Adam Simcox’s ambitious film The Superhero is one of the feature film entries in this year’s Twin Rivers Media Festival. It’s certainly an intriguing work—even if it never quite seems to achieve its full potential. In other words, it’s a worthy effort that’s as notable for what it tries to do as for what it does. That, by the way, isn’t necessarily a slam. Personally, I’m much more interested in seeing a flawed movie that tries to break new ground than I’m interested in seeing one that’s perfectly adequate and perfectly dull. The Superhero is never dull—thanks in no small part to the fact that it has the good sense to keep things to the manageable length of 73 minutes.
The concept is an unusual one that doesn’t lend itself to an easy synopsis. There are actually two intersecting stories. The first involves Luke Lang (Damian Hannaway), troubles with his semi-estranged pregnant wife (Ana Rosa De Eizaguirre Butler) and his possibly delusional or possibly real secret life as a crime fighting superhero known as “The Boxer.” The second examines a rash of bizarre crimes in Manchester, England (where the film takes place), where innocent people are being attacked with hypodermic needles infected with the HIV virus. These attacks are part of a not-very-well-defined plan by the obligatory evil genius to bring the city to its knees. (I’m guessing that the idea is at least slightly grounded in the Saw franchise’s Jigsaw killer, who is supposedly teaching his victims to appreciate life.) Beyond the connecting plots, the film attempts to blend live action and animation effects. The animations kick in during the superhero scenes—something that makes the reality of Luke’s situation a little tenuous. The idea isn’t a bad one, but the animations are frankly not very good, which is to say that they’re scarcely animated at all and resemble nothing so much as cutaways to panels from a graphic novel. (The film might have been better off just using comic panels and not attempting the animations.) Even though this aspect of the film falls short—and is a little like The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2002)—it’s clever.
Perhaps the best thing about the film is Simcox’s script, which is pretty darn good, and actually contains surprises that are surprising (that doesn’t seem to happen much these days). Plus, it’s witty and savvy. (In this last regard, notice how Simcox introduces a line from Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) as one of those typically useless phrases that crop in foreign-language lesson books.) A great film? No. It might even be a misfire, all things considered. But if it is, it’s a misfire that’s worth a look just to see what it tried to be.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke