I had zero expectations when I sat down to watch the straight-to-DVD/Blu-Ray All Superheroes Must Die. With cool enough cover art and some decent enough ads on a bunch of comic book and fanboy related sites, I thought that it deserved some of Den of Geek’s attention. While the movie is definitely in our wheelhouse and aims to break out from the pack of indie films that have a superhero and comic book feel, ASMD fails on almost all fronts. Besides an above average marketing campaign and a cool one-sheet and DVD cover art the movie is just a confusing malaise of comic book clichés and film school fluff. In my experience, when a writer of a film also decides to direct AND star in said film it can be a self-aggrandizing experiment and rob the project of any kind of objectivity. It is difficult to direct yourself as the lead actor from the same script you labored over writing and keep your eye on the rest of the production with a sense of neutrality. No matter what, ego will get in the way. A List director Jon Favreau knew better when he spent two weeks writing Swingers back in the mid Nineties and handed off the directing reins to then unknown auteur Doug Liman. Favreau waited and watched on a dozen movies before getting behind the camera himself when he made his directorial debut with Made. While everyone with a laptop that includes onboard editing software automatically believes that anything they shoot with their iPhone is feature worthy, ASMD is a good example of how badly things can go wrong when you throw a bunch of genres at the wall and see what sticks. There are a slew of films that came to mind as I muddled through the less than 80-minute feature trying to figure out what movies ASMD was trying to pay tribute to. But in the end, it spent too much time trying to be like other movies than being its own film.
If I knew exactly what the plot was I would gladly tell you. However I am still very fuzzy on the five “W’s” of storytelling (Who, What, Where, When and Why) that would have lent themselves to a more coherent storyline. Writer/Director and leading man Jason Trost has four Superheroes in an unknown town all waking up in separate places with a needle mark on their wrists. It is a tiny hamlet of a community and the furthest thing from a metropolis that you can imagine. And the town is literally empty besides their arch-nemesis “Rickshaw” played by veteran actor James Remar of Dexter fame. The foursome of heroes played by Trost and company are Charge, Cutthroat, Shadow and The Wall. Although they all woke up separately, you get the feeling that these four “heroes” know each other. The injection they all received seems to have hindered their respective powers but to tell you the truth I have no idea what their powers were so I could not be like “Oh man, that sucks you can’t fly anymore.” They just looked like a bunch of college kids in costumes made by a friend at F.I.T. in a totally empty town with zero stakes at play. Trost was obviously going for a Kick-Ass like feel to the costumes, but it just comes off as feeling phony and half-assed. Plus there is nary one shot where you can actually see what the characters look like in costume. I know there was a scene where Cutthroat was talking about losing his speed, his presumed power. But why is his name Cutthroat if he is a speedster like The Flash? I seriously had no idea what was going on.
The fearless foursome continue to receive messages on 70’s era television sets from Rickshaw, always with a countdown until some type of explosion or catastrophe will occur if they do not “follow the rules of the game.” I felt like I was watching Saw 12 (or whatever number they are up to), except this was with C-list superheroes with costumes they made in an intro to sewing class. I had nothing invested in these characters because they all acted in the same way with no real personalities to root for or get behind. All four of the main heroes talk about their exploits. But in a totally empty town, those past adventures do not seem that big a deal because there is never anyone around! Unlike Kick-Ass or even the ultra-subversive Super from James Gunn, there were just not enough chips for me to push into the center of the table and say “All in.” We do know that Rickshaw is hell bent on seeing these four heroes die while he watches. But Rickshaw is not Jigsaw or any other techno-file mass murderer who has been done 100 times. There is nothing different about this and every time Rickshaw appears on one of the screens, he seems completely removed from who these characters are. There is no real backstory to lean on and think “Oh ok this is why he wants revenge!” There are no “AHA!” moments in the scant 78-minute running time of the film where the viewer can even declare their favorite hero of the group. In fact, I had to toggle back a few times just to make sure that I had the correct names of the characters.
There is no real direction of the script that tries but fails to be a kind of 21st century pulp comic come to life. Unfortunately, even in Hi-Def the film’s lighting barely lets you even see the characters’ faces, let alone their reactions. The heroes do not really seem like they want to be there and if the foursome were the best of friends at some point, who did they fight in an otherwise empty town? Remar is as good as he can be with what he has to work with. He does not phone it in, but I imagine that taking the small part of Rickshaw was a favor to someone. There are no showdowns worth mentioning and the aforementioned Saw-like time countdown is just plain hack after all this time. While I always like to root for a low-budget indie film, especially one about superheroes, ASMD leaves you with nothing but an empty feeling. I felt like I had just scratched a lottery-ticket that assured me that 9 of every 10 participants won but I was left holding a losing ticket. I wanted this movie to be something I could tell my pals at my comic shop to watch. I would much rather recommend 2002’s Comic Book Villains, a movie that does not stray into areas that are way above their head. The reason Kick-Ass worked so well is because it was a hit comic book first and then a movie, with a now pending sequel. Unfortunately Fanboys and girls are very fickle in accepting brand new characters with powers and costumes that are not even shown in this movie no matter how cool the title. Ironically, at press time, it seems the title has been changed to “VS” whatever that means. This is not a superhero film but is the equivalent of the Scooby Gang making a video to show their friends while drinking and smoking on the weekends. Narrative rule number one is to make your hero likeable, but this film is just a barrage of clichés in very poorly lit locations. Thankfully heroes always live to see another day.
Hopefully not these guys though.
Den of Geek Rating: 1.5 Out of 5 Stars