Many of you may be familiar with All Superheroes Must Die, the independently-produced no-budget feature film from Jason Trost (writer/director/actor of The FP and Wet and Reckless. See our interview here). Despite its lack of Hollywood-level production values, the film was picked up for distribution and heavily promoted, perhaps riding high on the fumes of the superhero film boom. This is ironic given that ASMD offers very dark commentary on the genre of superhero film, and doubly ironic when you consider that its creator never really thought it would be seen by the public at large.
“…it was never meant to come out.” Trost explained in a conversation via email. “It was a $20,000 movie, less (budget) than most college short films. We made it for fun, as a test, then somebody bought it and distributed the shit out of it. Had I known it was going to go under the microscope like that and compared to the likes of The Avengers, sure I would've done some things a little differently….”
The film was plagued with production issues – the original 20 day shooting schedule (already an impossibly tight window) was shortened to only 15 days at the last minute, crew members no-showed and one of the cast went full-blown diva and contributed a less-than-stellar performance. It’s only through Trost’s tenacity that the film was ever finished, and unfortunately the stress and strain sometimes show. It’s fair to say that ASMD is a flawed film, as has been noted by many critics and reviewers, and Trost doesn’t deny this; “I will be very honest, I find All Superheroes Must Die very flawed. I can never explain how screwed over I was on that movie….” That said, knowing that he was often forced, the day of filming, to rip pages and pages of script from production due to the cramped schedule and other constraints, the plot holes become understandable. And honestly, what’s there is fairly remarkable.
This is a flick that strikes at the dark heart of the superhero film. It challenges the celebrity inherent in costumed crimefighting, lays bare the consequences of power and illustrates responsibility and complicity for collateral damage. Most importantly and effectively, it’s a discussion of ego and how ego informs and shapes heroic action. While these themes have been discussed in other mediums, particularly comics and graphic novels, they are rarely given serious treatment in film. When approached, it’s always with humor and tongue-in-cheek (Kick-Ass, Super, etc.) Those films are great, but they also typically take place in some version of reality, where superpowers do not necessarily exist. What All Superheroes Must Die accomplished was to engage these themes in the realm of the superpowered, to place the superhero in an impossibly desperate situation, where even “doing the right thing” means that innocent people must die, where even superpowers aren’t enough to save everyone.
Though there is an exaggerated Silver Age comic-book presence to the proceedings and particularly to the fight scenes and villain encounters, the film’s primary tone is one of harsh consequence. It’s the kind of cold treatment of death that you typically only encounter in war film or crime stories. The main villain, Rickshaw (James Remar), is the kind of psychopath that would be equally at home playing the lead in a torture/horror film. The heroes, Charge (Jason Trost), Cutthroat (Lucas Till), Shadow (Sophie Merkley) and The Wall (Lee Valmassy) are all deeply personally conflicted. There are internal struggles and awkward personal dynamics amongst them, and their reactions to the events that proceed mirror the kind of shock that one might encounter in combat.
As the film comes to a head, it really focuses in on what it means to be a hero. More than just presenting us with the idea that a hero should be a squeaky-clean paragon of moral virtue, or the opposite, offering up some cliché anti-hero bad-boy who doesn’t play by the rules, we get a complex character who draws from both the hero and anti-hero wells being faced with an impossible decision. What plays out is brutal, but effective, despite the many obstacles faced by the production of the film. What it’s missing is backstory and fill-in for those previously mentioned plot holes.
And that’s where the sequel and comic series come in.
Trost is currently working to get a comic based on All Superheroes Must Die off the ground to fill in and flesh out the story and character backgrounds.
With the upcoming sequel, A World Without Superheroes, Trost hopes to have the freedom to finally deliver the film he’s had in mind all along. “A World Without Superheroes is a movie that comes from a positive place, a place of love. This is the movie I actually wanted to make. I've been thinking about this story in particular for almost the better part of a decade.” To realize this, he’s turning to crowdfunding via Indiegogo to give fans and supporters a chance to help out and also an opportunity to pick up some sweet merch or even to be a part of the production itself.
The Indigogo campaign outlines some bold challenges to the genre:
“How do we make an ‘Original’ superhero movie?
– Number one: We stop making The Dark Knight over and over again. The Dark Knight was great, but it's time to move on. Almost a decade of the same superhero movie is getting tiresome.
– No more themeless repetitive noise soundtracks. Remember when you could actually hum the theme song to a superhero movie? It's time to bring that back. I want to achieve that by bringing in an indie singer songwriter who actually knows what music is.
– Make the hard choices. Show the consequences and impact that studios would never show. And I'm not talking about more blood or F words. I'm talking about themes like having PTSD and the environmental impact actually being a superhero would have. I want to see what would actually happen if one day you found out there was a superhero in your life.
– No more origin stories. We get it. Somebody got bit by a spider or something blah blah blah there went an hour of the movie. I think we get it by now. There's no problem with expanding the mythology, which we will. But let's keep pushing the story forward.
– We made a movie, love it or hate it, with the first film that hadn't been seen yet in superhero films for $20,000. Imagine what we could do with three times that?”
Trost is undeniably passionate about this project, and wants to expand on those things that made All Superheroes Must Die an indelible film experience while addressing all of that film’s major concerns. “This is the movie I wanted to make. I have to make this movie because ASMD wasn't my best shot at superheroes. I want to prove to everyone and to myself what I can actually do. I was cheated. It's like if you were just doodling a drawing at the dinner table that you didn't really care about, then in the morning you find out your parents went and sent that drawing into an art contest. It's like ‘No! That was just a doodle, Mom! Why the hell did you show that to everyone?’ This time I'm not making a doodle.”
You can view the Indiegogo campaign for A World Without Superheroes here:
At some point in the future he will likely appear on one of those shows that details how a person's addiction to purchasing and consuming media has ruined their life. Until then, his obsessions include sci-fi, horror and cartoons.
He can be found tweeting acerbically at @GentlemanSin.