Hero Tomorrow (2009)NR

CapeCapeHalf a balding headWrecking ball

What we have here is a quirky indie character dramedy, and as such, this has nothing whatever to do with the kind of film that gets reviewed here. Except for one thing: the protagonist (definitely not “the hero”) puts on a costume to be crime-fightey.

In some ways, one can regard this as an artistic reaction against the big-budget action blockbuster superhero movie. Because this thing was made for practically no money at all. And its costumed vigilantes don’t come off looking in any way heroic.

The original conception of the movie was to set most of it inside a neighborhood comix shop. (“Hero Tomorrow” is the name of that shop.) The protagonist’s girlfriend works there, while designing clothes (and putting together a superhero costume) in her off time. In the finished film, fortunately, not all that much happens inside the store.

The hero character that the protagonist dresses up as, “Apama”, is actually something that the director, Ted Sikora, came up with in high school, and the sketches we see are his own from back then. But he’s not afraid to let us see how juvenile and poorly thought-through the character concept is, when it’s questioned by an outsider.

This movie really isn’t very friendly or forgiving toward those who dream of elevating themselves to crimefighting status. Particuarly not toward those who don’t understand the wide gap that exists between feeling fit and strong and ready to chase and confront people, and having what it takes to prevail in a real fight. In fact, its depiction is so negative that I ended up kind of wondering where the hostility was coming from. When the protagonist’s fantasies prove nonviable, are we supposed to be seeing this as a classical tragedy, in which a glaring personality flaw in an otherwise noble character propels him to ruin? While also getting a few laughs? It’s not like the guy’s dysfunctional immersion into the superhero dream is on a level that’s very believable, or very easy to identify with... You might say that, as depicted here, the wrongness of it is just too plain and obvious to leave his actions believable. It would have worked much more powerfully if whatever he did wrong was something we could also see ourselves doing wrong. For me, it wasn’t.

But then, see, there’s a twist. What seemed entirely like one person’s failures turn out in the end to be something quite otherwise. But as an answer to the above conundrum, this pretty much just turns the whole thing into a bunch of WTF?, rather than resolving anything, or turning around our perceptions of what went before. Yet somehow it produces a nontragic ending — quite how it does is not exactly clear. So in terms of what the story means, what it says to its audience, I have to say the film feels confused and incompletely thought out.

Not that you can’t make good satisfying drama out of a protagonist facing a life challenge and mishandling it. I mean, my favorite comic-based movie of all time, Ghost World, does exactly that.

The film does have some successful scenes where the lead couple’s bad behavior make for entertaining film — namely, the times when it’s funny. But the humor is never very overt or up-front; you kind of have to choose to find certain scenes humorous rather than painful.

But aside from this carping about the overall shape of the story, the film from moment to moment is fairly solid and satisfying. The casting is right on, the acting is decently convincing throughout, the directing is smooth, and the dialogue sounds real. There are plenty of scenes that are fascinating, and the lead pair is charismatic (though less so once they start doing things obviously wrong and dumb). And it is indeed cool to see dozens of obscure independent comics, with not a single Marvel or DC character, festooning the inside of a successful comix shop.