‘We Can Be Heroes’ Is Kitschy, Colorful, and Suprisingly Engaging Family Fun – Review
[by Nicolás Delgadillo]
Robert Rodriguez can’t be stopped. Coming fresh off directing a fan-favorite episode of The Mandalorian, the filmmaker has now returned to his family-friendly cinematic universe with We Can Be Heroes, a fun, kiddie take on the superhero genre. It’s been nearly a decade since Rodriguez last attempted a children’s movie, but that time and newfound experience help turn the film into a consistently impressive one.
We Can Be Heroes serves as a quasi-spinoff of Rodriguez’s The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl as well as his Spy Kids franchise, both of which have maintained a solid cult following thanks to their charming, DIY vibe. Rodriguez kind of has the golden touch for that kind of fandom, making everything from exploitative grindhouse films (Machete) to crime noirs (Sin City) to a massive cyberpunk epic (Alita: Battle Angel), all of which have rather ravenous followings. His family films are noted for their zany, colorful looks and rubbery special-effects that come with their smaller budgets – think Disney Channel with a bit more flavor.
Rodriguez’s latest follows Missy Moreno (YaYa Gosselin), the daughter of famous superhero Marcus Moreno (Pedro Pascal). Missy’s world is one where a superhero team called The Heroics have been saving the planet without fail, until one day an alien menace arrives that they can’t handle. Missy is taken into government protection along with the other superheroes’ children; a rambunctious group with a wide variety of superpowers. Despite not having any powers herself, Missy has to unite and lead the other kids if they’re to rescue their parents and defeat the aliens.
Compared to the effects of his previous family films, We Can Be Heroes looks surprisingly good, even during more ambitious, CG-heavy moments. While a modest sum from Netflix and ever-improving technology certainly has something to do with it, Rodriguez – who not only wrote, directed, and produced but also acted as his own cinematographer and editor – shoots the action in a way that’s clear and seems properly planned out, making the most out of what he has to work with. There are certainly some awkward frames that act as unintentionally hilarious reminders of the film’s constraints, but for the most part it successfully sells it. The kids’ numerous powers make for lots of fun sequences, and there’s little doubt that it’ll excite and engage the intended younger audience.
The story also contains some humorous and surprisingly evaluative takes on the superhero genre. The kids question their parents’ way of doing things – such as fighting villains in populous cities instead of luring them elsewhere, or how their costumes aren’t very practical – and vow to act differently. Tucked away behind the slapstick, updog jokes and selfie gags are lines about collateral damage and how superhero battles are insanely expensive for taxpayers. There’s even one or two digs at a certain U.S. President. As always with Rodriguez’s children’s films, there’s plenty here to keep adults entertained as well, and dedicated performances from the child cast keep things at a solid level of quality.
The film goes on for a good bit too long, however, and certain ideas still don’t feel fully realized despite the runtime. Missy’s journey to bring the dysfunctional young heroics together mirrors that of her dad, who’s team has been torn apart by infighting. But Marcus never really seems to accomplish his supposed goal. Instead of successfully settling disagreements and leading in the way Missy does, Marcus and the older heroics end up bonding thanks to a mutual sense of pride in their children. While that’s heartwarming, it doesn’t exactly fix the team’s issues; issues that the film makes you feel are important. A number of twists attempt to keep the story interesting, but they quickly pile up on one another and make the film’s ending a little messy.
We Can Be Heroes is one of Rodriguez’s strongest entries in his eclectic career. That might sound a little silly, but the film is packed full of imagination and is genuinely accessible to a vast number of people of all ages. There’s an obvious amount of care and effort put into this despite it being something that a filmmaker like Rodriguez virtually makes in his own garage with his own family. We’re just lucky that he chooses to share it.