Robert Rodriguez, who recently directed an episode of “The Mandalorian” depicting the return of Boba Fett and is set to helm a spinoff series based on the character, is a fantastic action director, known for the “Machete” series, “Desperado” (1995) and “Alita: Battle Angel” (2019). But in the early 2000s, he had a parallel career directing live action children films in the “Spy Kids” series and 2005’s “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl”, of which Netflix released a long-belated sequel to on Christmas: 2020’s “We Can Be Heroes.”
As someone who grew up with both “Spy Kids” and “Sharkboy and Lavagirl,” I look back fondly on them, having watched each one multiple times. Of his “Spy Kids” films and “Sharkboy and Lavagirl”, my rankings for them in terms of quality go something like this:
5. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (2011)
4. Spy Kids (2001)
3. Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002)
2. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (2005)
1. Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003)
I was not a fan of the fourth “Spy Kids” film, mostly because of how incompetent it made Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen (Alexa Vega) Cortez, the protagonists of the previous three films, in order to bolster a lackluster replacement cast that I honestly can’t tell you much about because they left no impact on me. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I absolutely loved how imaginative and goofy “Spy Kids 3-D” was, as it perfectly utilized Rodriguez’s embracement of corny early CGI and the 3-D fad of the decade by having the film take place in a VR video game. It let him be as weird and imaginative as he wanted without being off-putting, and it also took place in a video game I think everyone as a kid legitimately wanted to play.
So going into 2020’s “We Can Be Heroes,” I was cautiously optimistic, knowing Rodriguez is capable of great work, but mindful that his last series revival in “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World” was a forgettable failure. “We Can Be Heroes” is a little bit of both.
“We Can Be Heroes” focuses on the next generation of heroes in the “Sharkboy and Lavagirl” world, with Sharkboy (JJ Dashnaw) and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley) having a kid named Guppie (Vivien Blair) in between films, who is not the main character. Led by the powerless Missy Moreno (YaYa Gosselin), the film focuses on the children of the Avengers-like superhero group the Heroics, as Earth is invaded by aliens. The Heroics, which include members played by the likes “Narcos” alumni Pedro Pascal and Boyd Holbrook, as well as Christian Slater, Sung Kang, Haley Reinhart, and the aforementioned Sharkboy and Lavagirl, are largely useless, and spend most of the film being captured, which makes the film rely heavily on its young cast.
This is where the film falls apart, and it’s mostly because the cast Rodriguez picked is both too large and not good. It makes me realize that Rodriguez really hit the jackpot in terms of finding quality child actors in the original three “Spy Kids” films and “Sharkboy and Lavagirl.” Gosselin does the best she can and her character is the only one to have something close to an arc, but she has to constantly fight for screentime with the film’s large cast of child actors, most of whom feel like they’re struggling to get their lines out. The child acting is one of the worst aspects of the film — far below what you would expect even on an average live action Disney Channel show.
But visually, it looks and feels like a classic Robert Rodriguez kids film from the early 2000s. It just needed fewer characters to focus on, and the right cast.
I think it’s a better film than “Spy Kids” 4, and it has its moments. But it lacks a profound sense of identity Rodriguez’s other kids films have, and it doesn’t know what to do with its large cast. “We Can Be Heroes” is a mess I’ll probably forget about in a month or two. Here’s hoping he does better in the world of adult television in the upcoming “The Book of Boba Fett.”
“We Can Be Heroes” gets a 4/10