The buzz hasn’t been hugely kind to indie superhero movie All Superheroes Must Die – originally released as Vs – written, directed by and starring Hatchet III‘s Jason Trost, it’s a crude and confrontation mixture of Saw-style turn-based sadism and Super/Kick-Ass style micro-budget superdickery.
The young cast – with X-Men: First Class and Days Of Future Past‘s Lucas Till as its centrepiece – aren’t hugely convincing as a team of teen heroes grown apart. The world of Super, Defendor and Kick-Ass was one in which superheroes didn’t exist until the protagonists became them, and all their unimpressive dowdiness reinforced the view that what they were doing was frankly absurd both within the worldview of the movie and from the worldview of the viewer.
All Superheroes Must Die, on the other hand, is built up as a sort of superpowered equal to DC or Marvel – in both casting and budget terms, this is punching well above the movie’s weight – and all their wetsuit-clad dowdiness and unimpressive Starbucks everyman physiques puncture the suspension of disbelief immediately, that’s even before they start striking poses and batting out cod-heroic dialogue.
Four young heroes awaken in a town that’s been wired to blow by a Joker-style snickering psychopath named Rickshaw (Dexter‘s James Remar channelling Willem Dafoe’s eye-boggling Norman Osborn), with convenient injections negating the superpowers we’re never shown, the four must dance to Rickshaw’s demented tune in a series of games or else innocent civilians will die.
With innocent civilians dying regardless – Rickshaw establishes at the climax of the first challenge on that he’s got no intention of playing fair – All Superheroes Must Die hits a fairly defeatist and nihilistic tone very early on, as the four characters fight amongst themselves in self-absorbed Hollyoaks vignettes while in the background bystanders scream through their gags.
James Wan and Leigh Whannel’s Saw, from which All Superheroes Must Die cribs its central conceit, constantly let rays of hope shine through before that hope is cruelly dashed less by the arbitrary whims of some tormentor, than by decisions the protagonists themselves have made. It’s a lesson Trost should have perhaps heeded. Instead, everything our not-so-superheroes do is obviously doomed from the outset, and with it goes the drama and tension that Saw heightened to a scarcely bearable pitch.
To praise All Superheroes Must Die for ‘deconstructing’ superhero codes and conventions is to ignore the fact that All Superheroes Must Die doesn’t put the work in establishing them to begin with, and that what passes for ‘deconstruction’ is little more than the sort of lazy ‘What if?’ spitballing that comes from people who don’t really read comics. In fact, rather than subvert the genre, All Superheroes Must Die is similar in tone to any number of misjudged ‘extreme’ storylines from DC and Marvel over the last 15 years – from the Joker’s face getting cut off in Batman in order to establish how extra bad-ass some contrived new foe is to retconning panto season Teen Titans villain Doctor Light into a rapist.
If the movie has any meaning, it’s entirely accidental – the lack of consideration given to the casualty rate would be a satire on the appalling devastation in Zack Snyder’s lifeless Man Of Steel were it not for the fact that Vs first premièred in October 2011, mere months after Zack Snyder started filming Kryptonian Murder Hour.
In sheer technicality there’s praise to be found in the skilful cinematography, as All Superheroes Must Die is wonderfully shot and framed, with a sense of scale and conviction that’s sadly lacking in the characterisation and the narrative. Movies like this – along with all the aforementioned superhero satires – are important in showing that this sort of content can be tackled effectively without millions of dollars worth of CGI, but without being particularly great, All Superheroes Must Die isn’t exactly advancing the cause.