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Photo: ‘We Can Be Heroes’/Netflix
As far as filmmakers working today, Robert Rodriguez is one of the more interesting ones in how you can delineate his filmography into two different paths. On one end you have his edgier fare: his collaborations with longtime friend Quentin Tarantino (‘From Dusk Till Dawn’, ‘Grindhouse’), the ‘Mexico’ trilogy (made up of ‘El Mariachi’, ‘Desperado’, and ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’) and the ‘Machete’ and ‘Sin City’ films. On the opposite end of the spectrum are his kid-friendly films: the ‘Spy Kids’ film series and ‘The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl’. One can make the argument that for a lot of us—specifically those who came of age in the 2000s—his family films were our first introduction to his oeuvre. And in the case of ‘Sharkboy and Lavagirl’, despite poor critical and commercial response, the film gained a cult following among younger viewers.
Netflix’s ‘We Can Be Heroes’ marks Rodriguez’s return to the family action-adventure genre, as well as the return of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. But this isn’t their story. Instead, we follow the children of superheroes like them. And make no mistake: this is very much a movie strictly aimed at younger audiences. It’s bright, colorful, and very cheesy. And yet it’s also quite likable.
The film takes place in a world inhabited by superheroes who work together as a team known as “The Heroics”. Their members include the Superman-esque Miracle Guy (Boyd Holbrook), tech expert Tech-No (Christian Slater), speedster Blinding Fast (Sung Kang), sonar scream-wielding Ms. Vox (Haley Reinhart), and the aforementioned Sharkboy (JJ Dashnaw, replacing Taylor Lautner) and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley). However the arrival of an invading alien armada on Earth forces Heroics member and single father Marcus Moreno (Pedro Pascal) to return to the field despite having retired to raise his daughter Missy (YaYa Gosselin), who has no powers of her own.
Fearing that the aliens may target them, Missy and the superpowered children of the other superheroes are hidden away at the Heroics’ headquarters, under the watchful supervision of the team’s stern administrator Ms. Granada (Priyanka Chopra Jonas). But when their parents are defeated and captured by the aliens, the kids defy Ms. Granada as they rally around Missy who leads them to escape and to rescue their parents and save the world.
“We Can Be Heroes, Just For One Day”
A kid-friendly take on superhero team-up movies like Marvel’s ‘Avengers’ – this pretty much sums up ‘We Can Be Heroes’ in a nutshell. We see the various kid heroes first meet, as well as the clashes in personality (with Missy doubting her leadership skills) before they come together to save the day. The script pretty much follows all the expected story beats, and yet Rodriguez executes them fairly well, up to and including an entertaining mid-movie training montage with Missy’s grandmother and Heroics trainer Anita (Adriana Barraza). The humor is more directed at kids, but it’s broad without being crass or juvenile, which is nice.
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An early highlight of the movie is when Missy (and the audience) is introduced to the other kids, and we’re treated to a fun and funny showcase of their powers while also showing us their connection to each parent. To name a few there’s Wild Card (Nathan Blair), an insecure boy who has multiple powers but no control over them; the wheelchair-bound tech-savvy Wheels (Andy Walken); A Capella (Lotus Blossom), a girl with a telekinetic singing voice; bickering time-controlling twins Rewind (Isaiah Russell-Bailey) and Fast-Forward (Akira Akbar); and Ojo (Hala Finley), a girl whose drawings can predict the future. Two of my favorites are Slo-Mo (Dylan Henry Lau), a boy constantly stuck in slow-motion (which leads to a few of the film’s funnier moments), and Sharkboy and Lavagirl’s super-strong daughter Guppy (Vivien Blair). And while a few receive more attention than others, overall each of the super-kids gets a moment to shine.
In fact, the first two-thirds fare stronger than the third act. I feel like during the climax the film loses a bit of steam as Rodriguez keeps throwing more obstacles for the kids to overcome. This culminates in a twist ending that some might take issue with, but it does reinforce the movie’s theme.
Theme – It’s Going to be the Kids Who’ll Save Us
The movie espouses the usual message of the importance of teamwork, and it’s one that continues to be worthwhile. But this also dovetails into the film’s overall thesis: as one character says, “the next generation is always better than the last”.
We see the adult superheroes deal with dysfunction and bickering, even when they’re held captive. By contrast, the kids have less trouble finding a way to work together and presenting a united front. They’re also able to objectively view the adults’ shortcomings and wonder if maybe there’s a better way; this leads to a few funny jokes poking fun at both superhero costumes and the damage their battles cause; as well as jokes at the expense of a buffoonish U.S President (Christopher McDonald).
If anything, it feels like Rodriguez has something to say here. Without giving away the twist ending, it hammers home the point he’s making. That our children are going to grow up to inherit a more dangerous world and the problems past generations have caused; it’ll be on them to be ready and do better, and on us to prepare, empower and encourage them to do better.
On Offering a More Stylized Superhero Tale
Similar to Rodriguez’s other kids’ movies, ‘We Can Be Heroes’ is pretty impressive visually. It’s bright, bold, and very colorful with an aesthetic that feels like it was designed by and for kids (it might not work for adult viewers, but again they’re not the intended audience). You can see it in the adult superheroes’ garish costumes, the intricate Heroics headquarters, and the aliens’ spaceships with their vivid use of purple. And the action sequences Rodriguez’s stages are fun in how he takes full advantage of the kids’ varying powers.
Similar to a lot of Rodriguez’s past works, he wears many hats here. In addition to writing and directing, he also serves as cinematographer and editor. He also co-produced with his son Racer; his other son Rebel composed the music score; his daughters contributed to the art design. And like the ‘Sin City’ films, a good chunk of the film was shot on a green-screen studio and when it does it can be quite apparent (the camerawork tends to be more noticeably limited then); the special effects are cartoonish and obvious but decent enough. While some might be turned off by this, I think that adds to the film’s scrappy charm: the overall vibe I’m getting is that Rodriguez is just having fun making a movie with his friends and family.
By and large, the child actors do solid work with Gosselin standing out as Missy’s confidence grows, and Vivien Blair steals every scene she’s in as the powerful yet incredibly adorable Guppy. As for the adults, Pascal and Barraza bring warmth, gravitas, and some humor to the proceedings. The rest of the adult cast also deliver energetic performances that are properly tuned to the film’s more stylized cartoony vibe, especially Chopra Jonas who gets to ham it up. You can tell the cast is having a good time here. And it’s worth pointing out how the film doesn’t hide or make a big deal of the cast’s diversity. It just is. And that approach is pretty commendable.
Though it can be cheesy and hokey at times, ‘We Can Be Heroes’ is a decent superhero movie for kids. With fun action scenes, a game cast, a light-hearted vibe, and an earnest and potent message, there’s sincerity and heart here. While not really for me, this is the kind of movie I would’ve loved when I was a kid.
‘We Can Be Heroes’ is now streaming on Netflix.
Cast: YaYa Gosselin, Pedro Pascal, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Isaiah Russell-Bailey, Akira Akbar, Christian Slater, Boyd Holbrook, Adriana Barraza, Taylor Dooley, Vivien Blair, Hala Finley, Lyon Daniels, Sung Kang, Christopher McDonald, Andy Walken, Lotus Blossom, Haley Reinhart, Nathan Blair, Dylan Henry Lau, Andrew Diaz, JJ Dashnaw
Director: Robert Rodriguez | Writer: Robert Rodriguez | Producers: Racer Rodriguez, Robert Rodriguez | Cinematography: Robert Rodriguez | Editor: Robert Rodriguez
By Mario Yuwono
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