Writer-director Robert Rodriguez offers an odd mashup of two movies from the 2000s with “We Can Be Heroes,” basically the offspring of his “Spy Kids” and “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl.” The result is a lively and colorful if uninspired Netflix kids movie, which even throws in the David Bowie song that inspired the title for good measure.
Although best known for edgier fare, Rodriguez explored his lighter side with “Spy Kids” in 2001 and “Sharkboy and Lavagirl” four years later. This new movie ties directly into the latter, featuring the kids of those heroes as well as others – with names like Miracle Guy – brought together to save the world after their parents get quickly overwhelmed and captured by alien invaders.
It’s a familiar concept, one that birthed the similarly themed “Sky High” the same year as “Sharkboy,” and provided the basic template for Disney+’s “The Secret Society of Second-Born Royals” earlier this year. The fantasy of children becoming superheroes remains a durable one, which explains why outfits like Disney keep returning to it.
The parents, notably, feature some recognizable faces despite the puny nature of their roles (the things we do for our kids), including Pedro Pascal (pulling double Christmas duty in “Wonder Woman 1984”), Christian Slater, Boyd Holbrook and the original Lavagirl, Taylor Dooley. Priyanka Chopra Jonas also drops in as the overseer of The Heroics, basically this universe’s version of the Justice League.
Still, the focus is squarely on the children, a modestly appealing group led by outsider Missy (YaYa Gosselin), whose main skill lies in coaxing her peers about the need to operate as a team. That’s only one of the built-in lessons, in a “The children are our future” kind of way.
Unlike the aforementioned movies that feature high-school-age kids, the children are younger here, and the movie possesses a sensibility reflecting that even compared to, say, Disney Channel-type fare.
This was clearly made for kids, not critics, and the design and action are vibrant enough to divert them. Rodriguez – who also produced, edited and shot the film, working with his own kids in what’s clearly a family affair – is well-versed in superhero tropes for parents who can appreciate comic-book satire.
Add it up and “We Can Be Heroes” serves as a very minor addition to Netflix’s kids-and-family tier, for parents looking for something new to keep their tykes occupied. As an aside, the movie underscores the current state of streaming, where no title with a shred of equity in it – even one as weird as “Sharkboy and Lavagirl” – is ever officially out of the running to make a comeback.
“We Can Be Heroes” premieres Dec. 25 on Netflix.