Cast: Raul Castillo, Aimee Garcia, Jose Pablo Cantillo, David Castaneda
Director: Ben Hernandez Bray
The concept behind being the first Latino superhero movie sounds like something that can be very interesting and captivating. When you look at the success that Black Panther had for minority audiences, you would think El Chicano could do something similar if it had the budget and support to do so. Sure it’s not an MCU movie, but conceptually it should be in the ballpark if given the same amount of care. What ended up happening is we got a film that is very ambitious but ultimately not worth the time. While the premise is interesting and some of the action scenes are interesting, El Chicano feels like a traditional streaming action movie and is hardly a superhero movie.
The film follows Diego Hernandez (Castillo), an LAPD detective who is investigating the rise of gang violence in his community including the death of his brother Pedro. After the gang violence reaches a boiling point for Diego, he discovers Pedro was going to become a masked vigilante named “El Chicano” to finally bring the violence to an end. Seeing no other option to achieve justice, Diego becomes El Chicano and carries out actions that his badge prevents him from doing. I understand the general motivation for a movie like El Chicano, and apparently the script comes from Bray’s personal experiences with gangs, but for a movie like this to succeed there needs to be something more than just a general plot to keep audiences captivated. Black Panther succeeded because of its performances, production design, graphics, and score, things that go beyond the relatively linear and familiar plot. El Chicano doesn’t have the budget to back that up and relies on a story that we’ve seen before and performances that aren’t exactly spectacular. I also have a hard time calling this a superhero movie because it’s really just about a disgruntled man covering his face and getting revenge. If that’s a superhero movie, then is A Vigilante a superhero movie? What about Peppermint? Why is one of these movies a superhero movie when the other deal with almost the exact same issues? Putting on a mask and taking on a moniker isn’t what really makes a superhero. Sure it’s an element of it, but it can’t be the central thesis behind your character. While the general idea of the movie ends up falling flat, the overall grittiness and darkness of the movie is solid enough to keep this movie out of the bottom of the barrel. The environment is set up for a movie like this to succeed and show the harsh reality of what gang life can do to a community, but it never goes beyond the seemingly superficial level to prove that point. This is a shame because I think Bray is using this film as an outlet for his pain, and it doesn’t really translate to audiences in the way he was probably hoping for. El Chicano addresses a potential gap in the superhero genre, but it doesn’t necessarily do it in the way that both Bray and audiences would have hoped for.
Overall, I can’t fault El Chicano too much since it didn’t exactly have the biggest budget in the world, but we have to hold the movie accountable in the areas where it falls short. As a standalone B-level action movie, it isn’t the worst thing you can watch. However, when a movie claims to be the first Hispanic superhero movie, that sets the bar high at a level that I don’t think a small-budget movie like this could possibly meet. We might get this movie one day with higher-calibre cast and crew, but for the time being, El Chicano misses the part and doesn’t give us what we’re looking for.
Overall Score: 3.5/10