The best part about The Hyperions is that I had no idea that this film even existed until I stumbled over it the other day.
I try to keep an eye on the new independent films that are coming out, but I’ll admit I haven’t paid enough attention lately. Obviously not, if I missed something as unique and eccentric as The Hyperions.
As everyone knows who watched their television show, or bought all of their Hyperions merchandise, back in 1960, Professor Ruckus Mandulbaum (a superb performance by Cary Elwes) created the legendary superhero family, the Hyperions. He’s already brought two generations of superheroes into the world and is now ready to retire his second team of Hyperions and create the third.
This is all made possible by his invention, the Titan badge, which is specifically attuned to the DNA of its owner. When it activates, it gives the user incredible, unique powers which the Professor has used in his endless war with crime.
Which is then turned into episodes of his show, into comic books and merchandise, then broadcast around the world.
Only behind the scenes, the Hyperions are not quite as perfect as they seem, and one of the first three children, Vista, had a very troubled relationship with the Professor and ultimately left the team.
And now, over a decade later, Vista has reappeared, only in the most embarrassing way possible. She, and her fellow former Hyperion, Ansel, just broke into a museum hosting a traveling Hyperion exhibit, planning to steal back their old Titan badges…
It is, actually, fairly obvious why I haven’t heard of The Hyperions, as it was one of the first movies released by the Daily Caller foundation.
Mind you, it seems a shame to me that it has been ignored as it is one of the most unique takes on the superhero film I’ve seen in a long time. It filters the story of a family of superheroes through the lens of the old Disney TV shows I grew up with. Only this is a dysfunctional adoptive family, with all its awkwardness and unpleasantness hidden behind a screen of media fantasy.
There are so many little threads here which build this world in depth and complexity. We see that the Professor’s handlers make most of the decisions now, and that he seems almost completely disconnected from his own project. Then there’s Ansel, who was pushed off the team even though he never did anything wrong and feels incomplete without his powers.
Only Vista is left a mystery, with her real motivation for robbing the exhibit hidden for most of the film, even if we do learn part of the truth early on. Ultimately The Hyperions is about the relationship, between the Professor and Vista — and yes, Ansel and the other members of the team.
Although none of this explains that robot Eagle which is the team’s mascot: it is shown flying around on the TV show and talking, but in real life appears to be just a toy, a very simple automaton capable of spouting a few words and turning its head but not much more.
However, this does point out one of this films more interesting stylistic quirks: its use of animation, and not just in the clips we see of the Hyperions show, but in a few fantasy sequences, and even bleeding into the real world. The tone and the quirky details remind me of one of the quirkiest of modern directors, Wes Anderson. I can imagine someone coming in part way through the film on TV, with no idea what it was and thinking, “I didn’t know Wes Anderson made a superhero film.”
Well, he didn’t. Instead, The Hyperions is the second film of Jon McDonald, an artist turned director who created concept art, storyboards, and worked on animated film, often leading teams of artists. And his artistic talent is definitely on display here, with a lot of witty animation, comic books, ads, products, gadgets, props and whatever else the film needs. The production design wittily evokes the two eras the film is set in (1960 and 1979) and creates a consistent Hyperions aesthetic which continues from era to era with mild changes.
If I have one complaint about the film, it is that events take too serious a turn towards the end, which feels a bit at odds with the generally light tone of the film. But this is a minor grumble, in a film which is always charming, witty, and yes, dryly satiric in an easygoing sort of way.
Mind you, if you watch superhero films to see big, superpowered guys throwing buildings at each other, there isn’t a lot of that here, and while some of the Hyperions do have some nifty powers, and we do see them at work, there are no massive battles, sky beams or circling clouds of rubble and The Hyperions did not require thousands of effects artists and hundreds of millions of dollars.
But then, not every superhero film needs them…