[5 February 2013]
Remember The Specials? I caught this film at the now-defunct Silver Lake Film Festival way back in 2000. A modest comic charmer, it was a comedy of manners that just happened to be about superheroes, and its characters’ wry, ironic jabs thoroughly de-mystified them.
Jason Trost’s All Superheroes Must Die is hardly a comedy – in fact, it’s a vicious, darkly violent thriller – but its miniscule budget and complete lack of gee-whiz CGI effects will remind you of its admittedly superior predecessor, even if it’s closer in tone and texture to NBC’s short-lived Heroes.
I must concede that I enjoy its opening scene most. Dialogue is very sparse, and hand-held cameras follow a costumed young man wandering after dark along an urban sidewalk. Eerie music punctuates this action, and we’ve no idea what will come next.
The superhero team depicted here quickly realizes that someone is plotting their downfall. Turns out that James Remar – memorable in various roles, but most vividly as the psychotic Dutch Schultz in Francis Coppola’s grand The Cotton Club – is the sinister mastermind known as Rickshaw whom they vanquished years earlier. He’s now ensnared them in a destructive game which could result in their demise.
The team (Charge, Shadow, Cutthroat, The Wall) is forced to endure a gauntlet of challenges, including a circus strongman, a flame-wielding nutcase in Uncle Sam get-up – symbolism here? – as well as an array of elaborate booby traps, all the while knowing that innocent lives are at stake. This scenario may have metaphorical ties to modern terrorist activities, but we’d care more if we knew any of the heroes’ back stories. Problem is, we learn very little until well into the story, a perhaps too-brief 78 minutes, which limits opportunities for character development.
To its detriment perhaps, All Superheroes Must Die was written in only four days and shot in 15, with multiple pages excised from the script during principal photography in a desperate attempt to not to exceed a budgetary Maginot Line, one reportedly far below $1million.
One commentator describes All Superheroes Must Die, which premiered at 2011’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival, as a horror film, and its spurts of brutality, especially a shocking, unexpected scene involving gunfire, do seem to take us down that road. Also, the sadistic machinations of Rickshaw’s ‘game’ are reminiscent of the heartless serial killer Jigsaw in the Saw series, which is clearly the narrative inspiration here. No one will mistake this picture for a Marvel Entertainment product.
I wouldn’t say that All Superheroes Must Die, also called Vs, feels like a backyard production, but instead something that might air on SyFy, if they ever tire of mutated giant animal flicks. As mentioned before, the movie’s shoestring budget finances preclude elaborate displays of superhuman ability, leaving us with an earnest genre exercise that should elicit some enthusiasm amongst comic book shop-loitering geeks, but more likely will blossom organically into a culty midnight movie. Do those still exist?