We Can Be Heroes Review: A mostly worthy Spy Kids/Sharkboy and Lavagirl successor
Tapping into a style not seen in nearly a decade by writer/director Robert Rodriguez, We Can Be Heroes is sort of that spiritual successor for Rodriguez’s more family-friendly stints like Spy Kids and Sharkboy and Lavagirl with a lot of potential.
The Spy Kids films and Sharkboy and Lavagirl always had this unique look and feel to them that brought Rodriguez’s love for stylistic, fantastical action to more family friendly films. Even while the effects were noticeably cheap, Rodriguez always excelled at creating memorably ambitious worlds filled with fun characters and young heroes that were fun for the whole family. Honestly though, it’s easy to look past the films’ effects when you realize that Rodriguez does a lot of work behind the scenes, sometimes directing, writing, producing, editing, and more all at the same time, and they create these strange yet eye-catching visuals that made the films so recognizable. Rodriguez’s family film outings honestly have their own nostalgia at this point and it’s what makes We Can Be Heroes so refreshing and nostalgic to watch.
As Rodriguez takes us into his own world full of heroes that are captured by an alien race looking to takeover Earth leaving their children to come into their own powers and saved the world, it’s easy to see that the film really captures that same look and feel as his other family films. From the way the alien tentacles and superpowers to the way the backgrounds have that green screen look, likely because they are, the film really evokes that same look and feel to Rodriguez’s past works with some minor upgrades. The overall look of the effects is a little better and the way the special effects are implemented creates a stronger persona for the characters. The way that fast-footed Blinding Speed (Sung Kang) and his slow-moving son Slo-Mo (Dylan Henry Lau) have their powers implemented into their normal movement is really cool, the water effects for Guppy’s (Vivien Blair) water-bending looks nice, and the way that Rodriguez does Noodle’s (Lyon Daniels) stretch effects matches and embodies the zanier, kid-friendly feel of the whole film.
Honestly, it’s hard not to appreciate the level of ambition and passion that Rodriguez brings in doing his own Avengers riff. While there isn’t this extensive world-building that delves into how the heroics came to be, there’s enough to create an interesting lore of superheroes saving the world and watching a bunch of super-powered kids, minus Missy (Yaya Gosselin), come together to save the world is a lot of fun. The powers given to different characters are played with really nicely, like Fast Forward (Akira Akbar) and Rewind (Isaiah Russell-Bailey) turning time back and forth and A Capella (Lotus Blossom) being able to manipulate the world with how low or high she sings, and the introduction sequence that Missy has in learning everyone’s powers is fun. In a lot of ways, the great thing about We Can Be Heroes is how digestible it is with its simplicity and pacing as it delivers a solid story about coming together and understanding your own power.
As a whole, the story works well as an adventure of kid heroes growing to understand their powers and rise as a new generation of heroes. Missy’s rise to becoming a leader since she doesn’t have any superpowers is strong and Gosselin delivers a good performance – as does most of the cast honestly. Overall, the film’s zanier and goofier tone definitely will work more for kids than there parents, but the film knows this well and provides a fun story that puts kids in the spotlight while offering a good message about the power and impact they can have as a rising generation. It fits well within how Spy Kids and Sharkboy and Lavagirl felt as family-friendly adventures and could easily leave an impact of its own to a new generation of viewers. In terms of how it is as a superhero movie, it’s pretty far from original.
Look, Rodriguez definitely makes it known pretty quickly how We Can Be Heroes riffs on Avengers with how the “Heroics” logo looks, but it becomes very apparent, very fast that the film is just a hodgepodge of familiar superhero stories. The whole plot feels like a mix between Spy Kids and Marvel’s Secret Invasion storyline, Missy’s story and the way we meet the other kid heroes is eerily reminiscent of Will Stronghold’s time at Sky High, and there’s even an enemy conjured in the film that looks like a carbon copy of Marvel villain Shuma-Gorath. It’s not necessarily a problem that the film is a big riff on superhero stuff, but it borrows so much that it nearly doesn’t leave an impact of its own. The ending especially nearly struggles to leave an impact as it gets it’s message out just fine but is the kind of ending that basically makes everything that’s happened totally pointless so it’s unsatisfying. Also, those hoping for a big return for Sharkboy, here played by JJ Dashnaw, and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley) will be terribly disappointed with what’s here. These two aren’t in the film all that much and it’s disappointing that Dashnaw is forced to be a silent Sharkboy and not create his own persona for the character.
Rodriguez definitely a sort “Spy Kids/Sharkboy and Lavagirl for a new generation” with We Can Be Heroes that will easily please younger viewers with its superpowered and kid-powered action. However, this reminiscent nostalgia likely won’t be enough to keep older viewers’ full attention as its obvious borrowings from superior superhero stories and letdowns with its payoff drag down an otherwise fun story.