The new film We Can Be Heroes now streaming on Netflix, is Robert Rodriguez’s latest contribution to his “the kids always know better” series of films – think Spy Kids and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl – and here the kids don’t only know better but they do better as well.
Rodriguez is one of the smartest filmmakers out there, and his stories always have heart and humor, even in violent films like Desperado and From Dusk Til Dawn. It is very impressive that he can switch gears seemingly so effortlessly to make these kids’ movies, but they always do have something ominous hanging over them, but somehow, we know the kids are going to be okay.
WCBH takes place in the Sharkboy and Lavagirl universe. Now grown and parents of Guppy (scene stealer Vivien Lyra Blair), they are part of large group of superheroes that are assembled to thwart an alien invasion that is heading toward Earth.
Former superhero Marcus Moreno (The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal) is now confined to desk work due to a promise to his daughter Missy (YaYa Gosselin) not to put himself in danger. When it appears that the superheroes are being defeated, he is ordered by Ms. Granada (Priyanka Chopra) to join the battle.
In the meantime, Missy is rounded up at school and brought to a safe bunker where she meets the kids of all the other superheroes. Rodriguez – who also wrote the screenplay – makes certain that each kid gets a piece of business and a quirk or two.
Missy deals with the awkward situation as best as she can, and some of the kids are welcoming like Wheels (Andy Walken) – who’s a tech geek in a wheelchair – and Noodles (Lyon Daniels) – who can make his body stretch like, well you get the idea. All the rest have various powers, but Missy has no superpower, but that does not mean she won’t be useful to the group.
As they are sitting in their school desks, they get to watch television and witness the unthinkable – the aliens defeat their parents. Missy is mortified when she sees Marcus captured. Now, with the adult superheroes out of the way, this becomes a story about the kids.
Missy, pressing her natural leadership abilities into action, tells the kids that they have to escape the bunker, steal a spaceship, and go rescue their parents. In doing so they believe that they will also be able to save the world.
Like in Spy Kids and Sharkboy and Lavagirl, there is a sense that adults have made bad choices and this leads to terrible events. Even sending all the adult superheroes at once was a bad idea, and the kids realize this but not the adults.
There is a great sequence when Missy brings the group to her grandmother’s house. Played by Adriana Barazza with such warmth and humor, Grandma Moreno provides the fledgling young superheroes a place to train and regroup. We also come to learn that she has been training all the superheroes for years, including her own son (Missy’s dad).
Will the kids be able to do the unthinkable and save their parents and the world? Now, we reach the part that is spoiler territory. Let it suffice to say that these youngsters are not going to achieve anything easily, but I wouldn’t go betting the farm against them.
Rodriguez also did his own cinematography, and the film looks like a gorgeous Rorschach test of vivid colors. The aliens are creepy tentacled things, and their ships have tentacles and mimic their masters. The vibrancy of the imagery is impressive, and helps enhance the dramatic elements of many scenes.
Taylor Dooley is back as Lavagirl, but Sharkboy is played by J.J. Dashnaw (not Taylor Lautner) and has no lines. As we see all the adult superheroes languishing in a cell, we realize that this film really is about the kids becoming the story – a new generation of heroes!
Perhaps that is Rodriguez greatest strength. In his ability to not only direct children actors to create great characters but also to set them up to achieve great things despite the bungling of the adults all around them. This is the very appealing aspect of films like WCBH and Spy Kids. It also helps us rest assured that the world is going to be in good hands when they take over.
This film comes highly recommended for all kids eight and over. It could be a little scary and confusing for anyone younger than that. Also, parents should stick around and watch with the kids because it is an entertaining, joyful movie experience from master filmmaker Rodriguez.