El Chicano (2019)

During the first half of “El Chicano” main character Diego is going through his brother’s belongings remembering him before he died, and flips through a couple of “Daredevil” comic books. That’s basically the head space that Director Ben Hernandez Bray is in during his crime thriller superhero movie “El Chicano.” Essentially, “El Chicano” is an urban superhero with heaps of potential to be the next big avenger against drug dealers and gangsters. A mix of “Daredevil,” “The Phantom,” and “Batman,” Ben Hernandez Bray’s action thriller is admirably ambitious and fun.

Young L.A.P.D. Detective Diego Hernandez is assigned a career-making case investigating a vicious cartel. While digging in to a potential gangster uprising, he uncovers links to his brother’s supposed suicide and a turf battle that’s about to swallow his neighborhood and over throw the police. Torn between playing by the book and seeking vigilante justice, he resurrects the masked street legend “El Chicano” who is known by many as the boogeyman. Now, out to take down his childhood friend turned gang boss, he sets off a bloody war to defend his city and avenge his brother’s murder.

One thing you can’t fault Ben Hernandez Ray for is the ambitious obvious work of love he brings to life on the big screen. His primarily minority cast help convey a lot of the resonant themes he aims for, as “El Chicano” falls between a genuine crime thriller and a superhero picture. Much in the way “The Dark Knight” aimed to be a Batman tale set in the crime world, “El Chicano” is essentially a tale of legacy and fighting for justice set in a world filled with drugs, gangsters, and poverty. I don’t entirely know if the film itself had to be almost two and a half hours in length, but “El Chicano” works as an engrossing crime and gangster picture setting Diego down in a mystery that begins to mount the deeper he digs in to the case.

Director and writer Hernandez Ray delves in to the mysticism of Mexican American culture, while also implementing a wonderful cast of Mexican American actors. This includes Marco Rodriguez, and Raul Castillo as Diego Hernandez, the film’s noble officer turned masked avenger. I especially enjoyed George Lopez as Captain Gomez, the films answer to Commissioner Gordon. The pacing of “El Chicano” is measured in that it builds on the world that created El Chicano, and explores how much the city needs him. At two and a half hours, though, I wish we’d seen so much more about El Chicano and learned a lot more about his legacy. How many more El Chicanos have there been?

How does he lurk about without being detected? Does he have any other weaponry? For a film that unfolds a quite engrossing crime mystery, I think director Hernandez Ray could have given us so much more time with Diego donning the mask of El Chicano and becoming the avenger of his neighborhood. “El Chicano” ends no a note that implies there is a sequel or series in the works, but I just don’t think there’s enough of the hero doing what he does so well, especially for something that prides itself in being a Latino superhero film. That said, “El Chicano” is a strong superhero film that I had a very good time with.

Though long in the tooth, Ben Hernandez Ray dares to work outside the more fantastic elements currently embraced, and works more at a ground level down to Earth crime thriller we haven’t seen since Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I hope we get more of this character soon because I definitely want to see more.