Imagine a tamer version of Aronofsky’s The Wrestler mixed with a micro-budget character study from the Watchmen. That’s the concept behind indie dramedy Superpowerless, which focuses on a washed-up superhero who has reached middle age and lost his powers.
Bob (Josiah Polhemus), formerly known as Captain Truth, was once the savior of San Francisco. Punches didn’t hurt him. His movements were unbelieveably fast. He could fly when he needed to. Now, he struggles to live an ordinary life sans superpowers with his supportive and increasingly-concerned girlfriend, Mimi (Amy Prosser). As a method of working through his midlife crisis, he begins to craft a memoir, exploring the loss of abilities that once made him extraordinary.
Given the volume of superhero fare out there, Superpowerless isn’t the first critique or revisionist take on the genre. However, it is the first I’ve seen that truly focuses on character and excludes action. You won’t find any over-the-top stunts, choreographed fight scenes, or digital city destruction. You will find a story about a man and a woman, each confronting the challenge of reaching 40 without a sense of purpose, wondering whatever happened to all those hopes and dreams.
The performances from the leads, Polhemus and Prosser, are generally on point. Even in moments where the dialogue might be leaning towards cheesy, they pull through the script with believability. They look and feel like everyday people. And it’s unusual to see women, especially when acting as the romantic interest of the lead, matching the age of their male counterpart. Without the naturalness of these actors, the film would not be as easy to watch as it was.
Unfortunately, the film’s uneven execution didn’t push the story forward as well as the main performers did. The visual style, often lacking consistency, was primarily composed of desaturated shots in the medium to close-up range. I imagine the intent was to narrow focus on the characters and portray a world drained of color, as the protagonist views his life as less vibrant than it once was. Instead, the film feels flat. The cinematography does little to evoke the inner turmoils of its characters or punctuate the story’s themes.
While I respect the premise and intent behind Superpowerless, I was disappointed by its safe screenplay that failed to deliver any surprises. The movie almost feels restrained. It never really digs into the depths of Bob’s sorrow in a way that resonates after the credits roll. Unlike The Wrestler, we never have a sinking moment where we’ve invested faith back into Bob only to have him disappoint us yet again. Unlike Watchmen, the film doesn’t meditate on themes of power and control. I wanted Superpowerless to truly pull back the mask and give us something to contemplate.
It wasn’t the superhero film I wanted, nor is it the one we deserve. But if you’re looking for a character exploration á la superhero midlife crisis, then Superpowerless might be just what you need.