With the recent explosion of geek culture the idea of grown people dressing up in costume isn’t all that outrageous. What is different from the norm is those same grown people dawning superhero personas and actually attempting to thwart crime. No this isn’t the latest version of “Kick-Ass”, but a documentary about people who exist in our world that consider themselves superheroes.
Directed by Mike Barnett the documentary Superheroes tells the story of some of America’s greatest true to life crime fighters. From San Diego to New York to Orlando we get to see who is out there protecting us normal everyday citizens. While the premise might seem like a joke most of these heroes treat what they do with the utmost seriousness. We first meet Mr. Extreme, a 35 year old security guard by day, who protects the city of San Diego. We are brought into his secret den/apartment to learn about what the life of true life superhero can look like. His training ritual consists of practicing with his combat dummy and reading the latest self defense books. Inspired by his favorite heroes, the Power Rangers, Mr. Extreme attempts to take down the latest criminal mastermind to hit his local streets. A serial groper has been sexual assaulting women throughout the neighbor and Extreme joins in on the manhunt by posting flyers to inform the public to be on the lookout. The films shows us how Extreme handles this responsibility and why he feels he is the man for the job.Extreme is just one in a vast number of heroes covered here. We also meet the likes of the New York Initiative our world’s version of the Fantastic Four. They defiantly look the part and seem like a legitimate fighting force. We see some of New York Initiative’s actual patrols. In these patrols the Initiative use a member of their team as mugging bait. While the bait walks the street alone the rest of the team lurks close by ready to swoop in when someone falls for their trap. While these bait and switches don’t always go as planned we do see how these heroes can actually save the day in ways you may not expect.
It is actually shocking to see how many people are out there dressed up in homemade costumes that consider themselves actual superheroes. Even more surprising is that some legitimately look the part. Well trained, in great shape, and people you can see actually being effective in thwarting crime. While others would quicker put themselves into danger then actually strike fear into the hearts of criminals. Their heart may be in the right place, but that place could get them seriously injured. The director Mike Barnett attempts to discover what drives these people to do what they do. We see these heroes bare their souls to tell us what go them to this point. While the stories we hear differ from person to person they share a lot of similarities. As these reservations are revealed your aren’t really all that surprised to see how these people ended up like they did. Their stories seem to follow the same line as most heroes. They are often driven by some demon in their past they continuously try to conquer. I appreciated that Barnett kept his documentary style simple. The focus here is not on him as a filmmaker but his subject matter. You could tell at times however that he wasn’t sure how exactly to take these heroes. Are they cannon fodder for mockery? Are they legitimate bona fide superman? At times they are portrayed as simple jokes, while at others sympathetic characters. You question their sanity, but at moments you can’t help but sit back and admire what they hope to accomplish.
There are shots that are clearly there to help evoke compassion. Long slow shots that establish a sense of loneness. As if we are meant to believe these people are just trying to find out where they belong in this would. However moments earlier the film was showing you moments that exposed that person as a pathetic joke. While experiencing different emotions is fine, combining mockery and sympathy doesn’t really flow. To be fair this may not be a fault of the film. Like is often the case in life this may be an example where there is no exact answer. Maybe the correct way to feel is “All the Above”. That may be giving more credit to the film then it deserves but it is worth pointing out.Even with some mixed emotions I did appreciate the theme of this doc, which seems to be trying to determine what it truly means to be a superhero. Obviously that isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but it was an interesting formant to explore that question. A society of people we tend to ignore offer a lot more then we give them credit for. They are not simple minded beings who enjoy playing dress up. They have the same hopes and desires we all do. They just decide to go about it a different way. There is a lot to take away from this documentary I would advise anyone, even non-superhero fans, to watch it.