Two films give the superhero origin story a fresh twist

JUNE 23 — Superhero movies may be ubiquitous now, but even after so many of them bombarding our consciousness, especially in the last decade, we still can’t seem to get enough of them. 

Avengers: Infinity War has now crossed the US$2 billion dollar mark in the global box-office in just 48 days, just one day short of Avatar’s record of 47 days, becoming only the fourth film in history (after Avatar, Titanic and Star Wars: The Force Awakens) to cross the US$2 billion mark at the global box-office.

Marvel and DC’s battle for box-office supremacy and critical respectability also shows no signs of slowing down, with ever expanding films and universes lined up to catch the interest of filmgoers now more than used to the serial storytelling style of TV, thanks to bingeing habits cultivated by HBO and Netflix’s addictive shows. 

Despite all this, more often than not, when it comes to superhero movies, one particular story or narrative gets told over and over again, and that is the superhero or villain origin story.

With companies now competing to expand their cinematic universe, there’s always room for a new superhero to be introduced, which means that the trusted superhero origin playbook will be taken out again and again in order to make that introduction, which of course runs the risk of boring people with the same old repetition over and over again. 

Marvel may have stumbled onto something when they rebooted their Spider-Man franchise with what’s essentially a high school teen movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming. But for the most part, it’s just hard to get excited about a new superhero movie that’s essentially an origin story.

Being a fan of underdogs, even when it comes to superhero movies, I’ve always made it a point to dig around the low budget or foreign language spectrum of superhero movies. 

There aren’t many of these made, because as a general rule superhero flicks do require a significant budget because of the VFX work needed to pull off the spectacle that’s part and parcel of why they’re so attractive in the first place.

But even in the few that do get made, one can find interesting glimmers of creativity at work, like in James Gunn’s Taxi Driver-inspired take on the genre with SUPER (which pretty much landed him the Guardians Of The Galaxy gig). 

A recent search through these waters has unearthed two new gems that are really worth your time, for very different reasons. 

One is clearly low budget, while the other one, although clearly quite significantly budgeted, is a bit off the radar simply by being a Korean film. 

Let’s see how they fare, shall we?

Higher Power

This is one of those films that, despite the sometimes dodgy and low rent CGI and VFX work, despite us not knowing in the slightest bit who the actors playing the characters are, and despite what initially looked like a lousy lo-fi family indie drama, you simply must stick with all the way to the end to appreciate what an admirable achievement this debut film is for writer-director Matthew Charles Santoro (a VFX artist on films like 300, X-Men: The Last Stand and The Incredible Hulk). 

Telling the story of middle-aged widower Joe, who’s estranged from his two daughters, the family drama blossoms into a high-tech thriller involving a shady organisation, even shadier experiments on Joe that seems to grant him some sort of electromagnetic powers, and a prophecy about the end of the world that will all come to a head and hit our average Joe head on, unlocking his full potential that must be seen to be believed. 

In short, this plays a bit like Chronicle, but to tell a Dr Manhattan origin story. Made on a reported budget of only US$500,000, Santoro’s execution here, especially during the transcendental climax, is one of the best calling cards that anyone can hope for in order to make that dream jump from low-budget indies into the Hollywood big leagues. 

This guy is destined for big things.

Psychokinesis

Having to follow up a worldwide smash like Train to Busan must be quite a challenge for writer-director Yeon Sang-ho, and to some extent it’s impossible for him to live up to that kind of high expectation. 

So let’s get it out of the way first — no, this one’s not better than Train to Busan, but if you truly know Sang-ho’s work before this, you’ll know that’s not the point. 

Train to Busan was a spectacular blockbuster, a far cry from his earlier animated films like The King of Pigs and The Fake

In fact, Busan was even a far cry from the animated film he made before that, Seoul Station (which was a prequel to Train to Busan, but released later, after Busan’s box-office heroics). 

If Higher Power was a superhero origin film masquerading as a cyber thriller, Psychokinesis has no qualms admitting to it in the first quarter of the film. 

Like Higher Power, it’s also centred on an estranged father, but in this case the villain is not something as big and cosmic as in Higher Power, but a more relatable “evil corporation” that’s about to take over the area that houses his daughter’s noodle stand. 

It’s a more straightforward narrative, but in terms of pure superhuman spectacle, this one’s a real hoot to watch. In short, it’s a movie about a loser slob of a superhero battling evil corporate types, and it’s funny as hell too, so what’s not to like?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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