“How I Became a Superhero (Comment je suis devenu super-héros)” is a French twist on a common Hollywood theme — superhumans, living among us, minor celebrities with all the human foibles.
It’s not as serious minded as “Watchmen” or “Heroes,” not particularly lightweight and cute, either. But like the Russian “Major Grom: Plague Doctor,” it’s a curiosity, an example of how other cultures tackle a genre American cinema has beaten to death.
Actor turned first-time feature director Douglas Attal’s film is more tactile and lived-in than most Marvel or DC movies. It’s basically a police procedural with a superhuman mystery as the subject of its investigation. Occasional burst of effects aside, it doesn’t go full-on superheroic until late in the third act.
Somebody is kidnapping Parisians with powers. And Detective Moreau (Pio Marmaï), long on the job, almost as long on a losing streak, is given the case. He may be saddled with a no-nonsense partner (Vimala Pons) now, but back in the day, he was department “liaison” for the Pack Royal, a team of heroic super-heroes who helped him solve crimes of “supercriminality.”
That’s the sort of “super” folks we see the most of, here. “Mr. Cold? Could I get a selfie with you?” celebrities, convicts, goons and headcases. Moreau will lean on his old friend, time/shifting Monte Carlo (veteran French character actor Benoît Poelvoorde), who had to retire due to Parkinson’s, and Callista, the clairvoyant superhuman (Leïla Bekhti) who runs a sort of after school/keep’em out of trouble program for superhuman teens.
Yes, that sounds a lot like “X-Men,” troubled superhumans causing trouble. But there’s no Professor Xavier here to show them their better selves.
What’s more, the streets are flooded with drugs which give people brief blasts of the bad sort of superhuman “powers.” A string of increasingly-deadly arsons is what our cop duo is investigating — at first. But their main suspects, and other people with powers are disappearing, too.
The cops bicker in the usual ways, and do the “good cop/bad cop” thing as if they think it’ll work, although crooks have seen that in the movies for 100 years.
I found the entire enterprise just a tad above “boring,” lacking much in the way of action or urgency or connection with the characters. But eventually it settles in and we get moments of mild excitement and genuine pathos.
And the film being French, it manages the sexiest superhero scene since “Spider-Man.”
MPA Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence
Cast: Pio Marmaï, Vimala Pons, Leïla Bekhti, Swann Arlaud and Benoît Poelvoorde
Credits: Directed by Douglas Attal, script by Cédric Anger, Melisa Godet, Charlotte Sanson, Douglas Attal and Gérald Bronner, based on the graphic novel by Gérald Bronner. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:41