In 2017, Logan was hailed as a serious drama that happened to feature a character with superpowers. It had the benefit of the Wolverine character, but it gave fans of the superhero genre a dead-serious movie about people living with the tough choices they’ve made and trying to atone for those choices. I can’t help but wonder if people who enjoyed Logan will come to Fast Color, another drama about characters with superpowers but without the benefit of the X-Men IP. But those who skip Julia Hart’s movie do so at their own peril because while these characters may not be featured in comic books, they’re instantly compelling and their supernatural abilities aren’t just for spectacle, but to show how literally and figuratively things that are broken can be put back together.
Set in a disturbingly not-too-distant dystopia where water is scarce and it hasn’t rained in eight years, Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is on the run from the government due to her powers. However, those powers have been locked away since the birth of her daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney) and in their place are seizures that can cause earthquakes. Sober and looking to get a handle on her powers, Ruth returns home to her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint), who has been raising Lila the past decade-or-so. With all three generations together, Ruth must discover what it means to rebuild what has been broken in her life.
Fast Color kicks off as almost a fugitive story with Ruth on the run and not knowing who she can trust, and it provides a good hook for a film that overall is largely soft-spoken without ever being sleepy. Although superpowers are part of the story, Hart rarely leans on them, and instead uses the powers to convey the emotional struggles and themes of the story. In a lesser movie, Bo or Lila’s ability to deconstruct matter would be used to obliterate a bad guy, but here those powers are all about defining the characters and building the story from the inside out rather than putting spectacle first.
I was constantly engrossed with the rich character drama on display that never feels the need to announce itself. Mbatha-Raw, Toussaint, and Sidney all give strong performances that feel real and lived-in without resorting to chewing the scenery or theatrical displays. For a movie where characters have superpowers, Hart is all about making sure that the drama is always intimate and personal rather than overt. When we watch Ruth, we’re witnessing a character who feels guilt over abandoning her daughter and failing her mother. When we see Ruth get a seizure and cause an earthquake, it’s not some cool power; it’s a manifestation of her guilt and trying to keep her power bottled up.
It’s also so refreshing to see a cast of primarily black actors who have powers and those powers aren’t used in service of the “magical negro” trope where the black characters exist only to come to the aid of a white protagonist. Instead, the powers these women possess are what tie them together, but also what separate them. Through these three generations, we see different struggles and different solutions. Although the world they inhabit is incredibly bleak (the fact that it’s presented so matter-of-fact makes the setting even more unnerving), their powers represent a way of moving forward. Just as they destroy and repair objects, the subtext is that they can heal a broken world, but first they have to repair a broken family.
For some, the stakes in Fast Color may seem too small for having superpowered characters, but that juxtaposition is what gives the movie its edge. Saving the world and nefarious government figures are background to what’s happening between Bo, Ruth, and Lila. There are enough movies where people with superpowers are tasked with rescuing humanity. Fast Color goes for something far more personal and unique. If you like your superhero stories done with intimacy and grace, you’ll want to make time for Fast Color even if it doesn’t feature name-brand superheroes.