Video game movies are a poison chalice, but fortunately, director A.J. Tesler’s Hero Mode takes a family-friendly look behind the scenes of a development company hoping their next game will be the one that saves the company.
Troy (Chris Carpenter) is a coding genius in his final years of school. His mother, Kate (Mira Sorvino), and his late father built a successful video game company, Playfield, but the precocious lad has been forbidden from joining the organisation until he’s found his place in the world. When he screws up a big investment, he spends the night fixing the bugs in Playfield’s latest platformer. Impressed, Kate puts Troy in charge of getting the game ready for PixelCon. Headstrong but naïve, Troy puts his mind to a new game, trashing the game developed by enthusiastic programmer Jimmy (Sean Astin). As the company’s luck remains bad, he must learn to work with others.
Essentially, Hero Mode is the usual moral-based teen comedy-drama but with added pixels and flourishes. It doesn’t fall into the trap of making the coders nerdy, socially awkward, or all male (Mary Lynn Rajskub and Kimia Behpoornia are particularly great), but there is the ‘why don’t you get a proper job’ subplot with Sean Astin’s character and his father. Chris Carpenter (who also co-wrote the story) plays the overconfident teen well and his eventual realisation that he will have to let others in is handled believably. There has to be an antagonist, and here it’s the rival AAA company Xodus, the CEO of which is not averse to playing dirty, and of course, they’re going to get their just desserts - this is a feel-good film, after all.
While there are game-like visual embellishments, this probably won’t appeal to hard-core gaming fans. Hero Mode is aimed fairly and squarely at the teen crowd. The moralistic message of team work, the fast-talking hip sidekick (Philip Soloman) who is hot on YouTube, and the singing love interest (Indiana Massara) tick all the right boxes as well as the ‘what’s an email?’ adult allow them to laugh at the grownups. It’s by no means perfect, but for the niche it’s playing to, it’s entertaining enough.Hero Mode is available on digital platforms from June 14th.