Instead, we follow Missy Moreno (Yaya Gosselin), the daughter of the Heroics’ leader, Marcus (Pedro Pascal). Though she has no superpowers, and is generally a shy girl who spends her morning deciding which outfit is more likely to get other kids to leave her alone, she alone can get a group of 11 mismatched superkids to work together. Though the script mostly follows the same story beats you’d expect, Rodriguez executes those beats to a T, crafting a kid-friendly response to The Avengers that nevertheless feels like its own thing.
One of the ways the film does that is by showcasing inventive superpowers we don’t often see in such films. Though the adults are your typical superhero team that includes a Superman stand-in (Boyd Holbrook), a guy with superspeed (Sung Kang), and a Cyborg-like tech guy (Christian Slater), the tweens’ powers are lesser versions of what their parents can do. The son of the movie’s answer to Flash only runs in slow-motion, the son of the tech guy who can do everything has every power in the book, but can never control them. A pair of twins have total control of time but only when they work together, otherwise they can only fast-forward or rewind a couple of minutes. The pseudo-Superman’s son is a wheelchair-user whose “legs are too strong to be supported by his bones.” Through them, the film conveys its main theme of kids actually being more powerful and capable of saving the world than their parents. It’s just that they’re conditioned to think otherwise.Rodriguez’s family-friendly output has always dealt with kids saving the day while rescuing their parents, but We Can Be Heroes feels like the first time he is actually saying something with these movies. It’s not just that the adults are too self-absorbed and would rather argue and fight among themselves than get things done, but that the younger generations should be trusted to fix the many problems their parents left them. With We Can Be Heroes, Rodriguez is confronting the world he is leaving behind for his kids, and making sure he encourages them to do better than his generation did.
It’s no coincidence then that We Can Be Heroes is not presented as a Troublemaker Studios film, but a Double R Production, referring to the production company Rodriguez formed with his sons Racer and Rebel. Indeed, the Rebel Without a Crew author is renowned for taking on multiple roles in his films and employing most of his family to help make them. While Rodriguez directed, wrote, produced, shot, and edited this film, his son Racer co-produced it, Rebel composed the score, and major elements of the film’s production design were made by Rogue and Rhiannon Rodriguez.
We Can Be Heroes has a unique aesthetic that feels like the logical step forward from Spy Kids and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D. It’s still very colorful and cartoonish, especially the set designs introduced in the third act, but now they don’t just feel like they’re aimed at youths, but rather are made by youths. This movie is the closest thing we’ve got to the spirit of classic Nickelodeon from the late ’80s and early ’90s.
At a time when superhero movies dominate both the box office and the pop culture conversation, there are surprisingly few of them aimed squarely at kids, the main intended audience that comic books were originally created for. Robert Rodriguez’s We Can Be Heroes aspires to fill that void with a cheerful, optimistic story for children that inspires them to be better than their parents and save the world, while still offering all the thrills you’d expect from mainstream superhero films that adults also enjoy.
Netflix Spotlight: December 2020