#Superheromovies are simply everywhere, love it or hate it it’s true and, given the incredible breadth of source material available, they aren’t going away soon. Once Were Heroes, written and directed by Adrian Prospero, is another superhero film but one that, arguably, unfolds a little differently from the films we have seen before. A car pulls up in a small Australian outback town, in it are Piper (Caris Eves), her young son Charlie (Maynard Gray) and her boyfriend Devon (Matthew Nicholas Phillips), they appear to be on a trip but in reality, they are a rag-tag group of robbers. Charlie has telekinetic abilities and Devon exploits these powers for criminal activity.
Obviously, we have seen teenage superheroes be exploited by adults in the X-Men series, but those films focus more on the spectacle of the exploited superpowers rather than developing the characters who are subject to that exploitation. Prospero’s film shares a lot in common with the work of #TaikaWaititi. Waititi is a master of happy-sad cinema; his adult characters often behave childishly, with hilarious results, but at the same time, the drama revolves around the fact that they are grown up and they are neither as innocent nor as confident as they think themselves to be. We see this with Devon especially; he opens the film by comically crashing his car, getting excited about the trip but then viciously slapping headphones off little Charlie’s head, finally he takes some time to practice his karate before starting the robbery. With his character flipping up and down so quickly we gain no solid ground with him; he is an idiot but also a credible threat. Similarly, his Mum, who is also clearly trapped by Devon, creates a make-believe world for Charlie to get him to comply.
Prospero’s other success is his setting. Small Australian outback towns have a pretty diverse cinematic representation but one thing that’s certain is they create an odd atmosphere with an overwhelming sense that something weird and unexpected could happen at any moment. For two different examples try The Rover and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. In this town Charlie meets threat, in the form of a thug and kindness when a father and son ask him if he needs help. More than its plot Once Were Heroes uses its setting and its characters to draw the attention to Charlie. What's interesting is that with all the uncertainty in this film the fact that Charlie has superpowers seems to be the most rational idea and Charlie himself is amazingly empathetic. Because, at the risk of sounding twee, this is not a film about superpowers it's a film that empowers children and makes those who exploit them, cowards. It’s not a film that gets bogged down in origin myths and the need to find a purpose for its characters, it gains our support by showing us that compared to everyone else Charlie is the most powerful character on the screen. And most impressively Prospero achieves this while giving Charlie almost no lines of dialogue.
Whatever your opinion on superhero movies they can, like any genre, allow for some seriously nuanced #filmmaking. Once Were Heroes, with its happy-sad characters and weird setting gives us a superhero, not valued on the effectiveness of their powers, but that they remain true in a world that isn’t. Put simply this is a #comingofage drama, a story relatable to almost everyone, with superhero elements that add to it rather than distract from it.