good, and the matches were logical selections and provided suitable evidence as to why Matt, Jeff and Lita were so popular and had achieved their respective success. Their stories were far from over, but this arguably represented the peak of both the Hardyz tandem and Lita as a performer. Any fan of Team Extreme back then will thoroughly enjoy this recap of their most memorable moments from 1999-2001. Just try not to think too much about the extent of the man-on-woman violence during the Attitude Era.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good

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