Admit it: At one point in your life, you wished you could be a real superhero. You would draw your various costumes during class, fight with your friends over who got which powers, had them on your underwear, shirts, socks, shoes, backpack, thermal packs, bed sheets, etc.
Yet, despite our childhood aspirations, the majority of us unfortunately didn’t grow up to be superheroes. However, there are a number of people across the world that DID grow up to do just that. Superheroes sheds light on some of these mostly-caped crew of crusaders and examines just what it’s like to be seen as fictional characters in a very real world.
Superheroes is a documentary directed by Michael Barnett that focuses on a select number of Real-Life Superheroes across the country, but there’s more of a central focus set on Mr. Xtreme, a 33 year-old security guard in San Diego. Other highlighted superheroes include (amongst others) the New York Initiative, a group of four superheroes who also happen to be roommates, consisting of Zimmer, Lucid, Z, and T.S.A.F., and Master Legend, a superhero from Orlando known just as much for his eccentricities as his kind-heartedness.
The documentary shifts focus between the various superheroes with a few comic book panel cuts sprinkled in for transitional effects. Barnett delves into the minds of the superheroes to see exactly why they decided to dress up and fight crime. It’s during these intimate sessions where the viewer gets to see exactly human each character really is beneath the tights and capes.
The basic underlying theme that drives each character is the urge to protect their communities. However, some of them have skewered visions of doing so. For example, in one of the most awkwardly-set scenes, the New York Initiative decide to “plant” Zimmer on the street and use him as bait for others to attack him just so they can spring an ambush on the attacker. Are they really so misguided to feel accomplished that they’ll basically endanger their own friend’s life to achieve what’s nothing more than a self-fulfilled prophecy? Are they really thwarting danger if it’s they themselves that present the danger? It’s like pulling a chair in someone’s way, causing them to trip, just to catch them before they fall. Exactly how effective is that? Barnett balances the exposés with interviews from various authoritative figures, such as police lieutenants and psychologists discussing the effectiveness of vigilantes taking the law into their own hands.
As is the nature for all documentaries, Barnett decided to put the spotlight on a topic or issue that is interesting or not well-known to the general population. In choosing to film Superheroes, he certainly achieves the purpose of exposing the audience to a phenomena that isn’t widely-reported. However, in doing so, he also exposes them in a negative light. For the majority of the first half of the documentary, the tone is very light-hearted, almost seemingly poking fun at the characters. There are a few cringe-inducing scenes of total awkwardness, for example. Specifically, almost every scene involving Master Legend depicts him drinking a can of beer, painting him as some sort of drunk. There are also instances where it seemed some events were scripted, such as purported “fans” running up to Master Legend and being full of awe at the sight of him.
However, by the second half of the film, the tone shifts to show just how helpful the superheroes are within their communities. For example, Mr. Xtreme helped raise public awareness of a sexual predator in his community, Master Legend holds an annual food/gift drive, etc. The latter half shows that, despite how misguided they may be, the superheroes really do have a good heart and have full intentions of assisting those around them, despite their alternative way of doing so.
Superheroes works as an effective documentary that discusses the rising trend of Real-Life Superheroes. Not only does it cover the reasons why men and women go out of their ways to dress up in ill-fitting costumes in their attempts to “do good,” Barnett shows the end-result of what actually happens for people who really want to change lives. Sure, they may not be flying around catching bullets in between their teeth, but they are providing assistance to those in need of it, as well as being public figureheads representing ears and eyes when police simply can’t be.
Overall Score: 6.75 – Okay. (6s are just okay. These movies usually have many flaws, didn’t try to do anything special, or were poorly executed. Some will still love 6s, but most prefer to just rent them. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.)
*Note: Superheroes premieres on August 8th on HBO. As it’s part of the HBO Documentary Films series, this “Rent It” badge doesn’t really pertain to it. However, the badge represents the equivalent of the badge designated for it if it received a home media release.*