You know, it isn’t often here at Rogue Cinema that I receive a screener for a film that adorns a glowing recommendation from a critic who is as acclaimed, as well as stuffy and uptight, as Roger Ebert. In fact, it seems equally as rare that such a film would feature both endorsements from Ebert as well as bloodydisgusting.com, but Boy Wonder appears to be a film that is very much infatuated with breaking the mold. Made in just the right period, with a very alluring concoction of ideas and themes that are incredibly relevant due to their mainstream popularity, Boy Wonder is the little film that could. Taking its title from the world of comic books, Boy Wonder is a mix of comic mythology as well as the gritty realism of vigilante cinema. A dark movie that looks to impose the "superhero" mentality into a modern and realistic setting, this isn’t a movie with the daring heroics of Christopher Nolan’s Batman, nor is it the melodramatic acid trip of Watchmen. Instead, one could see Boy Wonder as being influenced by both the same line of realistic comic adaptations, such as the previously mentioned films, as well as a return to the world of vigilante justice shown in the Death Wish series. As with any film that tackles either of these subjects, not all audiences will agree on the end results, but I think few can deny the talent of newcomer director Michael Morrissey.
Sean (Caleb Steinmeyer) is a high school senior that certainly sticks out in a crowd. He makes straight-As, doesn’t hang out with friends and his only recreation seems to be training at a muay thai boxing gym. There is a reason for this training, however, and it isn’t simply to stay in shape. When Sean was a small child, his mother was murdered right in front of his eyes. In the years following, he would often visit the local police station and comb through mugshots in order to find the man responsible. Sean developed a vigilante streak during this time, and recently he has finally let his anger loose. He combs the streets at night trying to find evil do’ers who have slipped away from the hands of justice. Leaving a line of bodies along the way, Detective Teresa Ames (Zulay Henao) meets Sean at the police station but doesn’t put him together as the killer who she is currently searching for. As the bodies start to pile up, and she grows to know Sean more and more, things start to become clear. Will Sean push his luck too far, and will he find the man responsible for his mother’s death?
What I think impresses me the most about Boy Wonder is how it manages to establish many different tones, but gives them room to breathe and develop in a natural way. Although it would be much easier for the filmmakers, this is not a film that finds the one tone that it does very well so that it may duplicate it for the entirety of the movie. A lot of movies like this would delve solely into the somber and moody content of the story, and along the way they would disavow anything that might potentially lighten the mood. This idea usually proves to be smart movie-making, and something I more often than not would recommend to independent filmmakers. The reason I say this is because so many people seem to do it wrong. Their comedy, their humor or their quirkiness simply becomes too much for the content. If you’re discussing murder, vigilantism and a child whose mental state has been forever frozen and destroyed: it is hard to crack jokes without seeming unkind. These filmmakers, however, know precisely how to mix the ingredients in order to create a film that is much more well rounded than it has any business being. Featuring scenes that are chock full of witty banter, there are moments within Boy Wonder that left me genuinely smiling from ear to ear. The scenes between Teresa and her less than scrupulous partner are the ones that immediately pop into my mind. Every scene between these two proves to be utterly gold, but it doesn’t detract from the intense drama of the movie. Where the "dumb" cop and "smart" cop thing seems to have been done to death, this film manages to make it work. You don’t expect this sort of entertainment when you pop in a title such as this one, but to find that sort of development was such a fantastic surprise that it immediately became one of my favorite aspects of the film.