There’s this movie out there called Santa Hunters, and I need not tell you who it’s marketing for. I haven’t seen the film, but on the surface it looks like a cheap pandering flick about kids trying to get the loot of their life for the holidays. We Can Be Heroes when only looking at the poster seems to be similar; cheap and undermining what being a hero really means to those who can make a difference without superpowers. AKA, everyone. But you have to pause. And remember what sort of entertainment you liked as a kid and what entertainment as a kid you still like. This isn’t how I first perceived We Can Be Heroes, because it’s from a filmmaker that doesn’t (for the most part) underestimate its audience. After watching, I realize Santa Hunters is not my type of film by far but it might not be what I think it is.
Remember the OSS from Spy Kids? Heroics is the OSS of this Rodriguez universe. You know the ones. Miracle Guy, Red Lightning Fury, Tech-No, Blinding Fast, and, oh yeah, Sharkboy & Lavagirl! Pedro Pascal plays Marcus Morano, a retired hero who has either psychic powers that bring his swords to him, or his swords have a fantastical connection to him. But Marcus isn’t the focus of this movie, or even SB & LG, sadly. YaYa Gosselin plays Missy, Marcus’ daughter, who knows Marcus’ past as a superhero. Well, Marcus has to break his promise to her that he won’t go out and put himself in danger anymore when an alien invasion arrives so huge, Heroics head Ms. Scanada (Priyanka Chopra) has to call them all up in disbelief.
Meanwhile, Missy is taken to a vaulted classroom of the children of these superheroes. One of them is Sharkboy & Lavagirl’s daughter, Guppy, who cleverly has a mix of their powers. There’s stretchy Noodles, there’s conflicted twins FastForward and Rewind, there’s A Capella, the girl with the incredibly versatile vocal cords, and a lot of fun little guys who individually might not be able to do much to save the world but could pull some incredible pranks. When they see on TV, up-close, that the aliens have captured all their parents and the Heroics board is refusing to let them out for their own safety, Missy realizes the aliens are coming for them and they’re the only ones who can save the world now. So they escape. And they figure out just how they can work together to kick alien butt.
I’ve enjoyed all of Rodriguez’s kid-geared movies, except the fourth Spy Kids, mainly because it took to the backside-trumpet humour way too much in a franchise known for mostly avoiding it. I also like Shorts, but I had to think for a bit about my grade (which was a C+ then a B+ and I finally settled on a B) and the primary reason was an overly long booger segment. Those two movies were Rodriguez’s most recent kids outings, so I had some hesitation towards this movie. And, oh yeah, I watched Sharkboy and Lavagirl when I was seven and I’m now fifteen years older.
Something evident in all those movies are its brave and mighty female protagonists. The girls really rule in each and every one without coming across as obnoxious, uptight or unadaptable (there’s noticeable bickering between Carmen and Juni in the first Spy Kids but it wasn’t overdone and often believable and funny so it worked for me). Having the leader of the group be not just female but powerless ends up working too because Missy is the bravest of them all, going into danger and defying the aliens basically shieldless, without some sort of power arriving for her midway through dampening the message.
Now it’s time for a confession. Sharkboy and Lavagirl was my favourite movie for years when I was a kid. So, in other words, A+, right? Now I leave it at an A. It has some overly silly and unbelievable dialogue. But it’s still very high up because it doesn’t think kids are delusional tech addicts. That movie understands how, as kids grow up more and more, as they realize the difference between fiction and reality, they want to still believe they can one day get the power to fly, to shoot lava from your hands, to run so fast time stops, to not have to go through the rest of their lives not being able to do what they see on TV and read about in books. Sharkboy and Lavagirl was a literal dream come true for me.
I especially liked two things about this sort-of sequel. One is it has a lot of fun with the superpowers. As it tells its message of teamwork, it does have the usual big speech, but it’s not all talk and no show. There are some very clever ways the gang works together. You sometimes even enjoy guessing what powers would and wouldn’t work for this sort of pickle. There’s even a few twists in the third act that really caught me off guard (one other in the conclusion caught me off guard again but it sucked.) Back to the positives. The second thing I really liked was it tells kids, truthfully, that when they are scorned for being angry, for being cranky, for being immature and needing to grow up, that adults act that way too. It tells them that when they’re upset and in a temper, it doesn’t mean those in charge are any more mature. That’s a message kids love and will help them have more confidence of themselves.
Here’s some bad things that pop up. Noodles has to try to stretch to grab something about 100 feet down and he can’t quite reach it. Problem is, he’s standing up as he’s reaching. If he laid down on his stomach, he’d have gotten it easily. And a character ends up sneaking her way into a cell. She somehow unlocked it. So why does she stay in like she’s captured too? The ending maybe indirectly explains this, but the ending resolution (which I mentioned before has a twist) is just…no. Almost ruined it for me. And I just feel there could’ve been so much more of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. It’s been announced there’s going to be a sequel, but why not have more the first go?
We Can Be Heroes falls victim to a few things expected from what it looks like it is, but it is far from falling into all of them. I am on board for more. Adults dragged to this film may even not hate it. Gracefully it doesn’t end with a dance number. And even better, there’s some Sharkboy and Lavagirl soundtrack in here if you listen carefully.
If you like this, I’d try Rodriguez’s other kids films, and the Avengers movies