We Can Be Heroes is the second entry into a franchise that the vast majority of movie-goers had likely forgotten.
An over-due (or not, depending on your viewpoint) follow-up to 2005’s The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D, We Can Be Heroes marks the beginning of Robert Rodriguez’s second family-friendly franchise, after Spy Kids (you know, the one with Antonio Banderas and all those weird cartoonish monster slave things).
Before getting into the meat of the review, let’s just establish here that this movie is primarily aimed at a younger audience. If you’re familiar with Rodriguez’s other work in the family film genre, you’ll know exactly what to expect from We Can Be Heroes.
And it delivers just that, practically to the letter. Borrowing from the Spy Kids playbook, We Can Be Heroes uses a few recognisable stars, such as Pedro Pascal and Christian Slater, in order to grab the attention of parents just long enough to ensure that they’ll sit down with their kids for a couple of hours, then swiftly whisks them away and tasks their children with saving them.
It’s certainly no masterpiece, but it manages to recapture the exact atmosphere of Spy Kids with a little of Disney’s forgotten gem Sky High thrown in for good measure.
We Can Be Heroes is set in a world where a team of superheroes (or Heroics, as they’re called) keep humanity safe. The movie opens with an alien attack that requires all of Earth’s heroes to unite, despite the fact that their propensity for in-fighting is almost as legendary as their superpowers. This call to arms means that even the Heroic’s retired leader, Marcus Moreno (Pedro Pascal), a man who promised his daughter he’d stay off the front lines, is enlisted to help combat the alien threat. In order to keep the Heroics’ families safe, their children are escorted into a (not so) secure vault for the duration of the attack. Here, our protagonist Missy Moreno (YaYa Gosselin), Marcus’ daughter, meets the super-powered children of the other Heroics, who are amazed to learn that she is powerless.
From there, the movie sets about establishing something of a personality for each of these children, although there are far too many for more than a couple to leave lasting impressions. Even though most of them are only known by their “hero” names, they’re still only memorable for their powers. The exception to this is super-cute Guppy (Vivien Blair), who reveals that she is the daughter of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, notable not only for her connection to the previous movie, but also for her small stature and the fact that she provides precisely half of the movie’s comic relief (the other half comes from Slo-Mo, the boy who does everything in slow motion).
There’s very little in the way of genuine acting, but in a movie almost exclusively starring children, that’s mostly forgivable. We Can Be Heroes leans heavily into all the tropes that we’ve learned to expect from superhero movies, and it does so entirely unapologetically. It’s almost painfully self-aware like that; flaunting its over-the-top cheesiness and generally unconvincing set design as if to say yeah, well, it’s a kid’s movie. What ya gonna do?
Somehow, the fairly rigid writing and predictable plot sort of works, and you find yourself being entertained in spite of the knowledge that the movie really isn’t that good. Yes, approximately half of the characters are so annoying that you may have to resist the urge to viciously insult them under your breath, but they’re by no means unbearable. In fact, the movie’s biggest cringe comes when mother and daughter super-singers (yes, that’s a power, apparently) stare directly into the camera and deliver a weirdly heartfelt rendition of David Bowie’s “Heroes” – well, two lines of it, but that’s two too many. Trust me.
In short, it’s not a great movie, and in fact it’s only barely a good one. But if you’re looking for something to watch with the kids – or something to watch for the big kid in you – then you could certainly do much, much worse than We Can Be Heroes.
Summary: A wholly watchable family experience, providing you can look past colourful cheesiness and predictable storytelling.