Robert Rodriguez has spent much of his directing career switching between adult-oriented action films like “Machete” to exaggerated family movies like “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D,” the predecessor to his newest film. “We Can Be Heroes” is his first foray back into similar family-oriented action films since the last “Spy Kids” film in 2011, and carries on the charm of the previous films.
“We Can Be Heroes” is a standalone sequel that draws on the nostalgia of “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D” to attract audiences, but manages to sustain that interest through its own unique story. Starring YaYa Gosselin as Missy Moreno, the powerless daughter of retired superhero Marcus Moreno (Pedro Pascal), the film utilizes both new and returning actors in its ensemble cast, including Boyd Holbrook, Christian Slater and Adriana Barraza.
The film begins with an armada of alien ships approaching Earth. The invasion necessitates the intervention of the entire superhero team, the dysfunctional Heroics, including forcing former leader Marcus Moreno out of retirement. For the duration of their battle, their super-powered children are placed in the protection of Heroics Program director Mrs. Granada (Priya Chopak), where they are able to watch the battle unfold. When their parents are captured and Heroic Headquarters is breached by alien invaders, however, it’s up to the children to escape and find a way to save both their parents and the world.
Rodriguez utilizes the same style that defined his “Spy Kids” franchise, with colorful and strange sets that mark the setting as distinctly alien but fun for viewers, stylized action scenes straight out of a comic book and a diverse cast of characters. Still, the pacing and writing can veer too much into telling audience members what’s going on rather than showing them.
One memorable scene towards the beginning of the film introduces the zany characters to both Missy and the audience. Wheels, the wheelchair-bound son of the Superman-esque Miracle Guy, spells out each character’s powers and personalities in an on-the-nose scene. The next scene features all the characters utilizing those powers to break out of the heroes’ headquarters, which would have been a far better fit to highlight what exactly each of them can do.
In a similar fashion, the movie doesn’t shy away from hammering in the message of the film. While the captive Heroics constantly bicker, their children tend to unconsciously mirror their parents’ tendencies for petty rivalries until leader Missy gets them to work together. The film’s admittedly intriguing twists push the message in viewers’ faces even further.
If you’re willing to let that slide, however, “We Can Be Heroes” has its strength with legitimately fun characters. Missy is a compelling lead, with her unique lack of powers, her close relationship with her father and grandmother and her quick wit. Her journey to becoming the leader of the team is an entertaining one as she becomes more and more confident in her abilities. Her friendship with Wild Card (Nathan Blair) is one of the sweetest subplots, along with his own development as he learns to control his unlimited powers and work with the other members of the team.
The other kids have less of the spotlight, but will each earn their own fans. The most noteworthy character, however, has to be Guppy. The daughter of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, Guppy (Vivien Blair) is a show stealer and sure to be a fan favorite. The youngest of the group, she’s unabashedly adorable and shockingly powerful. One of the best lines of the film comes from a guard who’s forced to deal with the five-year-old, realizing, “Oh, no! She’s got shark strength!”
While the story is self-contained and wraps up nicely, it’s set up a world ripe for a continuation. While the main questions are answered and the day is saved, there are still things to be asked and possibilities to be explored about Missy Moreno, the Heroics and their children, along with the world surrounding them.
If you’re looking for a serious superhero film or even something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the DC Extended Universe, “We Can Be Heroes” likely isn’t the film you’ll want. However, if you want to indulge in some updated childhood nostalgia for films like “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D” or the “Spy Kids” franchise, or even just a fun family action flick, “We Can Be Heroes” is the perfect choice.