Review: Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story

Score: B

Director: Ludvig Gur

Cast: Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen, Jamie Thomas

Running Time: 73 Minutes

Rated: NR

For people of a certain age, the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series is held in high esteem. I know I have fond memories of playing the first two games for hours, both with friends and alone. While its massive success seems obvious in retrospect, it's actually one of the least likely successful franchises in modern video game history. As revealed in the new documentary Pretending I'm a Superman, skateboarding was on the downslope of its cyclical popularity at the time of the game's development. As a sport, it exploded in the late '70s, declined in the early '80s, and went up and down until the mid-90s. That's when ESPN started broadcasting the X Games, bringing the sport back into the mainstream. Throughout those peaks and valleys, Tony Hawk maintained his position as the face of the sport.

There hadn't been many successful skateboarding games, and previous attempts to make one with Hawk had gone nowhere. But Activision turned to upstart game studio Neversoft (whose first game was the Bruce Willis shooter Apocalypse) to make it work. Hawk, standing out among the boardroom full of suits, signed off and the rest is history.

Pretending I'm a Superman is brief but covers all it needs to. It starts with a condensed history of skateboarding, explaining just enough for unaware viewers to get a full grasp on the key elements. While Hawk is the central figure, it offers plenty of screen time and reverence to other all-stars, highlighting their competitions and the DIY aesthetic that led many of them to make and distribute their own videos, which, in its own right, became an underground sensation.

The doc also addresses the healthy skepticism many skaters had about the prospect of this video game and the X Games in general. But no one has anything bad to say about Hawk, even if he got more name recognition and cash. And for the bands that contributed songs to that first edition – including Goldfinger, whose song "Superman" gives the film its title – all saw a boost in ticket and album sales.

Pretending I'm a Superman is not an earth-shattering or essential documentary. But it does engage, hitting all the key points, as it explains why the series (particularly the first two games) were such a phenomenon.

*This film is currently available via On-Demand and Digital platforms.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.