One after another, four masked superheroes groggily wake up in some hopelessly remote speck on the map. Disoriented. Isolated. Alone. Surrounded by blood-spattered corpses. Costumes in tatters. Each with a bandage covering some fresh, circular, hackjob of a wound on his or her wrist. The game is underway.
Rickshaw (James Remar) was their Lex Luthor-type arch-nemesis once upon a time, with every last moustache-twirlingly nefarious scheme foiled over and over and over and
over by this team of costumed do-gooders. This time around, he's leveling out the odds. Rickshaw has stripped the heroes of their powers. Everyone in this sleepy little town has been strapped with homebrew explosives and scattered all over the place. As games go, the rules are pretty simple: in each "level", the heroes are faced with one challenge or another. Complete the challenge, and the hostages go free. If not...well, kaboom. Their spirits are crushed. Their numbers dwindle. All superheroes must die.
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My kneejerk reaction to the opening moments of All Superheroes Must Die was that it's cut from the same unrelentingly grim and gritty cloth as DC's "New 52" reboot. I mean, before the counter ticks past the two minute mark, there's already decapitation, disembowelment, and a staggering body count. I braced myself for some masturbatorily gruesome dark-for-the-sake-of-being-dark superhero deconstruction, and instead I found an incredibly engaging story about perseverance and heroism. The core of All Superheroes Must Die isn't "sally forth and save the town!" or "we must succeed or these many hapless innocents will die!" This isn't their town. The victims are, by and large, nameless and faceless; hell, aside from one, they have bags over their heads. They're not people...they're trembling collateral damage waiting to happen. Rickshaw could've just fired a few shots into these four costumed heroes' temples, but that sort of vengeance is only part of what he's after. No, he wants to utterly destroy them: shatter all traces of hope or optimism, strip away everything that makes them good, bat around the mice in a cage when there's no chance of victory or escape in sight... That is the core conflict throughout All Superheroes Must Die. It's not about who wins or who loses, or who lives or who dies; it's ultimately about holding onto that key part of one's self.
...and if I'm making All Superheroes Must Die sound like some preachy story with a quadruple-underlined moral message, then...well, it's not. I'm just trying to say that the darkness serves a purpose, unlike the gratuitous, double-digit-IQ dismemberment in comics like "Infinite Crisis". I'm thoroughly impressed with All Superheroes Must Die on every level. For one, filmmaker Jason Trost has a remarkable sense of economy. The movie begins in media res, ensuring that the audience is initially as disoriented as the four costumed heroes on-screen. There are no opening credits to get in the way. Exposition
is kept to a minimum, and though All Superheroes Must Die does dole out some lengthy flashbacks, they emphasize characterization and relationships rather than reams of plot. The movie refuses to stop dead in its tracks and explain things, and yet it's all there if you're listening. I immediately got a sense of who these heroes are and what their personalities are like, even if I never had the chance to see Charge, The Wall, The Shadow, or Cutthroat with their powers fully intact.
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All Superheroes Must Die was shot on a microscopic budget, and yet those limitations rarely intrude. Stripping away the superpowers is an inspired way of working within those confines, and it also makes the movie feel more grounded, dramatic, and real as well. Trost and the rest of his cast do a tremendous job conveying the sense that these superhuman abilities were once there even if I've never had an opportunity to see them myself. Anything that would otherwise be viewed as a weakness is ultimately molded into a strength, from the indeterminate era in which it's set all the way down to the weathered, homemade look to the costumes. With a runtime of 78 minutes, All Superheroes Must Die is a surgical strike, not weighed down by anything even a little bit unnecessary. I'm also impressed by how deftly All Superheroes Must Die balances grave reality with four-color exaggeration. The movie makes it a point to make the scenario feel grounded and that the four fallen heroes come across as people, but you still have a cackling nutjob with a flamethrower, a trampoline cagematch with a tattooed strongman, and James Remar gnawing on the scenary as the deliriously over-the-top mastermind behind it all.
Reviews of All Superheroes Must Die have generally been brutal, but...whatever. Maybe it's because I'm a ravenous, lifelong comic book fanatic and I'm looking at the movie with a different set of eyes the most. While it's true that sometimes the seams show given the incredibly low budget, some of the performances are a little spotty, and a certain tolerance for violently shaky camerawork is required, I absolutely am not bothered by any of that. An inspired premise, remarkable craftsmanship, a willingness to go places that no $180 million superhero epic is willing to tread...I love All Superheroes Must Die, and it's a movie well-worth discovering on Blu-ray. Recommended.
Don't let the opening moments of All Superheroes Must Die throw you off. The first couple minutes are underlit and excessively soft, yeah, but it's not all that much of a concern once the movie really gets underway. Despite not being startlingly sharp or overflowing with fine detail, I'm generally happy with the way All Superheroes Must Die has turned out in high-def, with one glaring exception:
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All Superheroes Must Die is teeming with some of the nastiest moiré effects I've ever come across on Blu-ray. Just about any fine pattern -- curtains, grilles, masks, you name it -- winds up looking violently distorted. I'm guessing that All Superheroes Must Die was shot on DSLRs, which tend to have problems with aliasing and moiré patterns in their video modes, and that'd mean that all this dates back to the original photography. The texture, somewhat flat contrast, and limited detail are also closer in appearance to what I'm used to seeing in DSLR-sourced indies as well, furthering that suspicion. I can't really blame the Blu-ray release for any of that, but since I kind of write these reviews with videophiles in mind, it can't be ignored either. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
Presented at its
original aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and encoded with AVC, All Superheroes Must Die swoops onto a single-layer disc.
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All Superheroes Must Die boasts a 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that doesn't take the most obvious path. The movie is one round after another of bone-shattering brawls and thunderous explosions, and yet the sound design doesn't make particularly aggressive use of the surrounds. The rear channels are far more interested in establishing an unnerving sense of atmosphere than they are in ratcheting up the action. The end result may be somewhat subdued but is wildly effective. Gunfire is infrequent but more impactful than any other capes-and-cowls movie I've seen, and the slew of explosions coax a healthy snarl from the subwoofer. The reproduction of the dialogue is unremarkable but emerges well enough, never struggling for placement in the mix. Very well done.
The only other audio option is a set of English (SDH) subs.
The Final Word
All Superheroes Must Die has the opportunity to experiment in a way that a capes-and-cowls flick with a nine-figure budget really can't. Lean, brutal, astonishingly engaging, and very much Recommended.