‘My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising’ Review: What It Means to Be a Hero

     February 24, 2020

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In My Hero Academia: Two Heroes, the first feature film for the worldwide hit that is the My Hero Academia anime franchise, the student heroes from Class 1-A team up to help the mighty All Might defeat a powerful villain who crashed their summer island trip. Now, in My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising, our favorite heroes once again travel to a remote island to ultimately face down a powerful villain who once again crashes their party, but this time they’re on their own.

While it might seem like the MHA movies are already repeating their plots with just one sequel on the books, I’m happy to say that the familiar setup still pays off in a big way. This is thanks to our emotional investment in the characters and just how well-developed they are over the course of the series and the movies themselves, assuming you’ve actually been following along with the manga and the four seasons (and counting) of the hit anime adaptation. If you haven’t, well, Heroes Rising still features a well-plotted and structured story that audiences should enjoy, but newcomers to the franchise will miss out on the dramatic gut-punches that are sure to take fans by surprise. (A spoiler warning is in place from here on out, along with the additional note that MHA:HR appears to take place well after the current Season 4 arc in the anime and introduces characters, power sets, and events that pop up way later in the manga. Fair warning.)

Image via FUNimation

For the uninitiated (this would be a great time for you to get into the franchise from the beginning, though I’d advise against starting with this movie), My Hero Academia centers on a number of diverse characters who each have their own special “Quirk” (a special superhuman ability), leading to a sort of arms race between superheroes and supervillains. The hero of our story is Deku, a formerly Quirkless superhero fanboy who has been gifted the incredible One For All power by the world’s former #1 hero, All Might, who acts as his mentor. My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising is described as a standalone film, but it really builds on all the episodes that have come before it. In the film, Deku and his fellow students of Class 1-A visits Nabu Island where they finally get to do some real hero work. What’s supposed to be a peaceful trip turns dangerous after the appearance of a villain with an unimaginable, yet eerily familiar Quirk. As Deku and his friends fight to protect the island, they are forced to prove themselves as the next generation of heroes.

And that’s really what separates My Hero Academia–the franchise, the series, the films, and the characters–from a lot of other superhero fare on screens these days. The live-action superheroes of the MCU have always been more concerned with battling top-level supervillains and world-ending events than protecting the innocent down on the ground, while the heroes and villains of the DCEU, on the big and small screens, seem more content with fighting each other than defending civilians. My Hero Academia is a refreshing departure from these narratives and a nice throwback to classic comics, a bygone era when superheroes actually did their hero work down in the trenches to protect everyday, ordinary humans.

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Image via FUNimation

MHA:HR takes this idea to heart, perhaps to the extreme, as Class 1-A takes on any and every hero task on the remote, peaceful, and ultimately rather quiet Nabu Island. This is a great way to introduce the characters to folks who might be seeing them for the first time or to do a sort of roll call for those heroes who haven’t been on screen in a while (looking very specifically at Toru Hagakure, the invisible girl who has been more or less benched for a long time now.) Class President Tenya Iida busies himself giving a local granny piggyback rides, Denki Kaminari uses his Electrification quirk to power up a farmer’s tractor battery (yay!), and Deku goes off in search of missing kids with the gravity-defying Ochaco Uraraka, only to discover the local island siblings (and newcomers) Mahoro and Katsuma Shimano playing pranks on them. Just about every hero is showcased here–even the always-angry Bakugo, who doesn’t lift a finger to help out with these menial hero tasks–giving the huge cast of characters time to shine.

Elsewhere, however, a villainous plot is unfolding. A thrilling car chase between professional heroes and members of the League of Villains kicks the action off in this movie (though I really hope the pro heroes beef up their car chase skills in the off season because they’re not great at it.) As part of the ensuing investigation, pro hero Hawks / Keigo Takami follows up on the ongoing attacks on people with Quirks, eventually connecting it to the League and, ultimately, All For One. That discovery comes into play as a new team of supervillains–Nine, Mummy, Chimera, and Slice–take their Quirk-stealing rein of destruction to, you guessed it, Nabu Island.

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Image via FUNimation

While you can probably guess how the action beats play out from here, two things stand out for me: The first is that the Class 1-A heroes are wholly on their own against the newly arrived villains; they have no pro hero support to rely on and will have to work together if they’re to stand a chance. The second is that the heroes’ main goal here–with the exception of the bloodthirsty Bakugo–is to protect the island citizens, especially Mahoro and Katsuma, at all costs, not to necessarily defeat the villains. That’s the real key to what makes MHA so emotionally engaging; it’s not just fisticuffs, superpowers, and explosions, there’s some real heart to each and every one of their actions.

This idea is best exemplified in the dichotomy that is Deku and Bakugo. They’re two heroes dead set on the path to becoming the new #1 hero in the world, two boys who have known each other since they were little and have always idolized All Might, two friends who are at odds with each other more often than not. They’re also extremely powerful, separating themselves from the pack through strength of will and skill. But they have drastically different ways of interpreting what it means to be a hero: Deku wants to save people, and will defeat a villain in order to do so. Bakugo wants to defeat villains so that, as a happy result of doing so, he might save some people. Those flipped philosophies play out in everything that Deku and Bakugo do, from their supersuit designs, to the way they interact with kids and civilians, and their actions on the battlefield. And this is the narrative thread of My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising that really hits home as Deku and Bakugo are pushed to their limits by the powerful Nine, forcing them to do something so unexpected that you might just stand up out of your theater seat when it happens.

My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising is a thrilling addition to the story so far, even if it jumps ahead in the saga more than most fans might be comfortable with. New powers are introduced out of nowhere for some top-tier heroes while the power balancing for others feels a bit out of whack. Luckily there’s still not a lot of power creep; MHA has yet to proceed to world-destroying levels and is, thankfully, stuck at a building-destroying tier. But the final, all-out battle to protect the island–which is incredibly animated and must be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated–feels like it should have decimated every inch of land. Happily, that’s not the case, but it’s plain to see just how powerful our top heroes are becoming.

The only downsides here are how precious those heroes have also become. The threat of death is gone, which takes some of the tension out of the build-up to battles, but so, too, is the willingness to actually make plot points stick. Had any character–a newcomer, a regular, a pro hero, a student hero, a villain, anyone–actually had a sense of mortality to them, the story would have carried more impact. Had the franchise actually stuck with the major dramatic moment the movie pulls off near the end, that would have been something rather impressive, a rarity in major titles these days. Instead, My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising is content not to kill its darlings and to give fans an incredible moment just before walking it back to reset everything to status quo. I get it; you can’t mess with canon too much in light of the scope of the broader story, but the movie gets docked a few points because of it.

However, My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising is the best film in the franchise so far. It lets the heroes of Class 1-A stand on their own against familiar yet powerful villains, not to show off their strength or how far their skills have progressed but to protect the innocent and stand up for what’s right. In other words, My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising reminds us all what it means to be a hero.

Rating: B+

My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising hits theaters February 26th; click here for tickets!

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