Principal Cast : YaYa Gosselin, Hala Finley, Lyon Daniels, Nathan Blair, Andy Walken, Lotus Blossom, Dylan Henry, Vivien Blair, Isaiah Russell-Bailey, Akira Akbar, Andrew Diaz, Priyanka Chopra, Adriana Barraza, Pedro Pascal, Boyd Holbrook, Christian Slater, Taylor Dooley, Sung Kang, Haley Reinhart, JJ Dashnaw, Christopher McDonald, J Quinton Johnson, Brittany Perry-Russell, Jamie Perez, Brently Heilbron.
Synopsis: When alien invaders kidnap Earth’s superheroes, their children must team up and learn to work together if they want to save their parents and the world.
Robert Rodriguez really only makes two kinds of films. The hugely violent, debauched excesses of Sin City, Machete and From Dusk Till Dawn, or the family friendly exuberance of the Spy Kids franchise and the 2005 CG-fest The Adventures Of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. Conventional drama and middle-budget cinema isn’t in Rodriguez’ repertoire. His latest offering on Netflix, the perfectly timed We Can Be Heroes, falls solidly into the latter selection, a child-friendly superhero film make with typical Rodriguez panache and a dollop of just-over-the-edge heart. It’s entirely cheesy and trades on the trope of the comic book movie genre – the film blends elements of Mystery Men, the MCU, and even Amazon’s The Boys (without the extreme violence) – and while the performances and dialogue are truly asinine in most places, there’s a sweetness and innocence to the film that rises above adult sensibilities.
In a world of superheroes – known as “Heroics” – an invading fleet of aliens threatens to take over the world. The adult heroes are all defeated, captured and held hostage in the aliens’ mothership, it’s up to the progeny of said heroes to save the day. Led by the power-free Missy Moreno (YaYa Gosselin), daughter of the Heroic’s leader Marcus Moreno (Pedro Pascal – The Mandalorian), the group of super-powered youngsters, including the plastic faced Facemaker (Andrew Diaz), the super-stretchy Noodles (Lyon Daniels), future-seeing Ojo (Hala Finley) and Guppy (Vivien Blair), the daughter of Sharkboy (JJ Dashnaw, because apparently Taylor Lautner was too busy with his career to return!) and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley, who wasn’t too busy, apparently, and having grown somewhat since her debut in Sharkboy and Lavagirl), the young Heroics escape incarceration at the hands of their handler, Ms Granada (Priyanka Chopra) and escape to the alien mothership to thwart their evil plans!
We Can Be Heroes boasts a clutch of amiable child actors and a handful of adult ones – including Christian Slater, Boyd Holbrook and Fast & Furious‘ Sung Kang – as superpowered humans, thrown together with this Hanna-Barbera-cartoon-simple plot of bright colours, flashy visuals and absolutely bananas characterisations. Robert Rodriguez uses his considerable filmmaking skill to produce a film that will offend human adults for how absurd and juvenile it all is, and enthral youngsters of all ages with its…. well, bright colours, flashy visuals and bananas characterisations. It’s a story of family, friendship, leadership and teamwork, all practical and authentic themes of the target demographic amidst the sight-gags, Rodriguez’ script a breezy, brisk affair that offers naught depth when it can bedazzle with largely effective visual effects and jokey “powers”. The dots joining all this together are spaced evenly and with plenty of pluck, such is the inelegance of what turns out to be a largely thick-brushed strokes of the director’s penmanship. He gives each of the characters an easy-to-grab character trait or personality, making it easy for the audience to keep up as the plot trots along at breakneck speed.
The near-dozen kids rounding out the young cast of superpowered anklebiters are led by YaYa Gosselin, as Missy Moreno. Gosselin is the most competent actor of the bunch, finding a decent arc about leadership and self worth while maintaining a watchable believability as the leader of the pack, as much as this predictably shallow script will allow. Gosselin strives to elevate her fellow young cast, although for the most part she fails admirably – Rodriguez may have a great eye for visuals but choosing decent child actors isn’t his biggest strength, and almost all the young cast here are quite stiff and wooden in their delivery and performance style. Hard to work out if it’s the fault of the script or Rodriguez’ direction (or both) but when even the default “cute” baby of the film, Vivien Blair’s Guppy causes cringe you have a real uphill battle. But, as I’ve alluded to, I’m not the target demographic for this chuckle-fest, and my kids ate it up. So it’s good, I guess?
Maybe I’m being overly harsh on what is obviously a kids film; there are a number of quite legitimate laugh out loud moments to be found here, mainly for the young Slo-Mo (Dylan Henry), who is the son of a super-speed hero (Sung Kang) but moves about half the speed of the world around him. Bollywood superstar Priyanka Chopra – to whom I will declare undying fealty if she ever needs to assemble and army and march upon some distant evil in Mordor – has a great time chewing scenery as a teeth-gnashing schoolmarm-slash-villainess, while Best Supporting Actress Academy Award Nominee Adriana Barraza (Babel) whales it up as this film’s Edna Mode, the trainer of the Heroics and Missy’s paternal grandmother. Christian Slater and Boyd Holbrook also pop in as adult Heroics Tech-no and Miracle Guy, while Happy Gilmore villain Christopher McDonald plays the President of The United States. It’s all played wide and broad and I did have a good time in spite of my strong sense of cringe, so I’m prepared to give it a pass thanks to the effervescent fun and zippy direction Rodriguez gives it. We Can Be Heroes may not win points for originality or street-smarts but it more than accomplishes what it needs to with energy and zest.