'We Can Be Heroes': Film Review

We Can Be Heroes
And you thought the Spy Kids were cool.

A group of superhero offspring team up to save their parents and the world in Robert Rodriguez's Netflix fantasy adventure.

Most parents think it's a big deal to take their kids to Disney World or Universal Studios for some family bonding. Sorry, but Robert Rodriguez has you all beat. When this prolific filmmaker wants to spend some quality time with his children, he makes a superhero movie with them. The result, premiering Christmas Day on Netflix, can be labeled either a sort-of sequel or a quasi-spinoff of his 2005 feature The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (geeks, feel free to discuss). Either way, We Can Be Heroes should provide fun holiday family viewing after all the presents have been opened.

As usual, the prolific Rodriguez has personally taken on most of the film's responsibilities, serving as writer, producer, director, director of photography and editor. But he's also outsourced many of the creative chores to his children: son Racer Max, who created the characters of Sharkboy and Lavagirl when he was only 7 (talk about precocious!), serves as a producer and has an onscreen cameo; son Rebel composed the film's score; son Rogue designed the alien spaceship that figures prominently in the extended climax; and daughter Rhiannon came up with many of the female characters' attributes. Try not to think of that next time you get all verklempt hanging your kid's drawings on the refrigerator.

Oh, and then there's the film itself, which is fast-paced and funny enough to satisfy even those adults on Christmas morning who haven't gotten enough sleep. The aspect that should particularly please younger viewers is that the superheroes are not only the adults, dubbed the "Heroics," but also their children, who save the day when their parents are kidnapped by giant tentacled alien invaders.

Among those captured is Marcus Moreno, played by Pedro Pascal, who with this, The Mandalorian and Wonder Woman 1984 is firmly cementing his status in the fantasy/sci-fi market. Marcus had retired from being a superhero in order to raise his young daughter, Missy (YaYa Gosselin), with the help of her loving abuelita (Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza). Marcus has good company when he's taken prisoner; his fellow captive superheroes include Miracle Guy (Boyd Holbrook), Tech-No (Christian Slater) and, yes, Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley, returning to the role after 15 years) and Sharkboy (JJ Dashnaw, filling in for Taylor Lautner).

After her father is taken, Missy is transported to a secure underground government facility headed by the officious Ms. Granada (Priyanka Chopra Jones, relishing her role). There, she's introduced to a roomful of kids equipped with a wide variety of baroque superpowers, including Rewind (Isaiah Russell-Bailey), who can turn back the clock a few moments; Fast Forward (Akira Akbar), who can predict the future; A Capella (Lotus Blossom), who can do amazing things with her singing voice; Noodles (Lyon Daniels), who can stretch his body in miraculous ways; Facemaker (Andrew Diaz), who can alter his appearance at will; and even Sharkboy and Lavagirl's progeny, Guppy (Vivien Blair), who can manipulate water … or something like that.

Frankly, it's hard to keep track, although parents should be very grateful for the abandonment of the film's original plan to have one of the kids' superpowers be the ability to emit toxic farts.

In a nod to adults, one of the characters is a golden-haired, simple-minded U.S. president (Christopher McDonald) whose nonsensical ramblings cause one kid to complain, "How did this guy ever get to be president? He can't even put two sentences together!"

Figuring out that they're the only ones who can save the day, the kids escape from the facility and eventually engage in combat with the aliens aboard their giant vessel. The extended, elaborately staged action sequence provides the film's biggest set piece and should inspire no end of copycat alien battles among the small fry at home.

Much like Rodriguez's Spy Kids films, We Can Be Heroes proves silly, lighthearted fun for its target audience, blissfully free of ponderousness and enlivened by antic humor. The filmmaker also once again proves he's a technical whiz with a relatively small budget, infusing the proceedings with brightly colored special effects resembling a cross between comic books and videogames and making them effective despite their artificiality.

The movie also delivers a wholesome message as the superhero parents look on their similarly gifted children's alien-battling efforts with pride. In the fun fantasy world of Robert Rodriguez, there's no better way to bring families together than by saving the world.

Distributor: Netflix
Production company: Double B
Cast: YaYa Gosselin, Pedro Pascal, Priyanka Chopra Jones, Christian Slater, Boyd Holbrook, Christopher McDonald, Adriana Barraza, Vivien Blair, Isaiah Russell-Bailey, Akira Akbar, Lyon Daniels, Nathan Blair, Lotus Blossom, Hala Finley, Andy Walken, Dylan Henry Lau, Andrew Diaz, Taylor Dooley, Sung Kang, Haley Reinhart, J. Quinton Johnson, Brittany Perry-Russell, Brently Heilbron, JJ Dashnaw
Director-screenwriter: Robert Rodriguez
Producers: Racer Max, Robert Rodriguez
Executive producer: Ben Ormand
Director of photography: Robert Rodriguez
Production designers: Steve Joyner, Caylah Eddleblute
Costume designer: Nina Proctor
Music: Rebel Rodriguez
Editor: Robert Rodriguez
Casting: Mary Vernieu, Michelle Wade Byrd

Rated PG, 100 minutes