A love of superheroes is a childhood right of passage. It’s a tradition that goes back much further than Iron Man, Spider-man, and Black Panther’s dominant pop culture runs. What kid doesn’t want to wear colourful costumes, soar through the sky, and of course, save the day? Lester (Thomas Middleditch), that’s who! He’s on a whole other wavelength. He loves comic books as much as anybody, but his favourite characters are the villains. Lester yearns to grow up and become a notorious evil-doer called The Orphan.
Director Adam Wood’s animated feature, Henchmen, follows Lester’s initiation into the world of villainy. If you ever pondered the how super villains operate their evil armies, Henchmen sheds light on the process. In Henchmen’s world exists a secret city hidden under a cloaking device – think of Wakandan stealth technology from Black Panther masking a wretched hive of villainy and scum. But you can also call it a refuge for the world’s villain population
To make his scoundrel dreams come true, Lester has a robot scan him for an assessment process (much like the Hogwarts sorting hat). It turns out Lester isn’t qualified enough for a cool designation like foot soldier or engineer. Instead, he’s relegated to the henchmen bottom tier, where he must mop floors and fix busted pipes.
One night while working in a museum of supervillain history, Lester goes full-on Three Stooges. He trips, bangs, and smashes his way through the priceless artifacts and somehow ends up wearing a high-tech secret weapon. Decked out in an Iron Man style power suit, Lester finally has the means to rise through the henchmen ranks. It falls upon his new work friends to show him the ropes and talk sense into the young man before he does some real damage.
Visually speaking, Henchmen is one of the most undercooked films I’ve seen in years. Back in the day, there was a local theatre that showed first-run movies for way cheaper than the bigger chains. Before the picture, they ran janky CGI ads telling people to buy popcorn and turn off their phones. Even back then, the ads looked a decade old and had us cracking snarky jokes like those two geezers on The Muppet Show. Henchmen feels like watching 89-minutes of those ads.
Henchmen looks like a film that sat on the shelf for years. And the problem isn’t that it seems dated. You can watch an old Pixar movie or episodes of ReBoot and Beast Wars without being put-off. Henchmen looks so bad it triggers your eye-balls’ gag-reflex. Drab scenery, flat textures, and uninspired character designs make this picture a visual slog. The problem isn’t the stylistic choices or the dated looking animation; everything feels half-assed.
Henchmen’s big hook is that it offers a tongue-in-cheek look at comic book tropes. We’ve all wondered who actually build supervillains’ Amazonian bunkers and underwater layers. And do they receive health benefits, or at the very least, hazard pay? This film looks at how mundane day-to-day life gets when you chase a career in world domination. Fighting superheroes may be glamorous, but somebody needs to scrub toilets, wash uniforms, and keep the weapons room stocked. The film presents the absurdity of a bad guy’s life, but it’s not as clever as it thinks it is and the gags don’t land. Instead of tickling my funny bone Henchmen grated on my patience.
The movie’s cast delivers serviceable performances even though they’re working off a putrid script. Middleditch exudes a wild enthusiasm that is commonplace from lead characters in animated films. Nathan Fillion is his usually smarmy self, hamming it up as the square-jawed do-gooder, Captain Superior. Rosario Dawson brings a degree of warmth to her completely forgettable character, Jolene. Bobcat Goldthwait, Craig Robinson, Jane Krakowski, and Alfred Molina’s characters show up, deliver some lines, and then fade from memory like a thought not worth remembering.
Boring characters, dull writing, and substandard visuals make Henchmen hard to watch. But my biggest issue with Henchmen isn’t that it’s bad. Bad movies take big gambles and miss the mark in fascinating ways. Henchmen’s problem is that it’s forgettable. The sooner it ends means the sooner one may let go. You can use the extra space in your mental garage to park more useful information, like what you had to eat last Tuesday.