This review is part of my coverage of the 2011 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, taking place October 20-27 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For more information, check out their website. For my full coverage go here.
Four superheroes wake up in an isolated small town rigged to explode if they don’t follow the rules of a vengeful villain’s (James Remar) homicidal obstacle course. Charge (Jason Trost), Cutthroat (Lucas Till), Shadow (Sophie Merkley), and The Wall (Lee Valmassy) were once a crimefighting team before going their separate ways due to ego struggles and relationship drama, but now they find they must either work together or kill each other if they want to get out alive and save the various innocent hostages tied up around the town.
Vs has a really solid premise. I enjoy dark superhero stories, and this one definitely has a Watchmen-esque take on things as the characters’ relationships are explored and their very human flaws and uncertainties are given focus instead of their superpowers (they’ve been injected with a power-muffling serum) or witty quips. Everyone is expendable, which is also nice for a less predictable story. Unfortunately the execution doesn’t live up to the promise of the set-up.
With uneven performances, some questionable narrative choices, weak characterization, and a tendency to take itself too seriously, Vs just doesn’t really work for me. I wanted to like it because I think the premise is so promising, but wound up being very disappointed. The cheesy flashbacks and stilted dialogue were unintentionally laughable at points, and while the effects are decent the action isn’t very engaging. I’ll spare you my seething diatribe about the incredibly incompetent, whiny, useless female superhero “Shadow”, who gets to stare blankly at the boys while wearing high heels and waiting to be ordered around, but suffice to say her character alone is enough to forfeit any respect I might have for this film.
James Remar looks like he’s having a fun time as the cocky bad guy and Lucas Till is pretty, but there’s little to really recommend in this film. It’s mostly wasted opportunities with a few showy moments. It strives for affecting superhero drama but manages to lay on the cheese with a dated Fantastic Four-esque dynamic and unconvincing characters. I would actually love to see someone remake this with a bigger budget and stronger script. I’m not trying to dump on the filmmakers here, I recognize that a lot of hard work and dedication went into making this film, the execution just didn’t work for me.
But seriously, are we really not past these stupid, infantile, one-dimensional depictions of women in superhero movies yet? It’s one thing when they’re being adapted from 60’s comic books but this is a new character written for the screen in a 2011 release. I continue to be infuriated by the lack of any decent female superheroes, it just seems like we should really be over this by now. Is Tank Girl all I’m ever going to get?
Pair This Movie With: Well I didn’t really care for the Watchmen movie but maybe if you like that you’d like this too? Long double feature, though. I would recommend to instead read Uncanny X-Men #123 with Arcade when he traps the team in a high-concept obstacle course. Good times.