#NotAllSuperheroes: Superhero films that break the mould

Gautham Shenoy March 24, 2017 8 min

Not all superheroes wear capes. Not all superheroes have super powers either. And not all ‘superhero’ movies are big-budget blockbusters and CGI extravaganzas. In the same vein, not all superhero movies are based on Marvel and DC comics only, or any comic book for that matter.

So this week on New Worlds Weekly, let’s turn the spotlight on ‘superhero movies’ that aren’t your usual superhero fare. Five movies that I would like to draw your attention to, in case you haven’t already seen them. Each enjoyable, thought provoking and laughter inducing in its own way. Featuring superheroes that aren’t what we have come to expect.

Alter Egos

Imagine if Lois Lane didn’t know that her boyfriend Clark Kent is actually Superman, and she’s cheating on Clark by having a passionate affair on the side with Superman. That’s the situation that Brenden finds himself in, and this makes him very jealous of his own alter ego Fridge, the instant-ice-making superhero. Yes, he sees the superhero as the alter-ego, not the other way around as usually happens. Helping him deal with his emotional issues is his friend C-Thru, with both having to deal with budget cuts for superheroes, in a time where the people have had enough of super-shenanigans.

The most low budget movie in this list, Alter Egos is a classic indie movie, with the biggest known name attached to it being John Lennon’s son, Sean Lennon, who plays ‘Electric Death’ and scored the music for the film.

Where there are superheroes, there must be supervillains too (and vice versa), and Alter Egos has one too; one with a tragic backstory link to Fridge, whose emotional distress in turn puts a dangerous mission involving the villain under risk. Clocking in at just over an hour, Alter Egos is a leisurely break from all the breakneck pace that typifies superhero movies, and with a nicely written script that delivers enough humour and astute observations to keep you going. Directed by Jordan Galland, this is one movie that punches way above its (very obviously) limited resources.


By far the most poignant film on this list, the Peter Stebbings-directed Defendor stars Woody Harrelson as Arthur, a simple construction worker who takes on the persona of the titular superhero at night. Defendor is on a mission to seek and destroy his nemesis Captain Industry, the person he holds responsible for his mother’s death. Along the way he gets attached to a homeless drug addict he rescues and this propels the story along, while adding a lot of emotional depth to the comic book fare making it a very human story.

Woody Harrelson’s superb performance as a kind-hearted and simple-minded vigilante, whose mind has been warped, so to speak, by growing up on a steady diet of comics (which his grandfather used to teach him how to read) steals the show, ably supported by a cast that includes Thor and 2 Broke Girls‘ Kat Dennings. The writing is spot-on with musings on what defines, or makes a superhero; just take a look at this exchange between Arthur and the girl he rescues:

Arthur: Why do you smoke that stuff?
Kat: Why do you dress up like a superhero?
Arthur: Because superheroes aren’t stupid. They’re not afraid. And when I’m Defendor I’m not Arthur anymore. I’m a million times better than Arthur.
Kat: Well, when I smoke that stuff, I’m not afraid or stupid. I’m not me either. It’s the same.


Written and directed by Guardians of the Galaxy-director James Gunn, Super is part black comedy, part drama, part weird, many parts whimsical and fun. Our hero is a washed-up, depressed, delusional nobody called Frank whose only achievements in life have been getting married to Liv Tyler (or rather, the character she plays) and pointing a police officer chasing a purse snatcher in the right direction. When his wife leaves him for a super-cool strip club owner (played by Kevin Bacon), he has a vision wherein he is touched by God and meets the superhero The Holy Avenger who informs him that God wants to be a superhero. It is then that Frank decides to become….Crimson Bolt!

Unleashing his own brand of justice, he soon finds himself in the media spotlight and gaining public appreciation, just as much as he gets beaten up. Joining him in his misadventures is X-Men’s Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) who plays a comics store employee, and who ends up not just becoming his super-sidekick, but also falling in lust with Frank (leading up to a slightly disturbing scene, be warned!). It’s a bittersweet revenge movie too, with Crimson Bolt taking on the drug dealer and his gang, with his sidekick, and what his mission to rescue his lady love leads to, and the way it ends.


This movie surely tops this list in being most familiar to us all. Starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan before he lost his mojo and rediscovered it recently with Split, the thematic sequel to Unbreakable, it is at once an origin story, a take on superhero archetypes and comic book tropes – but wrapped up in everyday details.

Unbreakable was ranked #4 in the Top Ten superhero movies of all time by Time magazine in 2011 and in Quentin Tarantino’s list of his Top 20 movies since 1992. This movie may have done better if it wasn’t promoted as a psychological thriller with supernatural elements, in opposition to Shyamalan’s desire to market it as a comic book movie. An opinion endorsed by Tarantino, who in fact thought they should’ve simply said about the movie, “What if Superman was here on earth, and didn’t know he was Superman?”

The movie itself is about a comic-book dealer called Elijah (Jackson) who suffers from a rare disorder that makes his bones extremely fragile and very prone to breakage. A believer in comic book stories, he wonders if there is someone at the opposite end of the human spectrum who, unlike him, is unbreakable. And he finds that person in David (Willis). And as they write in bad, lazy reviews, how Elijah convinces David that he is a superhero, how David discovers what his powers are, how he uses them and how it all leads up to a great climax form the crux of the story.

Mystery Men

Invisible Boy, whose amazing superpower is – obviously – to make himself invisible! BUT…only if no one is looking at him (including himself). The Shoveler, who possesses a shovel and the amazing ability of, well, Above-Average Shovelling Skills. The Spleen, with the power of potent flatulence and the ability to fart at will. The Blue Rajah with his throwing weapons (basically cutlery – forks mostly; sometimes, spoons). Mr. Furious, who – when angered sufficiently – gains a bit of extra strength and slightly quicker reflexes. These are just some of the superheroes that make up the team, Mystery Men (featured in the lead image above). Never, ever in human history has this much superpower been so negligible!

They have always lived under the shadow of Captain Amazing, Champion City’s foremost superhero who has put all villains behind bars or in an asylum and is currently jobless and fast losing his corporate sponsors. Needing a super-villain to fight, Captain Amazing (in his alter ego as a high-profile lawyer) gets Casanova Frankenstein released. The plan backfires and Casanova Frankenstein — reunited with his minions, including the Disco Boys — is planning to unleash a terrifying weapon upon the world. And with Captain Amazing out of action, it is up to the Mystery Men to save the day! Of course after some superhero tryouts to get more superheroes on the roster. And with some help from a mad scientist and his gadgets (played by Tom Waits!).

Mystery Men is the out-and-out funny movie on this list, though some people would call it juvenile and silly, just like they call all comics and superhero movies juvenile and silly. Even with a cast that included Eddie Izzard, Ben Stiller, Greg Kinnear, Geoffrey Rush, Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo and lots more, this movie was as underwhelming at the box office as Ballerina-Man – in his sleeveless vest & pink tutu crime-fighting costume and slightly-above-average ballet skills – was, at the Mystery Men superhero tryouts. But since when has box office performance been a sign of the greatness of a movie or a signifier of its cult status later? Enjoy this movie for its gags, dialogue, the parody, the intentional silliness, its entertainment value and the mixed metaphors of Mr. Furious (Sample this: ‘I need a compass to show me which way the wind shines.’). If the movie could speak for itself, it would use the immortal words of The Sphinx, a hero who trains the Mystery Men, “We are number one! All others are number two, or lower.”

So that’s it for this list. Hope you enjoy these movies as much as I did. Happy watching! And I’ll see you next Friday, as always with yet another edition of New Worlds Weekly. Live long and prosper!


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