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While some may know him from Sin City and Machete fame, my generation knows Robert Rodriguez as the creator (and writer/director/editor) of iconic films like Sharkboy and Lavagirl and the Spy Kids franchise. Whether he’s making action films or kids’ films, Robert Rodriguez has never made a film that was not fun. We Can Be Heroes is no different. It’s got all the classic markings of a kids adventure film: ridiculous spy tech, silly costumes, quippy one-liners from precocious kids. The plot is a classic kid superhero plot, where for some reason the parents are out of commission and the kids have to take over. (Sky High anyone?) A refreshing twist is that all the kids’ powers are…kind of useless. There’s a kid who can only move in slow motion, a kid who has every power in the world but can only use them randomly, and our main character Missy who has no powers at all. The thesis of the film seems to be that it doesn’t matter what kind of powers you have, its the way you use them, which is good for the warm and fuzzies.
Another big part of a Robert Rodriguez movie is adults being silly, and Pedro Pascal and Priyanka Chopra-Jonas really come in strong. Pedro Pascal is a superpowered dad (his well-earned niche) and Priyanka as a surprisingly unnerving villain. The child actors are a little over the top, but that is also to be expected. The money-making character, the six-year-old who plays the child of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is pretty much as tooth rotting-ly cute as you’d expect (“My teeth are strong because my dad’s a shark!”) but even with that all the kids do a good job of holding their own. Taylor Dooly reprises her role as Lavagirl, and Sharkboy wears a mask and does not speak to hide the fact that Taylor Lautner, unfortunately, did not reprise his role.
There’s a lot of casual diversity in this film. The main character, Missy Moreno is a POC, as are a big chunk of her superpowered kid companions. There’s a kid who uses a wheelchair named Wheels who loudly proclaims “I know, it’s kind of on the nose, but I like it cause it’s cool!” I don’t know enough about disability theory to know how valuable that sort of representation is, the film gets some credit for the effort. There’s also a pretty strong through-line of strong women characters without it going over the top. The main character doesn’t have powers and that stays consistent, she doesn’t have some Deus Ex Machina where it turns out she actually has powers and saves the day. She is strong because of her leadership and determination. This is a trait that’s shown to be hereditary when her grandmother reveals that her mother was “the best superhero of them all” despite not having powers.
Now the golden question: is the movie good? If I were an Oscars judge or Roger Egbert, no. The special effects are low budget, the plot is convoluted, and the dialogue is often forced-cute. However, the thing is that Robert Rodriguez has never tried to make an Oscar level film. His kids’ films are first and foremost about kids, and what they enjoy. For We Can Be Heroes, his own kids came up with the names and powers of all the heroes. Sharkboy and Lavagirl was based on the story his son came up with when he was six years old. (His son is often given producer credit on his films.) To judge this movie with an adult lens does a disservice to it and it’s creators. Robert Rodriguez isn’t making movies to get money from adults, he’s making movies for kids, with kids behind and in front of the camera. My final thoughts? If you don’t want to watch a six-year-old create a shark out of liquid metal and ride it into battle or aren’t in the mood for a sticky sweet kids-are-our-future message, then you can definitely skip this film. However, if you’re looking for something to watch with kids, or remind you of when you were a kid, We Can Be Heroes is worth a try.
You can watch We Can Be Heroes now on Netflix