written by Dayna Abel
I have written before, at great length, about my views on the modern take on superheroes. I grew up around my father’s collection of Bronze and Silver Age comics, and it should be no great shock to know that my preference in superheroes trends more towards actual heroism rather than the grim-and-gritty fare that’s so pervasive in modern comics.
Call me old-fashioned or naïve if you like, but I like to come out of a superhero story feeling hopeful. Inspired to do good. Not, you know, tallying up property damage or readjusting my eyes to actual color. When I saw the Batman v Superman trailer last month, my instant reaction was revulsion at its sheer bleakness. There was no hope or joy. I saw plenty of super, but no hero. Hope and joy, something to aspire to…isn’t that what superheroes are supposed to give us?
Look no further than The Posthuman Project.
Directed by Kyle Roberts and written by Sterling Gates and Matthew Price, The Posthuman Project is the story of five teenagers on the cusp of graduation, wanting to get together one last time before being scattered by adulthood. They decide to climb Mount Dominic, “conquer the mountain,” but they are hit with a blast of “zero energy” that imbues them with superpowers.
This is an indie film, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell. I was constantly amazed by how good the movie looked, from the bright colors to the excellent cinematography to the “how the hell did they afford this” fantastic special effects.
The cast is solid, with particularly good performances by Kyle Whalen as Denny, our lead protagonist with the power to heal; Josh Bonzie as Adam the jock who gains teleportation; and Lindsay Sawyer as Gwen, who can shoot fire from her hands. This isn’t meant to diminish Collin Place’s performance as Denny’s younger brother Archie or Alexandra Harris as his ex-girlfriend Lisa, but those three stood out to me. Denny and Archie’s mother is a non-presence, and their father has been missing for months. Denny remains stoic and (mostly) responsible, while Archie’s frustration and anger and helplessness provide a counterpoint.
What struck me as true was the obvious love and care the teens have for one another. The friendships felt natural and sincere, and they felt like a group of high schoolers wanting to test their readiness for the real world. They all care for one another, and in moments of crisis, they’re there for one another without even thinking about it…even before they get superpowers. In the age of “Do you bleed? …You will” it’s a much-needed ray of light in superhero stories.
This isn’t to say that it’s a perfect film. There are some pretty glaring rough spots, first and foremost Jason Leyva’s performance as Denny and Archie’s Uncle William. While the kids gave a good, natural performance, Leyva feels as though he was directed to be as over-the-top as possible. It’s tonally jarring – you’ve got Heroes on one hand and Batman Forever on the other. I actually found myself wincing at the performance and I’m still baffled by the inconsistency.
The pacing of the film is also inconsistent. Originally, The Posthuman Project was developed as a twelve-part webseries, and unfortunately the poor stitching shows. The “chapter titles” and comic book-inspired chapter breaks are neat, but tend to interrupt the story. We have a pretty cool teen drama for two-thirds of the movie, and we only get to see awesome superpowered stuff in the last third, which feels as though it was rushed. It’s entirely possible there were budgetary restraints, but the special effects are so impressive that I was dying for more. Adam’s Nightcrawler-esque fight scene with William’s henchman Finch was one of my favorite moments, the teleportation effect absolutely flawless. There’s a terrible feeling of “wait, that’s all we get?” after the movie’s climax that makes you feel like the film would have benefited from another ten or fifteen minutes.
The character of Lisa gets short shrift. She’s actually extraneous, her powers only manifesting once while she’s unconscious and then in a very confusing way in the final shot. She serves no real purpose in the movie other than to be Denny’s motivation, but it’s nothing that couldn’t have been removed entirely and refocused on Denny’s relationship with his brother. There isn’t much focus on family in superhero tales, but there’s a dearth of agencyless love interests.
There are some line-readings that are over-exaggerated (“You’re! Not! Dad!”, “What could possibly go wrong?” and literally every word out of William’s mouth, including “and” and “the.”), but the dialogue for the most part is sharp. The scene with Archie trying to get Lisa’s bag into the Jeep and Denny teasing him made me laugh out loud. Denny and Lisa’s exchange with the “cross my heart and hope to fly” line was good as well, if a bit over-foreshadowy in the GUESS WHAT HER SUPERPOWER’S GOING TO BE department. There’s also a lot of repetitiveness in the first half that really could have been excised. I could have done without the constant “hey, we’re graduating soon, let’s climb a rock” lines.
There’s also a flashback in the middle of a scene that is incredibly out of place and pulled me completely out of the story. It’s a symptom of the biggest flaw of the movie, which is its pacing. We don’t get superpowers until the 45-minute mark, and then they’re barely utilized. Again, I feel as though there could have easily been ten or fifteen more minutes in the back half to really showcase more of the amazing SFX and to give each of the teens more to do – or in poor Lisa’s case, anything to do that isn’t laying there.
But even with all these criticisms, I kept coming back to the fact that I genuinely liked the film. There’s so much heart to The Posthuman Project that I found myself wanting to immediately watch it again. This is a movie that you can watch with anyone of any age and not feel like you need to apologize for it. The heart and the hope inherent in the movie is something I’ve been starving for. I’m not alone in this; judging by the fan reaction to and success of Guardians Of the Galaxy, Ms. Marvel and the TV adaptation of The Flash, there is a huge audience for an alternative to SUPERGRIMBATDARK. This is highly recommended for that audience. There’s a little bit of sequel bait after the credits, and I do want to see where life takes Denny and his friends. Wherever they end up, I can say one thing with absolute certainty:
They’re going to be super.
The Posthuman Project is available now for rent or purchase on VOD platforms.
Dayna can be reached on Twitter @queenanthai.