A film that gorgeously rains blood on your childhood
“At the end (of superhero films), a hero stands tall as all of society has crumbled behind him. That isn’t a superhero to me – a guy who stands there after everyone is dead – that’s like a rock star. I don’t want to see movies about rock stars.” – Max Landis, Regarding Clark.
The above quote is attributed to the polarizing, yet poignant, screenwriter Max Landis (Chronicle) in regards to Man of Steel and in general, modern day superhero films. It epitomizes exactly what I believe makes superhero films, and most big summer films, incredibly boring. Which is to say; they lack a human element. The characters in these films are empty vessels; supposed “bad-asses”, who crack cheesy 90’s sitcom jokes and progress through a movie without any depth or relatability. Gone is the way of Steven Spielberg type commercial films with a heartfelt core, and in is the way of Michael Bay, explosions and cinematic universes. As T.S. Eliot wrote, “This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.”
But wait. There’s still hope.
A handful of movies, reclaiming summer films from the clutches of mediocrity. Reminding us of why we love cinema. These films are emotional, dazzling, spectacles centered on two principles: telling human stories and blowing our minds. Of the few we were treated to this summer, two were coincidently of the post-apocalyptic variety. The first being Mad Max: Fury Road, and the other being the chaotic, blood gushing, BMX riding love child of Mad Max and Quentin Tarantino, Turbo Kid.
Now don’t get me wrong, by no means is Turbo Kid a big summer film. Hell, playing at Sundance and featuring a star from Degrassi is as indie as you get, but it certainly has all the components of those classic popcorn movies we love. It’s this fun, wild journey with cool characters, badass fights, plenty of romance, drama, humor and oodles of jaw dropping decapitation scenes.
The year is 1997. The world: a post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by a tyrannical, one eyed, warlord, Zeus (Michael Ironside, Scanners, Total Recall) and his band of savages on BMX bikes. They control the scarce water supply, run a fight club and are pretty much the post-apocalyptic status quo as far as misfit sociopaths goes. The Kid (Munro Chambers, Degrassi), a timid, yet courageous teenager, scavenges The Wasteland for old relics he can trade in for all too precious H2O and copies of his favourite comic book, Turbo Rider. While out in The Wasteland he meets Apple (Laurence Leboeuf, Trauma), a perky, hyperactive mystery woman who becomes the childhood friend he never had. Together, these two form the heart of this film with a small romantic story, but still put plenty of time into kicking ass. As their friendship starts to blossom, they are attacked by one of Zeus’s henchmen, looking for new fight club combatants. The Kid manages to escape by unintentionally falling into an old, abandoned aircraft, knocking his head, and passing out. All while Apple is kidnapped. When he regains consciousness, the Kid discovers the craft belongs to the original Turbo Rider – diseased long ago – and after watching a mission log seemingly calling him to take up the Turbo Rider mantle and save the world, he does just that. Equipped with a new supercharged suit, the Kid sets out to save Apple.
And there we are. We’re twenty minutes into the film and the Kid immediately makes the decision to save Apple. We’re not waiting around, building up to some pivotal moment in ACT 3 when he finally decides to be a hero – he’s already there. His journey from ACT 2 onwards becomes a cathartic one, about a teenager recapturing the childhood that he was robbed of and finally moving on to adulthood.
And as all genius films do, Turbo Kid makes us aware of all of this, but keeps us so caught up in the candy coating that is the darkly comedic deaths and downright awesome fight scenes going on during this sci-fi, apocalyptic, superhero origin, epic, that you hardly notice its depth.
I cannot emphasize enough the clever nuances in the writing of this film. Just look at the characters. On the surface they could be mistaken as one dimensional caricature, but in reality they are these multi-layered people. Apple is this upbeat person, who uses her peppiness to mask the isolation she feels from her secret origin. The Kid is this child, forever fractured by the demise of his parents but a true survivalist, and badass. Zeus is as Michael Ironside as Michael Ironside gets, but he has this haunting servant past that induced this sort of megalomania. These really are fractured people making a go at life. And how do the filmmakers feel about all of this? Maybe the Clint Eastwood-esque, arm wrestling cowboy character Frederic (Aaron Jeffery, Wentworth Prison) sums it up best, “Are we going to stand around talking, or are we going to fight?”.
But what undoubtedly is the greatest aspect of this masterpiece, is the balls to the wall breakout performance of Laurence Leboeuf, as Turbo Kid’s charismatic partner in crime, Apple. Whether it’s bashing in the brains of her enemies with her, “no-no stick” (comprised of a gnome haphazardly duct taped to a club), or exuberantly waving to the Kid while standing in Zeus’s blood pit, Laurence’s Apple is nearly impossible to not love. She’s playful, comedic, almost relentlessly joyful, yet has the understated melancholy of an adult. And that’s the real beauty of Laurence in this role. In her hands, Apple isn’t some insane, jubilant person, oblivious to the world around her, but is instead a lonely person with an earnest love for life. It’s a soulful, captivating performance that creeps in between the blood and mayhem to propel an already awesome film to an all new level.
In many ways, Turbo Kid delivers the message that something like a Tomorrowland attempted to convey. It believes in hope, humanity and the durability of childlike wonderment during turbulent times. And in the process, presents a new character in the apocalypse: the optimist. Yes, things are dark and dreary – note the savage mutilation of one character who has his intestines connected to a bike and ripped out in an interrogation – but at some point someone has to take charge and say things can be better. Like John McClane or Rambo, the Kid rises up and fights for what is right, without hesitation. This is an inspiring, kickass film, and is exactly what we should be asking of all films we see. I want to be searching T-Rex infested land for my missing children, fighting orcs for the fate of middle earth, and becoming a Jedi to defeat the Empire. I want to see the best of humanity, pushed to its limits and inevitably prevail. I want to be a hero. So please, forgo being a rock star, if only for a couple of hours, and be a superhero, be a Turbo Kid.