I’ve been on a pretty big superhero kick lately — even more so than usual — so I decided to try out a low-budget indie film called All Superheroes Must Die.
There’s definitely potential here. Unfortunately, it’s never fully realized, or even halfway realized. It needs some serious help.
Four superheroes are captured by their nemesis, Rickshaw (James Remar), and stripped of their superpowers. When they wake up in a small, abandoned town, they’re forced to complete a series of dangerous challenges in order to save the lives of several hostages, as well as their own.
1. If you look this movie up on IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes, you won’t find it, at least not under the title All Superheroes Must Die. Instead, you’ll find it listed under its original title — Vs. — which is a vastly inferior name and has little in the way of originality. We will not refer to it as such in this review.
2. In all honesty, though, this review is less of a comprehensive review and more of a lengthy list of problems. Because, boy, are there problems with this film.
For instance: our heroes are laughably incompetent.
Now, it should be said that this is at least partially intentional. When our heroes lose their superpowers, they become vulnerable and weak because they’ve clearly been relying on those abilities for far too long. There’s some interesting material to work with here; not terribly original material, maybe — superheroes lose their powers all the time, and then they just figure something else out and beat the bad guy anyway — but there’s definitely stuff to work with.
The problem is that these heroes can apparently barely walk without their superpowers. It’s embarrassing, how terrible these guys are. I know it’s a super low-budget movie made in a very short amount of time and all, but seriously, this is just sad.
3. The saddest of them all, of course, is our one girl hero, Shadow (Sophie Merkley).
When I initially saw Shadow, I was all excited . . . I’d say for a whole two minutes even, I was excited. And then I realized she was going to be the most useless character to ever exist. She’s certainly never treated as a hero on her own. She’s more of a love interest who just happens to be in costume, and she’s not even an interesting love interest at that. She is, in fact, the most formulaic love interest of all time.
Check out the key ingredients to making your very own super cliche love interest:
A. Zero to minimal personality
B. Anger that her man keeps putting all the heroism before their relationship
C. A constant need to be protected and/or rescued
Yup. That’s Shadow to a T.
4. Sophie Merkley is also probably the weakest link when it comes to acting, although it’s certainly true that she has the least interesting material to work with. Jason Trost and Lucas Till aren’t actually too bad, as far as acting itself goes — but the material spectacularly fails them too. That actually can be blamed on Trost, though, as he also wrote and directed the film.
Luckily, All Superheroes Must Die does have one thing going for it: James Remar.
Rickshaw’s dialogue gets kind of repetitive at some points — he used the word “simple” so often I was sure there would be some kind of secret significance to it by the end — but James Remar goes all out with his campy delivery, and I enjoyed watching him, even as I desperately wished he could’ve been in a better movie. I’m sure he’d be a fantastically funny villain in a project with a considerably better budget and script.
5. Because yeah. Writing is a huge problem in this story — the ideas are there, but the technical skill just isn’t. This movie’s exposition is for shit: Trost introduces pivotal plot information far too late in the film, and some of it seems to contradict with what we’ve already seen. And the relationships between characters . . . they’re just kind of uneven. The whole story feels like a sketchy first draft, something with a lot of tropes and archetypes — and I love playing with tropes and archetypes, but you’ve got to build on them in some interesting way. This movie’s trying to do that, I think, but the writing isn’t strong enough to support it.
6. All Superheroes Must Die is a mere 78 minutes long, which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because, well, because this movie’s kind of terrible. So even though it’s hardly a fulfilling watch, at least it’s over pretty quickly. On the other hand, a 90 minute film might not have been a bad idea. You know, that way you have a little time to actually build the relationships these characters are supposed to have with one another.
7. At the very least, though, the challenges that our heroes face? They need to be improved. Like, seriously improved. The first one is kind of weak, and two others are basically the exact same challenge. These trials need to get progressively harder and harder for our good guys; instead, we kind of hit an emotional apex too soon, and everything else just feels repetitive after that. There’s a serious lack of both creativity and a sense of arc where the challenges are concerned.
8. Also, this movie has, like, zero tension. Which is ridiculous because it’s a 78 minute movie full of nothing but deadlines . . . and yet there’s absolutely no tension, no suspense, nada, zippo, zilch. Why?
Well, it may have something to do with the fact that the superheroes never fucking run anywhere.
Consider this an example:
Rickshaw: You have five minutes to get to this place before I blow up these dudes!
Superheroes: Shit, this is serious! But instead of getting a move on, let’s just stand here and talk for two of those five minutes. And then, you know, we can just walk to that place at a leisurely stroll because even though we’re not actually sure where Rickshaw wants us to go, well, it’s a small town. We’ll figure it out in time, right?
9. In fact, the only time anyone runs anywhere is when a character would be physically unable to do so. *Sighs*
10. Finally — and I can’t believe I’m arguing this — they use the word “fuck” too much. They just do. I’m all for superheroes who swear — really, I’m ALL FOR IT — but there is absolutely no creativity or variety in the cursing in this script, and at least half of it feels forced, like they’re trying a little too hard to be edgy.
Guys, swearing doesn’t make you edgy. It’s just something a lot of people do, that’s all.
That’s it for now. Spoilerphobes, continue on at your own peril . . .
All right, so we have four heroes: Charge (Jason Trost), Cutthroat (Lucas Till), the Wall (Lee Valmassy), and the aforementioned Shadow. Each hero wakes up in a different part of town with a bandage on their respective wrists. (The bandages are important. We know this because the movie takes the time to slowly reveal each hero peeling them off.) Each has been injected with something that’s taken away their powers — all except Charge, whose power (super strength) is still mysteriously intact. (I kind of didn’t mention that earlier on purpose. I don’t know that it’s really a spoiler, but none of the film summaries I read for the film mentioned it, so I thought I’d err on the safe side.)
Here’s something else I forgot to mention about Charge — he refuses to take off his mask, even when it’s only covering one side of his face. He keeps it like this the whole movie. WHY? Why would you do that? Even if secret identity was an issue — which it’s not because everyone on the team knows each other — dude, your cover is kind of blown. Take off the fucking mask.
But back to the film — Rickshaw welcomes his heroes (via little television screens) and tells them to go meet up at a laundromat or something. Why he separated them in the first place is beyond me, but whatever. The heroes do as he says, and we start getting little pieces of their story: Cutthroat and Charge have issues, Shadow and the Wall are seeing each other, Charge and Shadow used to date, etc. (Actually, I misunderstood this at first — I initially thought Shadow had cheated on Charge with the Wall — but I figured it out pretty quickly.)
Rickshaw orders Charge and Cutthroat to one location and Shadow and the Wall to another. Each place comes with a psychotic henchman and a group of hostages rigged to explode. First, Team A. (I can’t call them the A-Team because that would imply both members were actually useful.)
Charge eventually beats the psychotic henchman at his location while Cutthroat ineffectually attempts to stop the burning fuse by moving his foot around it or something. It’s up to Charge to actually try cutting the fuse. That works, but only for a minute. Rickshaw has rigged it so the hostages will die no matter what the superheroes do. Cutthroat doesn’t want to give up, but Charge realizes there’s no time and drags him away before they can both explode.
Meanwhile, Team Suckfest has to fight this guy:
Okay, it’s not actually that guy, but it’s basically that guy, only with a flamethrower. This dude’s name is Manpower, which is just hugely disappointing. Obviously, his name should be Uncle Sam Hell or Uncle Tyranny or American Psycho or something like that. Regardless, he kicks our heroes’ asses, mostly because they put up no fight of any kind. (Okay, the Wall might get in one or two super slow punches, maybe. The stage fighting in this movie is pretty terrible.) And yes, our heroes are supposed to be vulnerable — Shadow later confesses she forgot she wasn’t invisible, which I actually like. But come on, this is ridiculous. You guys aren’t doing anything. Especially you, Shadow. Especially you.
Cause here’s the thing: it turns out Charge didn’t lose his superpowers because he didn’t have any superpowers to begin with. He just pretended that he did because he wanted to fit in with the other three (who got their superpowers from . . . shit, I can’t remember . . . a meteor storm, maybe?) All Charge has is training and determination — basically, they’re the Justice League, and he’s Batman. (Minus the money and fancy toys, of course.)
And that’s kind of cool because if the Justice League did lose all their powers at once — and they must have, at some point or another — it would totally be up to Batman to save their asses. That being said, you take off Green Lantern’s ring, and he’s still going to try and break your nose for you. Superman will still keep pushing forward to attack, even if you’ve got a pocketful of kryptonite. And you think Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl are just going to stand there helplessly and wait for a big strong man to help them? Screw you, movie.
While Shadow does basically nothing at all, The Wall gets himself all stabbed. Charge and Cutthroat arrive in time to save Shadow, of course, but since The Wall’s guts are hanging out, he doesn’t have much time to live. Like, minutes. I’ve read that you can survive like that for some time, actually, but I’m not taking issue with it. Besides, we all knew the Wall’s real name was Dead Meat the second we saw him, didn’t we? It’s just another reason to make this movie longer: if there were a few more characters involved, specifically heroes, maybe it wouldn’t be quite so easy to figure out who’s about to die every step of the way.
Here’s a curious thing, though: the Wall has to ask Charge what he’s feeling because he doesn’t recognize pain. That’s fine . . . until you find out that he hasn’t been invulnerable since birth. I don’t exactly know when their Origin-y thing happened — we’ll get to that in a second — but presumably, the Wall lived for a good twenty years experiencing pain like any normal person before getting all powerful. So . . . how does he not know what pain is, then? Are we saying he forgot what pain is like? Because I guess I could buy that if he’s been living for centuries or something, but since that clearly isn’t the case . . . I don’t get it. There’s a difference, you know, between forgetting the severity of pain and not knowing what the hell pain is when you encounter it.
And about that timeline —
Apparently, Cutthroat, Shadow, and the Wall have stopped aging since acquiring their powers. Like I said before, I’m not exactly sure when this was — Shadow has one offhand line that makes it sound like maybe she’s supposed to be much, much older than she looks (like decades older) but Charge can’t be that much older than the rest of them, so I don’t know.
The problem with this whole revelation is that it comes very late in the game and feels hugely out of left field. Going back, I can see where they tried to lay in the groundwork — sorta, with one or maybe two lines — but it fails pretty miserably. A lot of the exposition fails, honestly. There’s nothing wrong with giving your audience bits of intel at a time and making them work to figure out what’s going on — in fact, that’s often preferable to stopping the story for a ten minute info-dump snooze fest — but watching this movie, it feels incomplete, like important scenes were cut left and right from the picture. Which according to IMDB trivia, is pretty much exactly what happened.
But back to the Wall — yeah, he’s dead. Shadow’s holding his hand at the time because Charge tells her to go sit with him as he croaks — since that’s really all women are good for, mopping fevered brows. (I also love Charge actually had to tell her to go sit with her dying boyfriend, like that was an executive decision.) Rickshaw then breaks up the Mourning-Your-Dead-Friend Party by announcing a Bonus Round — which, really? A bonus round in between Round 1 and 2? Fine, whatever.
Here’s the bonus round: there are three hostages wired to explode and three empty coffins with the names Charge, Cutthroat, and Shadow on them. (Shadow, God bless her, actually asks a smart question for once: why doesn’t the Wall have a coffin? Charge says that Rickshaw must have always planned to kill the Wall in Round One . . . although I can’t quite figure out how, unless the henchmen were under specific instructions about only killing the Wall, and also, losing immediately afterwards.) There’s also a table with three guns on it. A hostage will be spared for every hero who goes to his respective coffin and blows his brains out.
Charge picks up the gun. Cutthroat and Shadow try to talk him out of killing himself, but Charge has no intention of doing that. He quickly kills the hostages and argues that they were going to die anyway, and at least he made their deaths quick. While this is probably true — if you’ve already realized you can’t save anybody, why are you even still playing the game? You could leave the town and get help, or you could start searching buildings for Rickshaw. Sure, you don’t know where he is yet, but it’s a small town, remember? If you can leisurely stroll across one side of it to the next in the space of five minutes, I’m sure finding your supervillain wouldn’t be too difficult. And hey, now you have guns to shoot him with!
But the superheroes keep playing the game anyway because Charge has a plan. We don’t know what the plan is yet, but I’ll go ahead and spoil it for you: he can do some crazy geometry shit and triangulate where Rickshaw is broadcasting from if he knows where enough television sets are. Which lead us to Round Two: the hostage is Cutthroat’s sister, and if Cutthroat kills either Shadow or Charge — or maybe both, I can’t remember for sure — Rickshaw will spare her life. Cutthroat quickly goes for the gun, perhaps remembering what Charge did to the last hostage.
Cutthroat and Charge fight for awhile. Charge tries to reason with him, but Cutthroat won’t listen, partially because of his own issues with Charge and partially because he can’t just let his sister die. He has the upper hand briefly until Shadow FINALLY does something worthwhile — she pulls a gun on Cutthroat. Of course, Cutthroat just throws a knife at her shoulder and she goes back to being useless again. He also manages to slash Charge across the chest before Charge stabs him.
It’s okay, Lucas Till. You’ll be in an infinitely superior superhero film later.
This is actually a pretty good scene, and the two guys work pretty well off each other. It’s just that it’d be a lot more powerful if we got some of their interesting backstory before Cutthroat died. Like we knew they had issues, and it’s not exactly a surprise that Cutthroat was a sidekick who wanted to shine outside of
Batman Charge’s shadow, but that’s just archetype stuff. You want me to care about them as actual characters, well, I need to know more. I want to actually see their friendship before it all goes to hell and certainly before Charge kills him. Once again, I like this story conceptually — I just wish the finished product had been a LOT better.
Anyway, this is about the time we get all the revelations I’ve already talked about — Charge doesn’t have superpowers, he’s aging faster than the others, he has a secret plan to fight
inflation Evil with trigonometry, he still loves Shadow, etc. (Admittedly, I haven’t talked about that last one yet, but I’m sure you’re all absolutely shocked to hear it.) Then Charge and Shadow move on to Round Three, which is basically the exact same thing as Round Two sans a sibling: one of the heroes has to kill the other hero in order to advance to Round Four.
Charge tells Shadow she has to shoot him somewhere fatal-looking so he can pretend to die. As Rickshaw watches Shadow play in Round Four, Charge will triangulate Rickshaw’s position and kill him. It’s not a terrible plan except for one little thing: the “non-fatal shot” comes from a gun pressed directly against Charge’s chest.
Now, I’m aware our heroes need Rickshaw to believe Charge is dead, but a point blank shot to the lungs seems like it might not be the best plan ever. Cause, you know, you need your lungs. They’re pretty vital. Admittedly, I don’t know a ton about physical anatomy, but I feel pretty confident about this. I know gutshots can be fatal and/or horrifically painful too, but a bullet to the belly still feels like the safer bet here — although if you read this, Dr. Huw, you feel free to correct me.
At the very least, I think we can all agree that Shadow should at least back up a few steps before she shoots Charge in the chest, right? Well, that might make sense, but you know, then she’d have to shoot Charge on her own. This way they’re pretty much holding hands when she shoots him — if she even actually shoots him herself. The shot isn’t totally clear, but I got the impression that Charge actually pulled the trigger while she just held onto the gun.
So, Charge falls over and has a flashback. Once that’s over, he gets up and does his whole mathematical genius shtick, drawing a map to lead him to Rickshaw’s hideout. He then runs there. Runs. With a bullet in his chest.
People, I had to tag this review “Being Shot In the Shoulder? Pretty Much a Papercut” because it never occurred me to create a tag for “Being Shot in the Lungs? Pretty Much a Papercut.” Cause, come on. Charge looks like he’s in pain here and all, but he shouldn’t be able to breathe, let alone jog. The whole fucking movie he’s been just idly walking around . . . now that he’s been shot in the chest, he’s suddenly a sprinter? This is bullshit.
While Shadow seems typically stymied by the fourth challenge — it has something to do with grenades — Charge finds Rickshaw’s hideout. It is guarded by furries. I shit you not.
I’m still convinced that if Charge, Cutthroat, and Shadow had stopped playing along at the Bonus Round and just went looking for Rickshaw, they would have found him pretty easily. They could’ve searched for all the television sets, or they could just have played I Spy The Most Ridiculous Henchman. Either way, everyone lives! (Well, except The Wall. He’s still screwed.)
Charge takes down the various furries and shoots Rickshaw in the chest. Before dying, though, Rickshaw activates a bomb that will blow up the whole town. Charge tells Shadow to leave because there isn’t enough time to save him. (He actually does look like he’s dying now, which is nice, I guess, but too little, too late after The Jog of Infamy and Battle with the Furries.)
But Shadow can’t just leave him, naturally, so she frees the two hostages — the only two to survive thus far and hopefully the only two left in town — and locates the map Charge left behind. She runs to Charge’s location . . . actually, I don’t think she runs at all. I could be wrong, but I think she might walk because, you know. Time isn’t of the essence or anything. Anyway, she gets to Charge and says she won’t leave him behind or something — it’s the same thing he said in an earlier flashback — and they start to leave, presumably getting to safety before the town goes BOOM.
And that, thankfully, is the end of this movie.
Lots of potential, but not much else.
C- (And that’s taking into consideration that this is a low-budget film made in a very short amount of time.)
Don’t rush through life. Take time to smell the roses, even if someone’s going to blow up those roses (plus you, plus a handful of innocents civilians) any second now.