We Can Be Heroes (3 stars)

We Can Be Heroes

Junior superheroes come to the rescue in Robert Rodriguez's enjoyable kids' caper

The latest in Robert Rodriguez's occasional forays into kids' films (he's behind the Spy Kids series and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D, as well as the distinctly more grown-up Sin City, From Dusk Till Dawn and so on) might jump belatedly onto the superhero bandwagon, but it takes real glee in pricking the pomposity of more serious-minded, saving-the-planet fare. It's fun, too, watching familiar faces like Pedro Pascal, Priyanka Chopra, Boyd Holbrook and Christian Slater take a backseat to a gang of children.

Sporting the same basic premise as Spy Kids, it sees the kids of an Avengers-style superhero team, the Heroics, forced to fill the hole left by their parents. Pascal plays Marcus Moreno, the leader of the Heroics who, like so many of us these days, has been working from home – at the request of his daughter Missy (YaYa Gosselin), who worries for his safety. She's been struggling to fit in at school and, with everyone aware who her dad is, is embarrassed about her own lack of powers. When aliens attack and capture the Heroics, despite her self-doubt, Missy leads their offspring into battle.

There's not a great deal to the plot, yet it's easy to follow and there are some decent final-act developments. The kids boast an impressive array of powers, which have been neatly tailored to appeal to a young audience in their silliness and visual impact, and they're often imaginatively employed. Vivien Lyra Blair (Bird Box) stands out as the littlest yet most ferocious of these superheroes-in-training – she's the water-wielding daughter of the aforementioned Sharkboy and Lavagirl. Amongst the established cast, Chopra and Holbrook nail the campy tone best; Pascal fans will find more to savour in his Wonder Woman 1984 turn.

Given its garish, cartoony visuals, Rodriguez (who remains as hard-working as ever, acting as writer, director, producer, cinematographer and editor here) is clearly going for eye-popping rather than pretty. True to the superhero genre, it's a tad overcrowded character-wise, while anything this child-actor-heavy is bound to suffer from a few awkward performances, but the gang are a diverse, endearing bunch in a film that emphasises the importance of teamwork and inclusion. Foregrounding a character without superpowers is a sensible shout too. We Can Be Heroes is not without its grating moments, though it seems churlish to knock something that's equally empowering for girls and boys, and that kids will no doubt get a turbo-charged kick out of.

Available to watch on Netflix from Fri 25 Dec.

We Can Be Heroes

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 40min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
  • Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Pedro Pascal, Haley Reinhart, YaYa Gosselin, Boyd Holbrook, Sung Kang, Taylor Dooley, Christian Slater
  • UK release: 25 December 2020

Superhero film which is stand-alone sequel to The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl.