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DIFF 2011: Wonderful BOY WONDER

This DALLAS International Film Festival review originally published on Gordon and the Whale

Rating: 4/5

Superhero films are a dime a dozen this year. We have our popcorn fare with THOR, CAPTAIN AMERICA, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, the self-reflexive vigilante in SUPER, and the lady killers in SUCKER PUNCH, just to name a few. When considering what makes or breaks a superhero, the formula is blurred at this point. Even though the genre is almost completely saturated with terrible, there are some untapped opportunities. Most notably, Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN series opened the door to innovative superhero storytelling, and what has followed suit in the past three years later only hints at the possibility of awesome.

BOY WONDER may not seem like superhero film from the get-go, but it borrows so liberally from the genre it’s impossible not to see the similarities. Our hero is a teenaged vigilante determined to discover his mother’s murderer, expose his abusive father, and aid a hot-shot lady-cop in her own battle with keeping the criminal who destroyed her family behind bars. Dressed head to toe in his thuggish hipster best, Sean Donovan (Caleb Steinmeyer) rages against anyone he believes is a criminal. The more he tries to piece together his mother’s murder the more developed his Spidey sense become, leading him on his way to near-destruction. Sean is so crippled by his own thirst for revenge that he is both unable to relate to kids his own age or see the flaws in his dangerous plans.

The film takes a bit to get going, relishing in the quiet, tense moments, until the final act when it’s hard to tell Sean’s reality from his imagination. He isn’t necessarily an evil person, even though he does have blood-lust. However, his exact definition of good and evil is so limiting that he eventually gets lost in his own journey. His circumstances make him who he is, and it’s impossible to not root for him every step of the way. Caleb Steinmeyer’s remarkable ability to play a character so creepy, yet intriguing, is a true testament to his future career.

While it plays off a boy’s desire for revenge and his obvious development into a crime fighter, BOY WONDER is grounded in reality. This boy’s experience seems almost plausible, and the dark nature of the story, the stunning bleak visuals, and the delicious twist at the end create a film so rife with originality and quality it’s guaranteed to become a treasure in the evolving anti-superhero field.

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