The French have a long tradition of comics and comic-books, often aimed at adults, but they favour erotic fantasy and science fiction over American-style action comics and costumed heroes.
So a Netflix movie from France called How I Became A Superhero was intriguing.
From the start, the tone of How I Became A Superhero is very French urban – more a gritty cop-film than a caped crusader action-adventure.
We meet Moreau, a disillusioned cop in a rundown apartment with a scruffy cat. He’s late for work again.
Moreau has a specific beat – so-called super-criminals. This is a world where a small, not very select group have certain powers, though it’s flattering to call them “superpowers”.
Moreau was once a liaison officer for a ragtag trio of superheroes called The Pack Royal before they broke up. But now – super-crime not being what it was – his boss assigns him a non-super partner, Cecile.
Cecile is prickly, and unimpressed by Moreau’s experiences. These days, superheroes are old hat and their own worst enemies.
They either end up as alcoholic has-beens or, worse, minor celebrities on TV.
But suddenly, super-criminality is back, or at least criminality using super-powers. There’s a new drug on the market that temporarily gives people abilities – like a kid at high school now able to throw flames at the school bullies.
Moreau impresses Cecile by handling the flame-throwing kid with ease. He clearly knows his way round people with superpowers. But who’s kidnapping minor superheroes and villains and creating drugs from them?
Unbeknownst to his bosses, Moreau is still in contact with the surviving members of The Pack Royal – the aging Monte Carlo, and Callista who quit the superhero game to start a gym for troubled youth. But can you ever completely quit the superhero game?
It’s very French – more Jean-Luc Godard’s Paris Metro than Superman’s Metropolis – but personally I found the idea of How I Became A Superhero rather refreshing.
Here, superpowers are as much an embarrassment as a blessing, and a superhero or heroine seems to have roughly the same status as a reality-TV celebrity.
As the name suggests, How I Became A Superhero implies that our antihero Moreau is packing rather more under his trench coat than a police-special handgun.
And as he gets closer to catching the criminal mastermind, he’ll need to step up rather more than he’s been doing so far.
How I Became A Superhero is the work of veteran producer Alain Attal and his son, first-time director, Douglas Attal.
It may be not quite fish or fowl – the superpowers get in the way of the crime story, the realism of the setting undercuts the superhero plot. But after 20 years of routine American comic-book films, it’s fascinating to see the same story in a completely different accent.