Oh, to be young, insecure, and in search of a battle. This is the idea of Hulu’s Miguel Wants to Fight, which attempts to riff on the tired coming-of-age film but never makes enough consistent contact with the targets it swings at. It is finally undone by very ordinary scripting that undercuts its already hit-or-miss references to classic action movies, directed by Oz Rodriguez, who previously helmed last year’s Vampires vs. The Bronx, which nevertheless has a bit more bite than other contemporary vampire pictures of late.
It’s a comedy written by Jason Concepcion and Shea Serrano about a group of friends who realise one of their group has never backed them up in a fight. They then do all they can to get the titular Miguel (Tyler Dean Flores) into his first battle, only to learn that it is far more difficult than they anticipated. This is a solid idea with a strong ensemble that has a lot of promise before the picture introduces the repeating theme of how it imagines those “fights.”
The renowned Bruce Lee looms huge as a billboard from the minute we glimpse Miguel’s room, even before the young kid dons his yellow jumpsuit from Game of Death while recreating the scenario from Enter the Dragon. This is only the first cinematic hodgepodge that the film seeks to shape into something fascinating of its own, with references ranging from The Matrix series to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and RRR.
There are probably worse works to be inspired by, but the execution of how they are copied feels strangely lifeless. While it will never reach the heights of its cinematic antecedents, it just makes you wish you were watching them rather than these very empty imitations. The fact that it begins with a TikTok video is appropriate given the film’s depth. Before you judge individuals who make these short movies, keep in mind that the lack of depth inherent in the medium does not imply there aren’t frequently great people behind them.
As seen below, just adopting an approximation of the form does not imply that they will function in the same way. Despite the best efforts of its youthful ensemble, they never feel like anything more than one-dimensional knockoffs, despite the occasional giggle at how the film puts its take on them.
One of the film’s most puzzling aspects is that the allusions themselves are the least engaging sections. No matter how many times it brings them up, frequently yelling out what they are in case you missed them, they just play out as one-note sketches with nothing more to them. David (Christian Vunipola), Cass (Imani Lewis), and Srini (Suraj Partha) are all good characters to build on, but they are overshadowed by shallow humour.
Whereas the action comedy Polite Society made very obvious connections while still focusing on the character to give its coming-of-age story a kick, Miguel Wants to Fight simply goes through the motions and ends up seeming quite bland. The story’s emotional hook, that Miguel is moving away with his parents and is thus motivated by melancholy to seek out a fight rather than openly cope with his feelings, is overshadowed by the vacuous spectacle of the multiple bouts going haywire.
He just can’t seem to get into one, no matter how hard he tries. Because of the way this is all built, the images he has of how they will proceed, which is where we transition into the allusions, are rendered eternally transient.
There is no real drive behind any of it to compel you to care, no matter how effectively it resembles little visual components of these far bigger films, from clothes to the rare lines. Part of the difficulty is that the action classics to which the picture refers have better craft and stunt execution than it does. However, it is more than that since it allows us to sit with minimal emotional energy. Some of this may be due to the young characters’ inability to communicate their sentiments just now, as seen by Miguel’s refusal to inform them he is going, yet the way it is stretched out makes it appear lifeless rather than revealing.
That’s not to say there aren’t brief snippets where we slow down to witness more meaningful and amusing moments outside of what starts to seem like gimmicks. The problem is that they are few. It’s as if you can imagine a universe where the film delves deeper into Miguel’s connection with his father, portrayed by Ral Castillo of the contemplative recent film The Inspection, and finds something more fascinating there than the emptiness it attempts to disguise as dynamism.
Some of the film’s disappointment is deliberate since it is all about the kids building up to this moment that will not fix their issues, albeit there is a lack of grace in how it accomplishes this. Just because we’re supposed to experience a more real letdown doesn’t mean it should extend to the film’s execution in general. There isn’t enough earned humour or prevailing heart to leave much of an impression.
The film’s obvious affection for the allusions it throws forth is never translated into anything noteworthy of its own. When it comes to a halt, all Miguel Wants to Fight feels like it is frantically striving for is to be a better version of itself that it is never quite able to achieve.