“All Superheroes Must Die” was doomed the instant writer/director/star Jason Trost typed the words “FADE IN.” Even if this movie had been granted a $100 million budget, helmed by an Oscar-winning director, and cast with a roster of A-listers, it still would have been a disaster, simply because the underlying concept is so spectacularly bad. Imagine, if you will, a particularly morose comic book filtered through the “Saw” sequel of your choice, and then take away any semblances of context, plausibility, and purpose. It plays like an idea cooked up over the course of an hour on a Saturday afternoon by angry teenagers bored out of their skulls. Most of the time, it looks like one, too. The only saving grace of this movie is that it lasts only seventy-seven minutes, and even that isn’t saying very much.
The plot can be reduced to a single sentence: Four superheroes are forced to take part in a series of psychological tests masterminded by their arch nemesis. If that was all there was to it, the film’s only real sin would be lack of originality. But the problems run so much deeper than that. Consider the fact that bad guy’s evil scheme is structured so that the good guys cannot possibly win; his plan is, quite simply, to have them all suffer and die, along with several innocent people tied up and concealed by hoods. The more we watch the good guys fall victim to his homicidal reign of terror, the more apparent it becomes that Trost had no goal in mind apart from creating a sadistic variation of an arcade shooting gallery – no thematic or emotional payoff, just plenty of death and destruction.
The superheroes are Charge (Trost), Cutthroat (Lucas Till), Shadow (Sophie Merkley), and The Wall (Lee Valmassy). Their costumes, which include capes and masks, all look like they came out of a package sold in a Halloween store; twelve-year-olds might consider them if nothing better is available. The leads, physically fit though they may be, do not in any way, shape, or form look like authentic comic book superheroes. They look more like teenagers attending a costume party. In an attempt to make themselves sound more heroic, they ever-so-subtly deepen their voices, a tactic used by children on playgrounds when they pretend to be adults. Their characters inhabit a world that doesn’t support the existence of superheroes; select black-and-white flashback sequences, which fail to fully explain specific behaviors and incidents, show them not as larger-than-life defenders of all that’s good and decent but merely as normal young partiers with adolescent relationship issues.
When the film begins, they each come to in some section of a city that their arch nemesis has somehow cleared of all people, exempting the handful of civilians he has tied up and gagged and a handpicked selection of evil sidekicks (and yet, curiously, you still hear the sounds of neighborhood dogs barking, and I could have sworn I saw at least one set of red taillights moving down a road off in the distance). When they awaken, they each discover a wound on their wrist; they eventually figure out that they have each been injected by a serum that drains them of their powers – Cutthroat’s hyperspeed, Shadow’s invisibility, and The Wall’s indestructibility. The only one unaffected is Charge, who remains strong, relatively speaking. Oh my God, but you have to hear the dialogue these characters are provided with; it’s a hilariously awkward blend of profanity, hard-boiled fatalisms, and softcore romantic musings.
Communicating with them from a secret location via strategically placed television monitors is Rickshaw (James Remar), a madman who’s sick and tired of being the loser and wants to give the heroes a taste of what it’s like. He’s not a very good arch nemesis, as arch nemeses go; his master plan, which boils down to having people blown up and shot to death, is too dark to achieve the over-the-top campiness comic books are known for. His only interesting eccentricity is using a permanent marker to X out Polaroids of people’s faces. Because this character is impossible to play well, the best one can say is that Remar does a great job of playing him badly. Indeed, he seems to be the only actor who had the wherewithal to not take his role, or the movie, seriously. Had Trost, Till, Merkley, and Vanmassy followed his lead, the film might have worked as a kind of twisted parody.
The ending, which is preceded by a jaw-droppingly ludicrous plot twist, is structured so that two particular questions are intentionally left unanswered. But given what transpires and when and to whom, anyone with even half a brain should be able to answer both questions on their own. Trost either didn’t care or was unmindful of his own screenplay; after the end credits, he inserts a shot that hints at the release of a sequel, a prospect the ending has made logistically, narratively, characteristically, and physically impossible. Some superheroes just weren’t meant for franchises. “All Superheroes Must Die” proves that some weren’t even meant for first chapters. If Superman found himself in a movie like this, I think he would willingly put a chain of kryptonite around his own neck.