eHero Review: Bottom of the Leader Board
eHero Review: A movie about competitive gaming that fails to convey the positives of gaming, or the realities of humanity.
Given the popularity of eSports, it’s surprising that there aren’t more movies that focus on the subject. But given the results in eHero, maybe that’s not a bad thing.
Director Joseph Procopio’s eHero is both a love letter to competitive gaming and an insult. If you’ve ever wondered about the expression “the path to hell is filled with good intentions,” then look no further. EHero has plenty of good intentions and it tries to present the subject matter in a serious way, but it presents it in such a muddled way that it’s painful. It’s the cinematic equivalent of puberty. It’s awkward and weird, and you want to help it but you know that nothing you say will make a difference.
The problems begin at the conceptual level and radiate outward. Some of the issues you can forgive, like the badly dated graphics used for the generic “please don’t sue us” first-person shooter “Reflex,” which at least feels familiar to gamers. Others, like the casual and never again mentioned attempted rape, or the bizarre tragedy that sort of affects the main character but not really, are harder to overlook.
The movie focuses on Tyler Conway (Greg Hovanessian), a young amateur gamer with a knack for FPSs. Through a lucky break he beats one of the best in the world, the dickish and grudge-prone Jonathan Spencer (Sean Colby), and an eSports manager Richard Brixton (Sean Astin) takes notice. Tyler also meets Jonathan’s girlfriend, the frustratingly one-dimensional “I’m awesome even though I date a guy that should get beaten with soap in a sock over and over again” Kate Valery (Chloe Rose). What she lacks in taste of boyfriends she makes up for in being a shallow gamer’s dream girl, complete with no real personality of her own but she happens to be very good at gaming.
Tyler forms a team of gamers, seemingly based on random meetings and a few online sessions, while trying to work around his own ego. He and his team set out to become world champs, even as Jonathan acts more and more like a bad guy from The Wire, using his gang of nameless teammate sycophants to ambush people when he’s not busy trying to drug his ex-girlfriend. He’s so over-the-top that he’d be better suited for a comedy than a drama, and any of about five actions should have sent him to jail or at least earned him a few nasty articles on Kotaku. But apparently there’s a snitches get stitches rule in eHero.
While Tyler tries to hold his team of stereotypical gamer-like people together, they also have to deal with a silly match-fixing scheme. Oh, and through it all, Tyler is dealing with some deep guilt and PTSD after his parents were killed, something he blames himself for. It serves no real plot purpose other than to give his team a private place to practice without interruption.
EHero is kind of like The Karate Kid if Daniel were a deeply dull and traumatized character, Mr Miyagi was a scumbag who bet on the All-Valley Tournament, and Johnny was a legit sociopath who kept trying to murder people. A better cast might have been able to do something with this, but to be fair, a lot of it is more down to poorly envisioned characters spitting out dialogue that isn’t fit for humans. Even the normally steady Astin seems like he lost a bet or is grudgingly paying off an old debt.
The biggest problem with eHero is that it completely lacks a sense of humor, even as it apes stories that are light-hearted. That isn’t to say that a film about eSports needs to be funny, but it doesn’t need to be 8 Mile either. And if it is, it better have strong, well fleshed out characters brought to life by people that believe in their characters.
The thing that really stings is that eHero could have been a good movie, but it relies so, so heavily on lazy tropes and boring characters. The gaming scenes are tough to watch too – the action isn’t bad, even with the 90s-style graphics, but the generic avatars all look the same and the in-game chatter is not helpful or particularly realistic as it switches between third and first person views at random. More importantly, though, they don’t create any tension. There’s a natural build up to what is an obvious culmination, but the story just doesn’t put in the work to earn it.
It’s also sad to see that the interesting and evolving world of eSports is barely examined. It’s just sort of there and taken for granted in favor of Tyler Woodboy and the love story that seems to confirm Kate’s terrible taste in men. It’s like someone watched a couple hours of Twitch during a tournament and thought that they got everything they needed from that. The eSports world is also totally wasted, and the movie with it.
If eHero had taken the time to actually delve into eSports, if it had tried to develop characters that have some depth to them, if it could have stopped trying to “borrow” from other movies with a sports and/or underdog-makes-good story, it could have been decent. It would still need to have overcome the average cinematography and sloppy editing, found a way to build tension through gaming, but it could have been a big step for eSports. Instead, it’s a victim of friendly fire.
eHero Review Conclusion
The possibility of a good movie hidden in eHero is quickly beaten to death by a melodramatic plot filled with dull characters featuring pointless and convoluted backstories. Throw in a complete lack of tension and a painfully serious tone that isn’t justified by the story, and eHero is a mess and a missed opportunity. Even the name is trite.
Maybe someone will figure out the formula to make a compelling eSports film one day. There’s plenty of good material there, and plenty of good characters to focus on. If eHero is any indication though, it’s not going to be soon.
eHero is rated PG-13 with a running time of 85 minutes.