NOTE: This is a spoiler-free advance review of the film. The Hyperions debuts on March 10th on www.dailywire.com, with a simultaneous limited time free viewing on YouTube.
In an age where superhero films have largely been dominated by massive tentpole summer blockbusters, The Hyperions exists to shake up the established formula with a smaller-scale, yet no less inventive take on the genre. It’s the third film presented by conservative media outlet The Daily Wire, and the first one that can be viewed with the entire family, provided the kids aren’t too young.
The original trailer for The Hyperions hinted at a laugh-out-loud satirical comedy film that lampooned the superhero craze, but the reality is a bit different – and far more interesting. While not perfect, it deserves massive praise for harkening back to a more traditional age of feel-good storytelling and old fashioned cinematic charm.
The Hyperions takes place in 1979, a pivotal year in human history that saw Pink Floyd release The Wall, the election of Margaret Thatcher in the UK, and the debut of Sony’s portable Walkman. However, the story in question is rather small and self-contained, focusing on the film’s three major leads – Vista, Ansel, and Professor Ruckus Mandulbaum.
Vista and Ansel are two former Hyperion superheroes who have gone rogue, taking hostages inside the Hyperion museum, housing the famous Titan Badges. When slotted into a special wrist gauntlet, the Titan Badge grants each user a specific superpower tied directly to their own DNA sequence.
Things don’t exactly go according to plan, and what starts out as a simple smash and grab soon turns into a prolonged hostage situation that draws the attention of Vista and Ansel’s fellow superhero Maya. She’s their only link to Professor Ruckus Mandulbaum (Cary Elwes), a stuffy and eccentric Brit who created the original Titan Badges.
As the media begin picking up on the story, Mandulbaum is forced into the spotlight in an effort to sidestep a PR nightmare, and it’s there that the real story begins to unfold. Not everything is at it seems, and a crisis situation soon forces a surrogate father to come to terms with his estranged children.
The Hyperions boasts some of the best cinematography and pacing in recent memory, courtesy of director Jon McDonald (who also stars in the film). With just one other film (2016’s Muddy Corman) and a 26 minute long short film (2011’s Chagrin) under his directorial belt, McDonald manages to recapture the spirit of an entire era, with spectacular visual flair.
Every scene feels perfectly lit, framed and shot, while simultaneously spiced up with countless quick close-up shots and cutaways that produce a kinetic flow. McDonald appears to have an obsession with 1970s décor and gadgetry, which he uses to great effect whenever he peppers the film with these close-ups.
In fact, the decision to mimic the feel-good era of classic 1970s family films is what gives The Hyperions its particular edge. The entire movie is drenched in a deep, symbolic surrealism that feels as if it takes place within the pages of a comic book, as opposed to just a standard movie set.
And boy, those sets are something to behold. Each one has been meticulously crafted down to the smallest detail in order to evoke the vintage nostalgia of the time period in question, while adding to the feel of being drawn into another world. Even the interiors of vehicles provoke an emotional response within the viewer, thanks to meticulous detail, lensing, and lighting.
One of the best features of The Hyperions is the casting, which is not only dynamic, but actually and truly diverse. There isn’t a hint of Wokeness throughout the entire film, but rather a collection of like-minded characters who epitomize what it means to be a family, for better as well as worse.
Penelope Mitchell (The Vampire Diaries, Hellboy, Hemlock Grove) plays Vista Mandulbaum, a character with a love/hate relationship opposite her adopted father Ruckus Mandulbaum, and her performance is dynamite. Vista’s damaged upbringing acts as a mirror for the other characters in the film, all of which have questioned their own relationships with the Professor.
Alphonso McAuley (The Middle, Key and Peele, Breaking In) plays Ansel — once the strongest boy on Earth — who was kicked out of the Hyperions for having too close a relationship with his surrogate sister Vista. Ansel represents both temptation, and the inability to move forward in life, and he accomplishes this with a subtle and effective performance where only the viewer really knows what’s going on inside his mind.
Elaine Tan (CSI, EastEnders, Doctor Who) plays Maya, a bridge between the exiled Vista and Ansel, and Professor Mandulbaum. Her understated performance serves a purpose — to provide a window into the dysfunctional family dynamic that played out behind the glitz and glamor of the Hyperions’ lustrous marketing campaign.
And of course, there’s Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Robin Hood: Men In Tights, Bram Stoker’s Dracula) playing Professor Mandulbaum with a spot-on British accent, and his tried and tested signature acting style. Elwes not only cranks out a dynamite performance, but he ends up stealing every single scene he’s in.
Mandulbaum is arguably the linchpin of the entire film, and the character capable of making the biggest impact. He’s essentially the poor man’s Charles Xavier; a flawed, stuck-up do-gooder with seemingly good intentions, all of which have been undermined by his unwillingness to show the slightest emotional vulnerability.
Rounding out the cast are Keli Price (Side Effects, Infamous Six), Sal Lopez (Diff’rent Strokes, Melrose Place, Westworld), and Cobra Kai’s Tanner Buchanan as Apollo, a character who is tragically under-utilized in one of the film’s most glaring missteps.
Not A Comedy, Not Yet A Superhero Film
With a relatively modest budget, The Hyperions was never going to match even a fraction of what a typical MCU film could accomplish on screen, but Jon McDonald actually uses that to his advantage. By cleverly avoiding a ton of budget-busting fight scenes, he’s able to get crafty with the story, and rely on character development as the major driver.
This is where The Hyperions shines, in a big way. No single character in the film is considered the lead. Instead, each one acts as a cog in a giant wheel that spins the story around through a number of different perspectives. The key theme of the film is the importance of family, no matter how imperfect that dynamic might be.
As such, the film can be watched with the entire family, provided the kids are old enough, and can handle one or two somewhat comically gruesome scenes. Technically, the film is rated R, but it purposely avoids coarse language, brutality and mean-spiritedness in favor of a more innocent and gentle perspective. In our opinion, The Hyperions pushes the boundaries of a PG-13 rating.
The original trailer tried to play up the comedic aspects of the film, but The Hyperions can best be summed up as a dramedy. It won’t set the house ablaze with gut-busting, spit-your-drink-out laughter, but it does have a few hilarious moments that will catch viewers off guard.
That being said, it would have been nice if the film went for the punchline more frequently, especially in the first two acts. The comedic tone manages to tread decently above water, but it should have chased audience laughter before switching things up in the third act. Every time the film triggers a belly-laugh, it fails to maintain that momentum for the long run.
It’s a miss, but not a terrible one, and Jon McDonald fills in the gaps with his dynamic shooting style, brisk pacing, and likeable characters, all of which keep the story chugging along with an upbeat note.
The third and final act pulls the heartstrings in a big way, and it’s done with the same kind of uplifting feel as a classic Disney cartoon, or a family classic like It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s been a long time since a film recaptured that age of (relative) innocence, stripping out tragedy and nihilism in favor of happy tears and smiles.
The Start Of A Franchise?
It’s hard to picture The Hyperions becoming a full-fledged superhero franchise, but there’s a remarkable amount of room to go in that direction. Some might argue that it would be better suited as a one-off film, but this writer would personally like to see the introduced characters get fleshed out in future sequels.
With the groundwork already established, there’s plenty of opportunity to expand on the awkwardly fun Mandulbaum family dynamic, not to mention stories that pit the Hyperions team members against an assortment of clever and entertaining villains. Are you listening, Jon McDonald?
Regardless of whether a sequel is made, The Hyperions should be remembered as a film that did a lot with very little, and managed to “subvert expectations” in all the right ways, as opposed to the wrong ones pursued by Woke-obsessed modern Hollywood. This, right here, is what movies should be about.
By hedging all its bets on the family-focused narrative, The Hyperions takes viewers by the hand, and leads them through a narrative corridor that becomes comfortably smaller as its runtime ticks by. By the time the final credits start to roll, viewers are wrapped up in a blanket of beautiful feelings, courtesy of a remarkably charming story.
It could have gone the opposite direction, however. There’s nothing inherently special or unique about the storyline, but Jon McDonald’s masterful shooting style, mixed with knockout cast performances ends up picking up all the slack. It’s a win, even without millions of dollars of CGI and intricately storyboarded action sequences.
Who Is It For?
Those looking for a blistering action film with scathing, profanity-rife humor should pass on The Hyperions. There are plenty of films that fill that particular demand (notably Deadpool), and not nearly enough that attempt to capture what this one wants to achieve. In many ways, it’s actively trying to achieve the opposite of shows like The Boys, which are based on much more cruel source material.
With its warm, pleasantly distressed vintage imagery, accessible characters, and even some traditional hand-drawn animation and 1960s-inspired music thrown in for good measure, The Hyperions is out to create movie magic. Many viewers will be split on whether the film hit that particular mark, but nobody can deny its authenticity, earnestness and heart.
- An eclectic and enthusiastic cast
- Fantastic and surreal cinematography
- A charming and heartwarming story
- A shortage of laugh-out-loud moments
- Very light on action
- Secondary characters under-utilized