Marvel and DC dominate the superhero genre, which means the two brands also dominate Hollywood. The past two decades have seen Disney and Warner Bros. mine their print libraries to bring some of the most beloved and iconic superheroes to life on the big screen.
But not all superhero stories come from comic books. While Marvel and DC are the best-known sources for the stories and characters that populate so many of Hollywood’s comic book movies, that doesn’t mean filmmakers can’t create their own superheroes and fictional worlds.
Few recent movies prove that better than Fast Color, writer-director Julia Hart’s understated indie film, which stands as one of the most interesting and atmospheric superhero movies of the past few years.
The world isn’t in a good place when Fast Color begins, and neither is its protagonist, Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Set in a near future where it hasn’t rained in almost a decade, bottles of water are overpriced and the whole world feels unbearably dry. Unfortunately for Ruth, the ongoing drought is the least of her concerns.
A nomadic loner, Ruth checks into a hotel only to quickly leave it after an earthquake strikes — a quake that she seems to cause while experiencing an intense seizure. It’s an incident that puts a nefarious scientist (Christopher Denham) on her tail and forces Ruth to go back to her family home, where she reunites with her mother, Bo (a superb Lorraine Toussaint), and her daughter, Lila (Saniyya Sidney).
We quickly learn that all three women were born with superpowers of their own, though Bo and Lila prove to be far more in touch with their abilities than Ruth.
Fast Color follows Ruth as she struggles to accept herself and her power, training with her mother and daughter while working to come to terms with some difficult mistakes and lingering traumas from her past. It’s a uniquely introspective journey for a superhero movie, one in which a hero’s path towards saving the world and becoming her best self isn’t shaped by climactic fistfights or CGI battles in the sky, but by moments of forgiveness and reconnection.
Expressing that kind of emotionally interior character arc is difficult for a film to do, but not when it has an actor like Gugu Mbatha-Raw leading it. The Black Mirror and Loki star gives an vulnerable, wounded performance as Ruth, beautifully conveying the character’s uncertainty and pain even in the moments when Fast Color introduces other perspectives and subplots.
Lorraine Toussaint matches Mbatha-Raw’s volatility with her own confident, peaceful performance, while David Straithairn brings his usual warmth and tenderness to the film as Ellis, a local sheriff with a personal connection to Bo and Ruth.
Fast Color’s performances, combined with director Julia Hart’s confident, understated visual style, make it one of the most unique indie thrillers of recent memory. What’s even more impressive, however, is how Fast Color manages to feel like a legitimate superhero film despite being totally unlike the kind of massive Marvel blockbusters that many moviegoers see as the genre’s gold standard.
It’s a film that presents viewers with a dystopian world in which superheroes aren’t people with enhanced strength, or who get their powers through failed science experiments. Instead, Fast Color creates its own kind of superheroes, ones who not only get their powers from the Earth but can use them to keep the planet alive and reshape it for the betterment of others.
Fast Color is available to stream now on Netflix.