Tag Archives: super hero movies

We Can Be Heroes

Robert Rodriguez has two very different speeds when it comes to making movies: ultra violent, and children’s action-adventure. These may seem fairly disparate, but I think Rodriguez has just tapped into the truth that grown men and small children want pretty much the same things when it comes to movies, though one demographic wants a generous side of boob a little more than the other. The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl 3-D was my first Robert Rodriguez movie; imagine my surprise when years later I discovered his oeuvre wasn’t all spy kids and junior super heroes.

We Can Be Heroes is Rodriguez’s newest film, a family-friendly one for Netflix. It’s not about super heroes, though it does have plenty of them in it, including Rodriguez’s old friends, Lavagirl and Sharkboy, who are now all grown up (the original Lavagirl Taylor Dooley returns, but Taylor Lautner is replaced by JJ Dashnaw) and fighting as part of the Heroics team, which includes Miracle Man (Boyd Holbrook) and Tech-no (Christian Slater, for some reason), and is led by Marcus (Pedro Pascal) from his office. Marcus doesn’t fight anymore, a promise he made to his daughter Missy (YaYa Gosselin) due to his single-father status. But when aliens invade, the first thing they do is round up and neutralize all the super heroes, leaving behind only their children, who take it upon themselves to save the day. Missy is the rare super hero offspring who seems to have no powers of her own, but is a natural born leader – a challenge to Wild Card (Nathan Blair) who is technically able to assume any power but lacks the focus to do so reliably. Also in their little gang: Noodles (Lyon Daniels), a tween who can stretch his limbs to Elastigirl limits; Wheels (Andy Walken), a kid in a wheel with a predictable nickname who’s actually as strong as he is smart; Ojo (Hala Finley), a girl whose strange drawings seem to predict the near-future; twins Rewind (Isaiah Russell-Bailey) and Fast Forward (Akira Akbar) who can do with time exactly as their names suggest; Facemaker (Andrew Diaz), who can rearrange his features a la Mr. Potato Head; Slo-Mo (Dylan Henry Lau), whose super questionable skill is doing everything very slowly; A Capella (Lotus Blossom), whose song notes can make things levitate; and little Guppy (Vivien Blair), the adorable offspring of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, who can move and manipulate water.

Their parents, the real super-heroes, were captured because they failed to work together. Their squabbles broke the team up and left them vulnerable. Their kids will have to learn to do better, to make their special skills complement each other’s if there’s to be any chance of saving the earth from alien domination. To make matters worse, Heroics HQ is headed by Ms. Granada (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), whose motivations are questionable. Who can they trust and how will they save the world? And how will they manage to carry out such an important mission on their very first? You’ll have to watch to find out, but suffice to say, kids in the audience will likely be pleased. Adults not so much. The kid acting is nothing to write home about. Missy, the lead, is inconsistent, and A Capella, the singer, is downright annoying, a smug little shit who can’t stop hogging the spotlight. Noodles and Guppy are quite watchable though, with Guppy especially cute when she goes into “shark frenzy” when she loses her temper.

I applaud the attempt to come up with some half-way original super powers as most grown up movies don’t even do that. They’re not all winners, but everyone gets at least one moment in the sun. And there’s a training montage that I know is going to be a huge hit for at least four boys that I know, two of whom just got obstacle course stuff (like slack lines) so they can do ‘ninja warrior’ training at home, and two of whom already have a course or two set up thanks to their intrepid grandfather who grants all kinds of adventure wishes. This movie makes their super hero fantasies a reality, and it validates their contributions, present and future, to society. When so many forces tell them they’ll have to wait to grow up, this movie tells them they’re valuable, resourceful, and capable right now – and that’s the kind of soul food that nourishes their dreams, even if the packaging seems kind of corny and uninspired to you and I. So while We Can Be Heroes isn’t a great movie, it’s destined to be kid-approved, and might even inform their play and pretend for the rest of their holidays, which means less work for you! That’s what we call a win-win.

Wonder Woman 1984

It’s been 70 years since we last saw Diana Prince (Gal Gadot). She’s working at the Smithsonian in cultural anthropology and archeology, she’s doing her hero work on the down-low, and she’s been missing her sweetie, Steve. She’s been missing him for 70 long years.

Her new colleague at work, the meek and self-conscious Barbara (Kristen Wiig), is a gemologist doing a little investigative work for the FBI. The stone itself is worthless, but it claims to be a wish-granter, a dream stone, and both Barbara and Diana make wishes on it before they realize its true potential. Diana, of course, wakes up beside Steve (Chris Pine), but Barbara wakes up cool and powerful and strong, like Diana, although wishing to be like Diana does come with a little more than she bargained for.

Anyway, Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), greedy 80s business man, seemed to know the stone’s possibilities very well, which is why he cozies up to Barbara in order to snatch it. With infinite wishes at his disposal, Lord becomes overwhelmingly powerful and practically unbeatable – especially since the wishes seem to extract something from the wisher, and Diana’s been growing weaker. Barbara, meanwhile, is growing stronger, but also shrewder, meaner. And Lord’s finding ways to increase his reach, taking his avarice international, influencing entire nations, not to mention enemies.

In fighting Max Lord, Wonder Woman is fighting pure greed, corruption, and the world’s obsession with more. Wonder Woman has always been more than capable at taking down villains with her expertly applied kicks and punches and of course her trusty lasso. But how do you fight concepts, idealogy, or human nature? This presents an interesting challenge that even Wonder Woman hasn’t seen before.

Gal Gadot is of course absolute perfection as both Diana and Wonder Woman. Having spent the past 70 years among humans, she is of course more jaded, more knowing, but she’s also more human herself, subject to the same loneliness that anyone would be if they’d been grieving for seven decades, and reluctant to get close to anyone because of it. She’s become more familiar with her strength and her abilities, and puts her weapons (tiara, lasso) to greater use. To win, Wonder Woman will have to flex not just her muscle, but also her ingenuity, and harder still, her faith in humanity’s inherent goodness despite plenty of evidence otherwise.

Kristen Wiig is well-cast as Barbara Minerva, a woman who is tired of being overlooked. As she transitions into the film’s co-villain, Cheetah, her confidence and her newfound powers race to outstrip each other, and we see her grow into her new role, wearing her new power like a mantle, like the fur coats she’s begun to adopt.

As for Pedro Pascal, it’s just nice to see his face for once. He understands that Max Lord doesn’t have to be evil to be a great villain. Villains who go around murdering and pillaging are easy to identify and unanimously reviled. But a villain who gives the people what they want will get away with a whole lot more. Since eliminating Lord would also mean negating their own wishes, people like Cheetah, who would otherwise perhaps not be on his side, are willing to fight for him to protect their own interests. Pascal puts a charming face on greed and desire, convincing an awful lot of people to wish for things they probably know they shouldn’t.

Director Patty Jenkins’ action sequences remain divine, but she’s not afraid to remind us that Wonder Woman, unlike some super heroes who shall remain nameless, is about more than just brawn or fancy gadgets; she’s got heart, and not just her own strong sense of right and wrong, but an impressive belief that ultimately humanity will share it and choose it as well.

In flashbacks, we saw a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competing in Amazonian warrior games, where she learned that she couldn’t win until she was truly ready. What will the grown up Diana be asked to give in order to win, what sacrifices will she make for people who will never know or appreciate it, and how will she fight differently when she actually has something to lose? Seventy years among humans will change a woman, even a Wonder Woman.

If you’re in the U.S., Wonder Woman 1984 is available to stream on HBO Max. In Canada, it’s available as a premium rental. Stick around for a mid-credits scene.

The Craft: Legacy

If you were a teenager in the 1990s, you probably remember The Craft. It’s a pretty good 90s time capsule, particularly its alt-rock soundtrack that Columbia House was eager to send to you for free*, and also Skeet Ulrich. The Craft did not go out of its way to set up a sequel, which in hindsight is also a characteristic of a bygone era.

These days, everything is open for a sequel, or better yet, a franchise. And Hollywood is retroactively franchising lots of films that seemed like one-offs. Now it’s The Craft’s turn to get sequelized, and possibly franchised(-ized?). That’s a very 2020 approach, especially since due to COVID-19 The Craft: Legacy has gone straight to VOD as a premium rental.

Lourdes (Zoey Luna), Frankie (Gideon Adlon) and Tabby (Lovie Simone) are teen girls who want to be witches. But their attempts are not going well, because as the original film established you always need four witches before things get crazy. Enter Lily (Cailee Spaeny), the new girl in town, who has a really awful first day of school but as a result catches the eye of the witch trio, and once they get together the magic starts to happen.

Speaking of 90s relics, David Duchovny is in this movie as Lily’s mom’s fiance, which is why Lily and her mom (Michelle Monaghan) have moved to this little west coast town, and which I have the feeling is the same town as in the first film. Do those little details matter? They might, in the next instalment!

I expected this movie to be really, really awful, and it’s actually quite fun. A big reason why it’s fun is the way the witches use their powers. They didn’t use their powers to ruin people’s lives or to seek revenge. That bad girl trope is consistent with the longstanding narrative that powerful women are to be feared, but it’s beyond time we got rid of it and let women be superheroes, and that’s exactly what The Craft: Legacy does. After all, there was no doubt that when Peter Parker got magical powers, he was going to use them for good, and this film lets its heroes do the same. The fact that outcome seems unusual or worth mentioning shows the inequality at play, and in that respect as much as anything, The Craft: Legacy shows both how far we have come since the 1996 original, and how far we have to go.

It also happens to be an entertaining film where girls get cool powers and fight bad guys, so it’s win-win.

Secret Society of Second-Born Royals

A bunch of teenagers get sent to summer school and find they have something in common: they’re all second-born royals. Their older siblings are destined to inherit thrones while they are the spares, side-lined and over-looked. Not this time. This time, teacher James (Skylar Astin) tells them they’ve all been sent here under false premises; this isn’t summer school, it’s a training academy designed to awaken their super powers.

Super powers? You heard right. They’re just as surprised as anyone, but the story checks out: Sam (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) has super senses, Tuma (Niles Fitch) can get anyone to obey him, Roxana (Olivia Deeble) can turn invisible, Matteo (Faly Rakotohavana) can command insects, and January (Isabella Blake-Thomas) can borrow anyone else’s super power by touching them.

This movie is not meant for adults but tween girls 8-12 should be in heaven. It basically borrows from the Netflix blueprint for princess-themed romantic movies that usually air around Christmas with a dash of Artemis Fowl with a light Hamlet twist. Rebellious teenagers, royal jewels, family secrets, cute boys, and what passes for rock and roll these days: what more could a girl possibly want?

It’s definitely wholesome enough for family viewing and while parents probably won’t enjoy it, it’s also not the worst thing to get stuck watching. There’s a training montage that rivals popular game show The Floor Is Lava, sparkling tiaras and the plump little pillows they sit on, some truly terrible CGI, a few surprisingly bottom-of-the-barrel super powers, royalty-free jamming, a dead dad, an extremely brief cameo from Prince Harry, a diverse cast of talented kids, and a dog named Charlie.

Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is deeply inoffensive and perfect for family viewing. Find it on Disney+.

Unknown Origins

Detective Cosme (Antonio Resines) is being put out to pasture, but he’s showing his young replacement, Detective Valentine (Javier Rey), the ropes before he goes. They inspect a gruesome crime scene together, a possible homicide of course, a maniac bodybuilder so intent on building muscle mass he winds up with a windpipe crushed by his own weights. Cosme is meticulous and organized in his habits, in direct opposition to his son Jorge (Brays Efe), your classic lazy slob, a good for nothing grown son who works at a comic book store when and if he gets out of bed and still lives at home. But luckily for Cosme and Valentin, Jorge spots something neither of them ever could: the crime scene looks suspiciously like a panel from issue #1 of The Incredible Hulk. And the next murder scene they’re called to seems to be another comic book recreation. Madrid has a serial killer on its hands, and Valentin will have to tolerate Jorge’s help to stop the man bent on using seemingly random victims to imitate various superheroes’ origin stories. Oh, and did I mention Valentin’s beautiful new boss Norma (Verónica Echegui) is a bit of a cosplaying geek herself? Yeah.

This cop movie is spiced heavily with super hero flavour. If you know and love comics, you’ll likely predict the outcome a lot faster than the rest of us, and pick up on clues and cues planted specifically for your discerning eye. The film is a little uneven, sometimes cheesy heroic catch phrases, sometimes gritty police procedural, sometimes real horror and gore, other times goofy costumes. And yet it’s obvious that director David Galán Galindo is not only offering a send up to the super hero genre, he’s inspired by it, influenced by it, and given it a more real-world setting than others have been able to. It’s less slick than M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, less glossy, less ambitious, but it’s obvious too. The script is occasionally awkward and juvenile, and the sole female character could use a fuller and more subtle approach, but mostly Unknown Origins is a story we know very well, and it works because we love the genre and we can never get enough.

Freaks: You’re One of Us

Wendy (Cornelia Gröschel) is a wife and a mother and a waitress at a German pork chop fast food joint (!?!?). She goes to weekly therapy sessions and wishes she could be more assertive at work. Money is tight and she could use a raise. She is a good mother and generally content in life. One evening, while running some trash out to the dumpster behind her work, she comes across a vagrant man, digging around for scraps of food. She’s decent to him, but it’s he who has a message for her: “you’re one of us,” he tells her. “Follow the mermaid.” It’s exactly the right kind of mysterious and intriguing that she can’t help exploring at her earlier convenience. But what she finds is totally unexpected: not only does she have dormant super powers, the pills she’s been prescribed her entire adult life are what’s keeping these powers sedated, unbeknownst to her. Wendy’s beginning to unravel a vast conspiracy that’s been keeping her and others like her in the dark. But why?

This is a dark, live action version of The Incredibles where the government has medically suppressed super powers as much as possible, and driven outliers underground. Usually such a movie would tend to be sympathetic toward those denied their true potential but this one makes a pretty strong case for government interference, which is interesting, especially because the film itself tiptoes awkwardly around the “Hitler” thing. But even the mostly well-intentioned Avengers leave behind some pretty serious collateral damage.

The first half of the movie, the secret uncovered and the powers tested, is the much better half. The second half falters a bit without a strong stance or identity, and is too often tempted into outright cheesiness. Which is too bad, because I liked how grounded in reality we were, how Wendy seemed poised to embody the meek inheriting the earth. But it seems that neither director Felix Binder nor screenwriter Mark O. Seng is willing to commit to super powers being a net gain or a net loss, a feature or a bug. Are they something to be feared? Controlled? Exterminated? Should the government be legislating ANYONE’s body? Is it okay to ask some people to change who they are for the greater good? And what exactly is the greatest good, how is it measured, and who does the measuring? My mind takes off racing in a thousand directions and unfortunately the movie just stalls out. Missed opportunity.

Project Power

911 is being flooded with calls of very, very strange occurrences. People are having some very unusual reactions to a new drug they call Power. Everyone reacts differently to it, and some very badly. Police aren’t just powerless to stop it – some people can out-run cop cars on foot while taking it, others become bullet-resistant. Basically, you get some kind of super power, but it’s temporary, you don’t get to choose it, and sometimes it just kills you dead. As they say: results may vary.

Today this drug is toppling police precincts, tomorrow: governments. So one local cop, Frank, operates a little outside the bounds of his badge with a young drug dealer named Robin to get it off the street before it’s too late. Which may or may not line up with the intentions of a man named Art, an ex-military man who is rather single-mindedly looking for his daughter who is somehow mixed up in all of this.

Discerning individuals may already think this premise sounds interesting, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Perhaps you don’t need any further convincing, so this is just icing on the cake: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It seems like not very long ago we were lamenting his rather lengthy sabbatical from Hollywood, but he’s following up his return to film in 7500 with a far different turn as a dedicated but unorthodox New Orleans police officer. Once he teams up with super stubborn soldier dad Art (Jamie Foxx), you’ve got a combo you can’t take your eyes off of. But you will, because the third member rounding out their trio, Robin (Dominique Fishback), may have rap dreams, a sick mom, and unfinished math homework, but she holds her own between these fiercely driven men. This is a star-making role for Fishback, whose talents help set this film apart.

Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman serve up an adrenalized sci-fi action film that’s got some pretty slick and nearly non-stop violence binges. It hardly leaves room to catch your breath, let alone contemplate these characters and who they might be when they’re not chasing down Dr.Evil. Project Power is thrilling and engaging but it’s no Marvel: not everyone can afford the many phases and chapters of a cinematic universe. Most films, this one included, have just under 2 hours to tell a complete story. Project Power can only hint at themes like what is power, and who should wield it. Most of the time, Joost and Schulman choose action over narrative, and you can hardly blame them for it, given the tempting material. I do, however, blame them just a bit (and screenwriter Mattson Tomlin) for an embarrassing lack of imagination. Not one of their super powers is original; you will find each one has already been dreamed up by comic book writers 50 years ago. Which doesn’t mean it’s not a lot of fun to watch someone ignite like a real-life human torch. I just wish we knew enough about the guy (Machine Gun Kelly, ugh) to appreciate what in his DNA or his personality is self-selecting this particular power and how finely it straddles the line between weaponized flame thrower and self-immolation.

The Old Guard

Andy (Charlize Theron) is one weary warrior. She leads an elite team of mercenaries but when they’re called for a new job, she hesitates. She once believed they were doing ‘good’ but as she scans the news channels and her friends’ faces, she can no longer find any proof. The world isn’t getting any better. Is it even worth it? But client Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is insistent: a bunch of young girls are being trafficked and only the very best team – her team – can save them. So Andy swallows her cynicism and leads Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Nicky (Luca Marinelli), and Joe (Marwan Kenzari) once more into battle. Except Andy’s instincts were right: it’s a trap.

Copley’s been secretly tracking her team all along, on behalf of “the youngest pharma CEO ever” (Harry Melling). Eager to make a splash, not to mention a billion dollars, he wants to study Andy and her team to see what make them so special – and to replicate it, of course. Because humans are both greedy and vain and we never, ever learn a lesson.

This could have been a fairly by the numbers action movie, even if the action is pretty impressive. Of course, it kind of has to be these days; John Wick went and raised the bar on that, and now even a fairly trash movie like Extraction needs some intensely choreographed and inventive sequences. And of course, somewhere along the way, Charlize Theron has become a bonafide action star. But what makes The Old Guard stand out from the rest is its philosophy, director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s instinct to slow things down and instead of asking ‘what’s next?’ asks ‘why?’

It’s hard to know whether to categorize The Old Guard as a sci-fi movie or a super hero movie or a straight up action adventure. But like Wonder Woman, a film easily among the best in any of those genres, this movie doesn’t just explore the extent of their so-called super powers, it wonders when to use them, why to use them, and if they should be used at all. If Andy’s Guard isn’t quite human, the people they fight, and the people the save, are. The cost is high and the price is grief; Andy’s body may be strong but so is the emotional toll. And when new Guard member Nile (Kiki Layne) is discovered, the whole group has to decide whether it’s all been worth it.

The Old Guard isn’t a perfect movie but it dares to depict heroics occurring somewhere between survival and sorrow. It shows us not just its true cost, but both the weighing of it, and its weight.

The American Nurse

It shouldn’t take a global pandemic to appreciate the nurses who have been working fairly tirelessly and devotedly all along and yet we all too often take them for granted.

Today, May 6th, is National Nurses Day in the U.S. while internationally it is celebrated May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. The interim between the two is usually called Nurses Week and if ever there was a time to make it a week-long act of gratitude and commemoration, it’s now. The International Council of Nurses picks a theme each year and for 2020 it’s ‘Nursing the World to Health.’

Florence Nightingale is largely credited with founding what we think of as ‘modern nursing.’ Her emphasis on proper hand washing alone saved countless lives (literally countless – think about that), beginning on the battlefields of the Crimean war. It is remarkable that in 2020, we are fighting an epic battle against a virus wherein hand washing again is the most important weapon.

The American Nurse is a 2014 documentary by Carolyn Jones who explores aging, war, and poverty through the work and lives of 5 working nurses. The camera follows them through a typical day’s work while we consider what it truly means to care: to care with our hands, with our hearts, with experience and knowledge, with commitment and dedication.

And now nurses are again at the forefront of the meanest and most threatening bug we’ve faced in a lifetime and we’ve been unable to provide them even the most basic personal protective equipment necessary for providing the care we’re demanding. Not only are healthcare workers more at risk for contracting the virus due to repeated exposure, they’re also more likely to have life-threatening symptoms (perhaps because they’re exposed to a much higher dose, or to multiple strains, but science has yet to confirm the reason). I know a nurse who works in mental health who spent the early days of lockdown seeing patients with no PPE at all as they’d all been locked away for when they were “really needed.” Now she gets 1 per day, which means she’s eliminated coffee, water, and food before and during shifts because going to the washroom would contaminate them. And at any time she faces redeployment to the E.R. even though she hasn’t practiced that kind of nursing in a decade. She has young kids at home, which means after a long shift she can’t hug or kiss them until after she’s stripped and scrubbed. And then the fun of homeschooling begins. She was telling me about a local grocery store that allows healthcare workers to skip the line. She would never accept, of course, because she’d feel like a jerk – lots of people are pulling double duty these days, and everyone would rather not be there. But also because standing in line 6 feet apart at the supermarket is the quietest and easiest part of her day.

COVID or not, The American Nurse is a well-made, interesting documentary which you can watch here for free. It gives us a little insight into what it takes to heap the world’s healing upon your shoulders, to run towards the crisis instead of away from it, to feel compassion for others when you could use some yourself.

Thank you, nurses.

Birds Of Prey

This is the Harley Quinn that Margot Robbie deserves. That we all deserve, really, away from the male gaze and into the capable hands of director Cathy Yan, writer Christina Hodson, and with Robbie herself producing.

Harley to Black Canary: “Do you know what a harlequin is? A harlequin’s role is to serve. It’s nothing without a master. No one gives two shits who we are, beyond that.” Harley Quinn has broken up with her on-again-off-again longtime love, the Joker, this time for good. Without him as an anchor, she knows she’s vulnerable. Under his protection, no one could touch her, but it turns out she’s accumulated quite a few enemies, and now that she’s untethered, they’re gunning for her. Number one on her tail: a guy who calls himself the Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), who seems to think of himself as a rival to the Joker, though he styles himself more like a Miami Vice drug lord. He does have a bit of a fetish for peeling people’s faces off, though, so don’t go underestimating him. The only way Harley can keep her keister safe is to find the missing diamond he and literally every bad guy in Gotham would like to get their greedy paws on.

In Harley’s sparkly shoes, Robbie proves she can make this role her own, and without her emo boyfriend in tow, Harley Quinn is actually an interesting character in her own right. Her origin is glossed over with a couple of smartly and quickly tossed lines; the rest of the film is devoted to amped up action sequences. Yan doesn’t just have some tricks up her sleeve, she’s got entire confetti cannons up there, glitter bombs and rainbow grenades. Her violence is slick and beautiful, set to a perfect array of pop tunes you’ll be stomping your feet to even as someone one screen’s getting their skull caved in.

I’ve seen far too many reviews mention ‘female empowerment’ (of course in a derogatory manner, eye roll) and I can only assume those people are a) men and b) morons. Did anyone refer to the Avengers movies as ‘male empowerment”? No? Yeah, didn’t think so. Birds of Prey is better than 99% of the other DC movies released in the last decade, and if it happens to star women, well, so be it. This is not about female empowerment, it’s about empowered females, women with their own agency, women who can save themselves and best their male antagonists. The only thing being fetishized here is a breakfast sandwich. Feel threatened by that? Maybe you could do with a little male empowerment yourself. I believe the Batman franchise was built on the theory of overcompensation.

Meanwhile, Robbie has built herself a fearsome army: Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, and even young Ella Jay Basco. And none of them are rolling around on the ground crying about mommy Martha.

Can’t get enough? We’ve got more thoughts on Birds of Prey here.