We live in an environment where superhero movies appear to dominate the conversation, but that’s only true within limits. Superhero movies based on, or tied into, pre-existing characters do well. But superhero movies made up from whole cloth? That’s a tougher climb, as Brightburn already found. And Fast Color, which opened nearly opposite Avengers: Endgame, got hit hard by a lack of recognition. Now that it’s out on Blu-ray and VOD, it’s time for another look.
As we saw in Logan, this is a story that pictures a future world in the grip of a planetary drought. Imagine a hero who, at her best, could reshape the world, but is far from there, and instead creates uncontrollable, harmful earthquakes. What would she do? Especially if there’s no grand supervillain to fight, and no hope of the government offering any trust? Like most of us, she might try to find her way home.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Ruth, a fugitive whose wrists chafe and bleed from all the times she’s had to tie herself down when the powers manifest at bad times. Weirdly nerdy government types pursue her, as does a sheriff played by David Strathairn, who knows more than he lets on. Ruth is ultimately en route to her mother, Bo (Lorraine Toussaint), for personal and safety reasons. But the feds, of course, cannot leave well enough alone.
While Endgame was in theaters, fans of Fast Color insisted that folks who liked the big Marvel finale should be supporting the smaller movie in the same genre, but it’s not that simple. Fast Color is extremely artsy and slow. Not everyone who likes the Avengers will groove to its more leisurely rhythm. But not every comic should be the same, nor should every take on superheroes should be the same. Director Julia Hart loves superheroes, but she wants to explore how they exist on a day-to-day basis, as opposed to those moments when existential threats present the planet with extinction. The third act of this film pays off everything in spades, but it is admittedly a slow crawl at times to get there. This isn’t a superhero movie which holds your hand. Rather, it revels in the downtime.
And that’s good. There should be comics that examine the less urgent parts of heroic lives, and how the day-to-day toll of extra abilities affects heroes and villains. Nobody would ever make this movie as an actual Storm one-shot, because it wouldn’t bring in the truckloads of dollars that the X-Men branding expects. On the page, where all images cost the same, one can do that. In movies, secret identities can be key. That this movie features three generations of heroic women of color is a bonus.
The movie doesn’t need a ton of extras when it has what it has. Husband and wife filmmaking team Hart (director, co-writer) and Jordan Horowitz (producer, co-writer) offer a commentary that reveals anything you’d want to know. They conceived the movie when Hart felt that becoming a mother feels like the best super-power, and allowed her to see the big picture of the world in a new way. They wanted to show a damaged female protagonist because Hollywood too often makes women look excessively perfect, in defiance of reality. And they love comics, but wanted to explore what the superheroes do on days when threats like Galactus don’t come around. Not to mention looking at a pre-apocalypse world, like the first Mad Max before things went full Road Warrior.
You want technical details? They have many stories about shooting day for night, or digitally removing buds from trees to make the world look drier. They wanted Mbatha-Raw from conception, and got her immediately. Oh, and they announce that they’re developing a TV series continuing the story. While also working on Stargirl for Disney+ (not to be confused with the DC Universe version). A featurette about making the movie arguably reveals more than is necessary, including some more mystical thoughts on how female energy affects the powers on display. Sometimes it’s best just to let the story speak for itself.
Fast Color isn’t a superhero movie for everyone. But it’s a refreshingly different take at a vastly different pace. It also does what so many critics of color-blind casting claim they want, by creating new non-white superheroes in original stories. If that’s something you’ve asked for, it’s time to get behind it.