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Film Review: Cute “We Can Be Heroes” Oversweetens a Bit, but Children Will Love It

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | December 25th, 2020

Film poster: “We Can Be Heroes”

We Can Be Heroes (Robert Rodriguez, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.

Though by no means anything even approaching a masterpiece, We Can Be Heroes nevertheless has a certain kind of magic up its cinematic sleeve: a story centered on, and developed for, middle-school-age children. Director Robert Rodriguez has excelled, in the past, at either violent gorefests such as Planet Terrorand Machete Kills, or kiddie product like Spy Kids and its sequels. Who knew that two such extreme sensibilities could so peacefully coexist? No matter one’s feelings about the results here – and they are decidedly mixed, though fortunately not at all bloody – there is no question that the creator’s heart is very much in the right place. Sweet and loving, this is enjoyable-enough family fare.

We start in a world protected by a group of superheroes known as “The Heroics,” with the story narrated by the daughter of one of its leaders, Marcus Moreno (Pedro Pascal, Wonder Woman 1984). She’s Missy (YaYa Gosselin, CBS’ FBI: Most Wanted), and though the other progeny of Heroics members all have powers of their own already, she does not (shades of the 2005 Sky High). Nevertheless, when disaster strikes in the form of invading aliens, she, along with the other Heroics kids, is placed in protective custody at headquarters. It soon turns out that the adults are no match for the extraterrestrials, and so Missy and her new friends will themselves have to save the day. Time for some junior action!

l-r: J. Quinton Johnson as Crimson Legend, Brittany Perry-Russell as Red Lightening Fury, Pedro Pascal as Marcus Moreno, Christian Slater as Tech-No, Haley Reinhart as Ms. Vox in WE CAN BE HEROES. Cr. Ryan Green ©Netflix

With an aesthetic that can best be described with words like vivid, neon and plastic – much like a bright toy – and visual effects that embrace their cheap look, We Can Be Heroes will impress no one with its production design or CGI, but that’s kind of its point. Everything happens from the point of view of the youth, and the silliness is ratcheted up to the nth degree. As our protagonists battle forces that have defeated their elders, they must learn to come together and work as a team, for it’s the out-of-control egos of the adult Heroics that ultimately defeated them more than the aliens. Rodriguez and company oversell the comparison to our present-day leaders, but that doesn’t make it any less apt.

There’s only so much sugary candy this viewer can take, however, so even though I appreciate the movie’s message about preparing the next generation to save the world, there were many times when the narrative treacle oozed a little too heavily. And though the child actors (a diverse collective) mostly delight, the adults almost all overperform. Beyond Pascal (the most restrained of the bunch), the ensemble includes: Priyanka Chopra (A Kid Like Jake), Boyd Holbrook (The Predator), Christian Slater (The Public) and Taylor Dooley (The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, and fans of this earlier work by Rodriguez will be happy to know that the child of its two heroes, named Guppy, features prominently here). By the end, I was in need of a dentist, but the syrup should make many happy, especially the young. It’s their show; let them enjoy.

Vivien Blair as Guppy in WE CAN BE HEROES ©Netflix
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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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