Sundance Review: Virtually Heroes


There was once a time when videogame enthusiasts were happy to see the presence of games represented on the big screen, anyway they could have it. Yes, the Super Mario Bros. film is terrible but — shit man, it`s Mario! Maybe in those halcyon years there would be some small sect of people that would embrace Virtually Heroes’ crass and obvious parodies of videogame tropes.

Virtually Heroes
Director: G. J. Echternkamp
Rating: NR
Country: USA
Release Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival)

If anyone is wondering why the Spike Video Game Awards were kinda awful instead of very awful, this year, it might be due to the writing staff disembarking to ghostwrite Virtually Heroes. It’s a theory I’m working on.

From the publicity stills, description, and cast, it was always certain that Virtually Heroes would be awful. I just needed to find out whether it’d be fun-awful or awful-awful. Somewhere between flashing “Achievement Unlocked: Teabag That Ho” on screen and the main characters (two male soldiers) being awarded a “No-Homo Bonus” after settling a dispute, it became very clear where Virtually Heroes sits and that I wish I was sitting anywhere outside the theater.

No, this isn’t a film where a soldier teabags a corpse. Virtually Heroes is a film where a soldier teabags a corpse five times. So, yes, awful-awful. The film uses its concept of two soldiers trapped in a videogame, which resembles something between Contra and Call of Duty, to supply an endless series of videogame jokes.

Here’s a brief list of topics covered:

  • Enemies that look identical
  • Using bandages to recover health
  • Not having to reload a rocket launcher
  • Glitches, invisible walls, and broken A.I.
  • Carrying 10+ guns

Just when you think every possible game trope has been covered, Virtually Heroes comes up with a boat that steers like Pac-Man (okay, that bit is actually funny.) This wouldn’t be so bad if there was a worthwhile plot and funny characters to support the endless parade of on-the-nose parodies. Instead, we have two meatheads: One on a quest to save “sexy newsreporter girl,” and the other on a quest to find the mythical Enchanted Forest, where naked girls await.

I can see talented writers making something of Virtually Heroes concept. Videogames are ripe and ready for parody, and there is something interesting about following two meathead soldiers that discover they are in an endless loop of violence and explosions within a videogame. Virtually Heroes does have its moments, like when one soldier says to the other that he thinks they are stuck in a bad videogame, which would explain the dumb A.I. enemies and NPCs that run into walls, or when something resembling a midi track from Doom blares over the soldiers gunning down droves of Vietcong. These are literally seconds within a 84 minute film. A film that neither entertains game enthusiasts (viz. me) nor presents a story that would remotely make sense to those who never picked up a controller.

Virtually Heroes makes me embarrassed to like videogames. It suggests to audiences that this is what entertains us and that this is what games are all about. And then Mark Hamill shows up, ruining the entirety of my childhood in one swift swoop. How’d we go from Indie Game: The Movie to this, Sundance?