Wednesday, November 24, 2010


When you hear the words “superhero movie” you probably think of elaborate costumes and machines of awesome power but shaky scientific feasibility. A caped army of one wading through a swarm of goons without taking a single hit. Battles with special effects that cost more than you’ll ever earn. Mirageman contains none of those things. None.

Yet it some ways, it’s better than movies that do.

Musica por EL Rocco?? Dang...
Maco Gutierrez. Bouncer. Fitness freak. Toilet unclogger.  His parents were killed by the same criminals who raped his younger brother, leaving the younger Gutierrez nearly catatonic. On the way to work one night he comes upon a house being robbed, knocks out one of the crooks, takes his mask and knocks out the rest before “disappearing like a mirage.” Maco’s brother sees the story on TV and is soon up and about, mimicking the masked hero’s martial arts. Seeing the effect his quick bit of heroics had, Maco decides to give this “superhero” thing a try…

He’s got the tortured backstory and hand-to-hand combat skills to make for a good crimefighter, but not the loads of money, the scientific and detective skills, or police or media connections. Or even the creativity. He hits the mall to find a good mask and utility belt. And even though he comes up with numerous costume designs it’s Maco’s little brother who finally comes up with something cool and functional.

When Mirageman tackles his first bunch of thugs (right after looking like he’s about to give up his patrol and go home) he leaves a note with his email address so people can ask for his help. After disappearing like a mirage for the second time he finds out somebody stole his clothes and taxis don’t give rides to people in ski masks. He ends up hitching a ride home on the back of a garbage truck. And when Mirageman responds to his first email, it turns out it was sent by a gang who just wanted to see if he’d really show up.

This must be a parody, you say. What else could it be with a description like that? Well, no. This is a movie about what it would be like if someone decided to become a superhero in the real world. Mirageman’s pretty good at what he does, but fights like an actual person, trying to take down each opponent as quickly as possible while sucking a few hits himself and acting like it afterward. And without lots of pointless flips and whatnot to look cool.

Further evidence of Mirageman’s humanity is supplied when he tries to move up from street thugs. When our hero tries to break up a ring of pedophile kidnappers he’s caught in the act, gets the beating of his life, and only escapes because one of the guys sent to dump him in the river is actually an undercover cop.

It’s not enough that reality made this upstanding citizen its chew toy, oh no. The mass media takes their shot next. Mirageman gets a message that the nice reporter lady who inspired his name has been kidnapped and it’s curtains for her if he doesn’t show up for a fight. It turns out it was hoax to get footage of Mirageman in action, and the nice reporter lady is in on it and tries to unmask him on camera.

Maco’s feeling so betrayed he almost does a swan dive off a building until the cop who saved him before saves him again. The badge-toting Samaritan basically tells Maco he was naïve for thinking people wouldn’t treat Mirageman the way they do any novelty, shoving cameras up in its face and latching onto every negative aspect.

And yet, Mirageman is in a position to do good no one else is. Sidekick wannabe Pseudo Robin isn’t the only person in the city feeling inspired by the presence of someone willing to say “Enough” and give crime a karate kick in the face.

Not Robin. Not even a reasonable facsimile.
For his second crack at the pedophile kidnappers he loads up with smoke bombs, throwing knives and bracelets with pop-out blades. Even armed to the gills like this, can a superhero really make a difference in this cynical world? The third act of the movie feels a lot more like the climax of a “real” superhero movie than the one Mirageman had been up to now, but it gets back on track by the end.

Mirageman is a fine superhero deconstruction movie. If anything it feels more like a documentary about the rise and fall of a rock star. It’s far more concerned with what the character is than who he is, and the story is more what happens to him than what he makes happen. Maco hardly talks, even emotes, at all throughout the movie. There’s no wires, no camera tricks and no computer-generated cartoons there meant to make you lean back in your chair and go “Woah!” The only time anyone in the movie fights like it’s a movie is during Mirageman’s “rescue” of the kidnapped reporter, which they know is going to be televised.

And you know what? That all-around simplicity is exactly what makes it a breath of fresh air in a genre that has explosions, car chases and one-liners coming at the audience a mile a minute. Mirageman doesn’t have a flashy archenemy; there’s the head of the kidnappers who receives the flashiest demise, but he appears two whole times and isn’t even given a name. This isn’t the superhero movie you’re used to, but it’s not supposed to be. It tells a still somewhat fantastic but much more down to earth story. Not that it isn’t goofy at times too; the love theme of Mirageman is David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?”

Maco is a kind of hero I wish we’d see more of: the kind who sees a terrible wrong and sets out to fix it because he happens to be better equipped than most to do so. Nothing wrong with characters like Batman, Spider-Man and Wolverine who have horribly tragic backstories, or the Iron Man of the movies who loves the limelight. Complex characters with relatable motivations are great when they’re done right. But what’s wrong with fighting crime because it’s the right thing to  do?

The movie industry keeps setting the bar higher and higher, but a little Chilean movie proves there’s something to be said for getting back to basics too.

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