Every once in a while you watch something that makes you feel a little better about humanity in general. Superheroes is neither bird, nor plane, nor speeding bullet, but a documentary featuring people who dress like comic-book crime fighters and go out on the streets where they live, and try to make them streets a better or safer place for everyone. Some do this by breaking up low-level street crime, others help society’s homeless and forgotten with clothes and food. However they go about it, they all have the same goal in common, which is to help those in need, however that help may manifest itself.
We get to meet a selection of the real-life superheroes, including Mr Xtreme, Master Legend and a group called the New York Initiative, whose most prominent member is the unmasked Zimmer. While most real-life superheroes choose to wear a mask for anonymity (they are mostly patrolling their local neighbourhoods after all) there are some, such as Zimmer and Dark Guardian that are notable by the visibility of their face.
Superheroes is a very funny film in places, but never in a mean or mocking way towards it’s subjects. Undoubtedly there are a large number of people who’ve seen this film or read about the existence of real-life superheroes and probably thought they are crazy. But as we learn, their reasons for doing what they do are completely reasonable and well thought out. Mr Xtreme cites a case from 1964 as his inspiration, when a lady called Kitty Genovese was murdered, and at the trial it was revealed that there had been 38 witnesses who had heard or seen something, but not one person did anything to help. It is partly through indignation that something like this could happen that has driven people like Mr Xtreme to don costumes (of varying quality…) and take matters into their own hands.
Director Michael Barnett really has triumphed here. He gives us everything we could possibly want in a documentary. He introduces a phenomenon that is probably new to most of the audience, and then examines the individual motivations, the history of real-life superheroes and even finds out what their day jobs are. Being a superhero is after all an unpaid role, and even Master Legend has to pay the bills.
One of the most striking scenes in the film comes from a trip to San Diego when the Comic-Con is happening and all the world’s fanboys are descending upon the convention centre to worship at the alter of Superman, Batman and the rest. But just a mile away, among the enormous homeless population, our real-life heroes are giving out water and survival packs to those living way below the San Diego poverty line. This film shows that superheroes are not merely a thing of fiction, they are real and they live among us. OK, so these ones can’t fly or shoot lasers out of their eyes, but then they do have way better disguises than Superman. A pair of glasses? Now you’re Clark Kent? Come on….
Words: Mark Williams