Watching Henchmen, the new animated film directed by Adam Wood from a script by him, David Ray and Jay D. Waxman, will prompt any number of questions:
- Why would anyone sign up to be a henchman?
- Why would anyone remain a henchman when the life expectancy is less than four months long?
- Why don’t the heroes break into the Union of Evil secret stronghold volcano base that seemingly houses ALL of the world’s villains?
- Does this world only contain two cities: the villain volcano and Apex City where the heroes live?
- Why do the villains have their own museum and how did a random henchwoman become the museum curator?
- Why are there human cleaners when this world is also populated by autonomous robots?
- Why does main villain Baron Blackout indiscriminately turn everyone, including his own henchmen, into zombie goop? Does this effectively murder them or can they be transformed back?
- What are the laws of physics in this world because people seemingly fall from every conceivable height imaginable and never even suffer a bruise?
- Finally, how did this film manage to attract such big voice talent to such a lackluster project?
All of these questions arise because Henchmen is not a very good movie. It’s not just the odd pairing of seemingly hand-painted faces mixing with cheap looking animation that raises questions; it’s the innumerable gaps in logic and the juvenile attempts at humour that grate on the viewer (the film’s humour meter alternates between a limitless number of annoying pratfalls and fart & burp “jokes”).
Lester (Thomas Middleditch) is a capital O orphan whose attraction to villains in comic books belies a deep-seated loneliness. Problematically it only takes a few scenes to reveal that these comic books are based on real life events and the supervillains and superheroes depicted in the paneled frames actually exist in the world, which contains only two locations: Aphex City and the volcano lair where all of the villains live behind a hologram shield. On the day of his sixteenth birthday, Lester enlists in the nearest supervillain stronghold run by Gluttonator (Will Sasso), an obese idiot whose plans for world domination involve cheese-related attacks.
Lester meets and is saved by Hank (James Marsden), who helps him escape when the lair is attacked and destroyed by Captain Superior (Nathan Fillion) and his crew. Back on villain island, Lester is introduced to Hank’s motley crew of friends: mechanic Jane (Jane Krakowski), chef Stew (Craig Robinson) and absent-minded old janitor Jackalope (Bobcat Goldthwait) before he and Hank are put to work cleaning the Museum of Villains. While Hank attempts to impress curator Jolene (Rosario Dawson), Lester inadvertently winds up wearing an impenetrable suit of armor with a dizzying array of powers, destroying the museum and becoming a fugitive in the process. One might incorrectly assume that the plot would consist of Hank helping Lester to clear his name, but this plot point is almost immediately forgotten when the villainous Baron Blackout returns from a decade-long exile with a plot to turn everyone into black zombie ghouls. Only Lester, Hank and their ragtag band of henchmen can save the day.
Henchmen suffers from two significant problems: 1) visually it looks awful and, more significantly 2) it doesn’t have anything to say about the superhero genre. The animation style looks exceedingly cheap and antiquated, with flat backgrounds and a brown/grey colour palette, which renders it unappealing to watch.
As for the second issue, it’s significant because this genre has been unpacked before and better: nothing can top the deconstruction of the superhero mythos done in The Incredibles films and the villain with a heart of gold has already been explored in the Despicable Me films. Henchmen has nothing to add to the discuss beyond the rote observation that superheroes are shallow and vain, and that supervillains are daft idiots.
This leaves the titular characters, simple grunts working behind the scenes of these epic battles (a familiar, albeit fruitful concept with plenty of potential), but here they’re not even invested in their work. In Henchmen, they’re simply labour for hire. Hank and Lester could be working any blue collar job and undergo the same character arcs (orphan finds his sense of identity in a family of his own making; disgraced, emotionally guarded loner learns to let others in by helping a young charge).
Alas neither character arc is particularly new or exciting and, combined with the unappealing animation and moon sized plot holes, Henchmen doesn’t have a great deal to offer. There’s an interesting story to be told about the men and women working behind the scenes in the superhero genre, but this isn’t that film.