Try putting Robert Rodriguez in a neat category, and you’ll struggle. The director who made his name with From Dusk Till Dawn did a sharp about-turn a few years later, moving into family-orientated action with Spy Kids. It turned out to be a smart move, spawning three sequels, but Rodriguez has kept one foot in the more adult camp, with the likes of Planet Terror and Sin City, while still having fun with family titles in The Adventures Of Shark Boy And Lava Girl and, most recently, Disney’s The Mandalorian. Nor does he confine himself to directing. Producing, editing, cinematography, writing …. they’re all on his CV as well and he does the lot in his first outing for Netflix, We Can Be Heroes.
Who knew superheroes had kids? Well, in this family-friendly caper, they do and the heroes in question are The Heroics – not quite as impressive as The Avengers, but nonetheless charged with protecting the world. When they’re all abducted by alien invaders, it’s up to their kids to rescue them. With the smart and determined Missy (YaYa Gosselin) at the helm – her main aim is to rescue her dad Marcus (Pedro Pascal), leader of The Heroics – the multi-powered teenagers find they’re going to have to work together to stop the aliens and preserve the world they love. And, with powers such as elasticity, time control and predicting the future, they make an out-of-this-world team.
For anybody who saw The Adventures Of Shark Boy And Lava Girl, this might sound like a sequel, but Rodriguez has already said that his new film stands on its own. And it does, an energetic, flight of fantasy that gives the distinct impression he had huge fun making it, channelling his inner 70s child and drawing on family favourites and their tropes from all eras. Let’s face it, we all know that kids are smarter than grown-ups – and that’s just for starters. What makes it even more endearing is that the film has a very nice line in self-deprecating humour, never getting close to taking itself too seriously and with the adult superheroes frequently on the receiving end of the joke. Miracle Guy (Boyd Holbrook), for instance, can never resist an opportunity for a selfie, aliens or no aliens.
While the film is very much aimed at children, who will love seeing the teenagers come out on top every time, there’s moments that will more than raise a chuckle amongst the adults. Slo-Mo (Dylan Henry Lau) lives up to his name throughout, which means he’s accompanied by strains of the Chariots Of Fire theme. And his superhero dad who is, inevitably, Blinding Fast (Sung Kang) has to wait ages for his son to come to him for a hug. And Rodriguez mixes a wistful nostalgia – ever-so-slightly heavy handed special effects and lurid colour schemes – with contemporary sensibilities. The Heroics were trained by no less than Missy’s granny and the super-powered teens have to learn why working together is better than going solo, and the youngsters are an ethnically diverse bunch.
As a piece of family entertainment, this ticks a lot of the boxes, even if the ending is something of a disappointment. It’s something the younger members of the family can happily watch by themselves over the holiday, and which the grown-ups can happily dip in and out of at will. Whether it will stand repeated watches is another matter, but it’s clear from the final sequence that Rodriguez has a sequel in mind, so chances are the gang will be back. And, in case you’re wondering, the answer is yes – the Bowie song in the title does get an airing. More than once, actually.
Fantasy, Adventure, Family | Cert: PG | Netflix | | 25 December 2020 | Dir. Robert Rodriguez | YaYa Gosselin, Lyon Daniels, Pedro Pascal, Priyanka Chopra Jones, Adriana Barraza, Christian Slater.