It’s no secret that superhero movies are in a bit of a rut. Both Marvel and DC have had difficult years critically and at the box office, with market oversaturation and stinkers like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Shazam! Fury of the Gods souring audience excitement for massive superhero entertainment.
But two new movies, Hideaki Anno’s Shin Kamen Rider and Madonne Ashwin’s Maaveeran, exemplify the best of the genre, and you can stream both of them on Prime Video right now. They bring different versions of what makes superhero cinema appealing, and they’re two more helpful reminders that there’s a world of satisfying cinema beyond Hollywood blockbusters.
Shin Kamen Rider is the latest in Anno’s Shin Japan Heroes Universe project, the result of the Neon Genesis Evangelion creator being handed the keys to some of Japan’s biggest science fiction franchises. His thematic series started with the masterpiece Shin Godzilla, continuing with Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time and Shin Ultraman, and now Shin Kamen Rider, an adaptation of the 1970s tokusatsu TV program that spawned a massive multimedia franchise active from the 1970s to the 1990s.
While perhaps not as searing in its societal critique as Shin Godzilla, Shin Kamen Rider is an absolute jetblast of pure glee. In the movie, an evil organization called SHOCKER is turning people into “Augs,” which are synthetic animal hybrids. Our hero (Sosuke Ikematsu) becomes the Kamen Rider after being transformed into a human-grasshopper hybrid, and he decides to take down the nefarious group, along with a former SHOCKER member.
Shin Kamen Rider encompasses exactly what can make superhero cinema so appealing to watch: a fantastical setting with dizzying visuals, great fights, and delightfully weird costumes. It’s an absolute feast for the senses. Few superhero movies have ever felt this much like a comic book, and the movie has the best depiction of super speed that I’ve ever seen. And because it’s an Anno movie, there’s plenty of heart, as the Kamen Rider attempts to reckon with his place in the world as a living weapon trying to do good. The narrative is less challenging than some of the works Anno is best known for, but the pervasive sense of longing for connection remains.
While Shin Kamen Rider nails the aesthetics of superhero cinema, the Tamil film Maaveeran succeeds at the ground level, telling an emotional underdog story with great success. In Maaveeran, comic book artist Sathya (Sivakarthikeyan) is a cowardly man, always avoiding conflict. A powerful politician (Mysskin) dupes Sathya’s community into moving from their tribal village to a group of shoddily built apartment buildings that are constantly falling apart. Rather than fighting back or complaining, he repeatedly insists his family should adjust and learn to live with their new circumstances, all while using the situation as fodder for his comic series, where his hero does fight back.
A near-death experience ends up putting his comic’s omnipresent narrator voice inside his head, constantly framing his life as a story and telling him what’s going to happen next. Sathya is forced to take action whether he likes it or not — the voice even ends up compelling him to accidentally throw his shoe at the politician during a speech, causing a media circus and bringing more attention to the dilapidated buildings.
Nearly every modern superhero movie involves some sort of global-scale catastrophe. That makes some sense: Heroes with exceptional powers need exceptional battles and antagonists to match. But what’s lost in those stories is what it means to be a hero on a more personal scale. Maaveeran is explicitly about that, dissecting everyday heroism through a man who dreams about making a difference in his community, but refuses to put it into action.
So fret not, superhero cinema faithful! The critical and commercial failures of Hollywood’s recent offerings in the genre (and the nonstop low-effort TV spinoffs) aren’t all that’s out there. Boot up Prime Video, watch Shin Kamen Rider and Maaveeran, and have a good time at the movies.
Shin Kamen Rider and Maaveeran are both streaming on Prime Video. Shin Kamen Rider is listed as Shin Masked Rider.