Thursday, September 19, 2013

Boy Wonder

Get out your masks and handguns, we're reviewing Boy Wonder!

Sean Donovan (Caleb Steinmeyer) witnessed his mother’s murder when he was a young boy. He trained physically and mentally until he could go out and right the wrongs in his life. But is he a hero, or just crazy?

I must have put off watching this movie for about a year because there's no way it could be good. After finally watching it? Well, it's not terrible, but there's not a whole lot of reason to recommend it either. It feels like it's trying to be the premise of "What if Batman was real, but more realistic, and crazy, and not rich or perfect at everything?" but ends up being, "What if we made Kick-Ass, but less fun?" If you're not already tired of the "realistic superhero" movie sub-genre already, this might push you over the edge.

I think the main problem here is that, like Sean, the movie doesn't know what it wants to be. All the previews and box art advertise Sean as the hooded, face-painted hero bringing down bad guys, but he really only brings down a few here and there. The face paint only makes one appearance. It’s weird to build such emphasis on a detail like that by making it your box art when you only do it one time, with no real reason for doing it in the first place. Like, the guy just rubs paint on his face in the subway, for no discernible reason. Then there's detective Ames (Zulay Henao) trying to prove herself and also uncover who the vigilante is. And THEN there's the plot of Sean trying to figure out who killed his mother, and why. It gets pretty muddled and none of it is all that interesting.

I mean, you came for the superhero stuff, right? I came for the superhero stuff. It's called Boy Wonder for crap sakes. But it's not all that good and has nothing new to say about the superhero genre that hasn't already been said by movies like Super and Kick-Ass. He's a vigilante who might be crazy. Hooray. Oh, he uses guns to kill people! And is still kind of doing good. This is not original material. The fights are too dark to see, not that they were very well done in the first place. Of course, the detective looking for the vigilante suspects Sean because it couldn't be ANY OTHER random person. Meh. 

I believe there's a bunch of semi-racism masked as pointing out racism? You've seen this before. "Oh, hey, you're a Latino and you come from a proud Latino people! I'm pointing this out to make fun of other racists but I'm not going to do anything differently or learn a lesson or anything. Just wanted to point out that you're a woman, and Latina!" Yeah that. It's not straight racism, but it accomplishes nothing, so it’s empty and pointless and that’s exactly how it feels. I guess I should be grateful for a movie in which the main female lead is the smartest, sanest person present, and also the moral compass of the movie, AND she doesn't need to be saved. Progress?

The most interesting thing about this movie is the debate it tries to have about whether or not superheroes are good, or just crazy. Is Sean really being heroic, or is he mentally disturbed and doing more harm than good? That could have been interesting, but no. They abandon it halfway through so Sean can solve his mother's murder, never to return to that ripe-with-potential question. Also: isn't it weird that you have this diverse neighborhood and the only one who can clean it up is the white kid? Wouldn't it be more interesting to have a Latino or black superhero for once? Did they have a white main hero because it's always been a white hero, or because they're trying to say something, or because they're lazy? Or at least, if you're going the white route, have a conversation about how there's a stigma that only the white people can solve the other races problems and "clean up" the neighborhood. And also, hey, are they going to be more lenient on him because he's a white kid, where a black or Latino vigilante would create fear and have a manhunt sent after him? Those would be some interesting considerations, too, but the plot doesn't tread anywhere near them.
Not to say it's all terrible. It's okay, really. I think it's pretty well shot and the acting has substance and quality, especially with Henao as the questioning Ames, Bill Sage as the washed-up father Terry, and Steinmeyer as the most-likely unhinged Sean. I like Terry, because he's a former drunk abusive husband, and he remembers what a drunk abusive asshole he was, but he's trying to make it right with his son, but failing pretty miserably. He’s a complex character. And the twist at the end is actually pretty good! It made me go "Whoa!" Though, if I had been paying a little more attention, maybe I would have seen it coming. The ending itself is a bit ambiguous and doesn't really answer anything, but that one twist is alright. Not alright enough that you should run out and watch it, but alright enough that I don't completely hate myself for sitting through this thing.

So yeah, Boy Wonder. It's not completely terrible, but it doesn't live up to its potential by any means. It could have asked and answered some real questions about superheroes and vigilantism, but instead it went the tired route of "If Batman was REAL."  The acting is alright, but the action is nowhere near good.

THE GOOD: Good acting, good female lead, nice twist at the end, shot pretty well.

THE BAD: Fights poorly done, only a vigilante a couple of times, only uses the paint once, some racism, tired realistic anti-hero story, ambiguous ending, story too muddled.

THE VERDICT: $$ It's not terrible, but there's not a lot of good stuff here worth recommending. There are a lot of better ways in which you could spend your time.

MOVIES LIKE IT: Kick-Ass, Super, Defendor, The Brave One, The Dark Knight

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Sean calls a pimp and orders a prostitute. Don't worry, this is only to draw the pimp out so he can beat the crap out of him. The fighting isn't very good, and isn't very effective, as the pimp is about to walk back in the house, so Sean just straight-up shoots him. Later, the prostitute explains to the police that Sean basically saved her life. So along with getting an unsatisfying fight, we also get an unsatisfying moral quandary! Yay!

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