Netflix UK film review: We Can Be Heroes
Ivan Radford | On 09, Jan 2021
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Vivien Lyra Blair’s Guppy, Dylan Henry Lau, Hala Finley, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Taylor Dooley, Pedro Pascal, Boyd Holbrook, Christian Slater
Watch We Can Be Heroes online in the UK: Netflix UK
It’s almost 20 years since Robert Rodriguez made a surprisingly charming jump from adult action to family-friendly blockbusting with the fantastic, underrated Spy Kids – a film that spawned a likeable sequel, an uneven threequel and, later, led to another superhero outing, 2005’s The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. Starring a then unknown Taylor Lautner and Taylor Dooley, and stuffed with unconvincing 3D effects, it was a underwhelming effort that failed to start a franchise – until 15 years later, with Rodriguez’s new family outing, We Can Be Heroes.
The movie features Sharkboy and Lavagirl as background characters, introducing us to a world where the most famous superheroes have been kidnapped by aliens – leaving it (yes) up to their kids to save the day. That familiar framework – very much the Avengers given the Spy Kids treatment – leads to an ensemble children’s flick that is often treading in recognisable territory in more ways than one.
Serving up knowing commentary on superhero tropes (such as fights in heavily populated cities), We Can Be Heroes tries to be a savvy send-up of conventions, but feels unfortunately dated in an era where many Marvel films already do that themselves – not to mention Pixar’s unbeatable The Incredibles made way back in 2004. But while the humour and clever genre winks don’t work, Rodriguez hasn’t lost any of his trademark energy, and the film is at its best when in motion.
That’s partly because the characters don’t really get much depth, and are mostly limited to their powers – in the case of the kids, being flexible and bendy, singing high enough to move objects, shape-shifting faces or rewinding time. But there are some standout players, including Vivien Lyra Blair’s Guppy (daughter of Sharkboy and Lavagirl), who can manipulate water, Dylan Henry Lau’s Slo-Mo, who can only move in slow-motion, and Ojo (Hala Finley), who can draw things in the future. Priyanka Chopra Jonas is also having a lot of fun as the sinister director of the Heroics academy and effectively the kids’ babysitter, Ms Granada.
When these people are teaming up, there’s some enjoyable set piece choreography to admire – although the soundtrack (including the titular track) never feels quite earned enough. It’s telling, perhaps, that the best thing about the film are the squabbling adult heroes, including not only Sharkboy (JJ Dashnaw) and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley) but also Marcus Moreno (Pedro Pascal), Miracle Guy (Boyd Holbrook), Tech-No (Christian Slater). Not the moments when they get to fight the aliens, but the point where they unite over proudly watching their kids follow in their footsteps. More of that heart would give We Can Be Heroes some of the Spy Kids charm it’s missing. As it is, this isn’t a super triumph, but the kids are all right – no wonder, then, that Netflix is already working on a sequel.
We Can Be Heroes is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.