“Somewhere in Brooklyn” one can find the secret hideout of the New York Initiative, a group of heroes who patrol the streets and keep citizens safe from crime when the NYPD can’t do the job.
“Somewhere in San Diego” Mr. Extreme sets out to catch the dreaded Chula Vista groper with the assistance of the members of the Xtreme Justice League whose memberships consists of… Mr. Extreme. And even that is in peril if his mother ever finds out.
I don’t want to start off this review in a mocking tone. “Superheroes” (2010), directed by Michael Barnett, takes a respectful look at the phenomenon of Real Life Superheroes (RLSH), a recent trend in which actual people put on actual costumes and go out to fight crime. Of course the sight of grown men and women in make-shift super hero outfits is inherently comedic (as many an actor in 1970s Marvel TV movies learned), and the ones who indulge their delusions most vigorously sometimes inspire laughs, but many of these people take their super-jobs very seriously and Barnett wants to know what makes them tick.
Some are more colorful than others. Master Legend has stitched together a collection of used sports equipment and duct tape to become the pudgy protector of Orlando, a city he likes to glower down upon from his rooftop retreat. A natural camera hog prone to melodrama, he plays his role to the hilt, and it’s hard to tell whether we should be amused or genuinely frightened by some of the jerry-rigged weapons he’s put in his arsenal.
Zimmer and his NYI cohorts are far more serious though, at times, we have to wonder if they are every bit as off-kilter. The team has taken to regular “bait patrol” missions in which one of them dresses provocatively to lure a criminal who the rest of the team, cruising nearby on skateboards, will apprehend. What could go wrong? Zimmer, an openly gay hero, assumes a third identity as a flamboyant street walker which sets up the film’s most interesting scene. Bait patrol fails but they are able to help a homeless man struck by a hit and run driver. Zimmer, fully decked out in his provocative get-up, races up to the man promising, “I know I look ridiculous but I’m a paramedic!”
The members of the NYI treat their training as a sacred duty, learning martial arts along with their medical skills and sparring with each other in their apartment lairs. Mr. Extreme is somewhat less rigorous in his preparations, perhaps because his persona is based on the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers rather than any butt-kicking comic vigilante. Nonetheless, through a methodical campaign of taping up posters to utility poles (POW!) he helps (sort of) capture the Chula Vista Groper though his public campaign comes with a price: his secret identity is revealed to his mother (her friend recognized him on TV even in costume) and she must come to terms with his new life on the frontiers of justice.
Barnett certainly encounters an eclectic cast of characters, but “Superheroes” suffers from the same fatal weakness as many documentaries: there simply isn’t enough material for a feature-length treatment, but it has to stretch to meet a market mandated running time. After following his motley crew around on a few missions, Barnett can do little more but sit back and devote the last half hour to a series of testimonials from somber heroes bemoaning the heavy burden that a crumbling society has bestowed on them. Someone has to take up the mantle, and that someone is me. And me. And me too. Thank goodness these folks weren’t actually out getting into any scrapes with bad guys, but the lack of action footage or any compelling footage beyond the first interviews is crippling. The net result is sincere but plodding and slipshod, lacking in any discernible rhetorical organization.
Stan Lee drops in to offer some guarded words of praise and caution for his accidental progeny and a lieutenant with the San Diego Police Department provides a skeptical counterpoint to the do-gooders do-gooding, but this is strictly a soft-sell by Barnett. It’s great that he chooses not to mock his characters (moments of humor seem to be good-natured) but casting such reckless behavior in a positive light is irresponsible in its own right. Fortunately, some of the heroes have chosen a much healthier path than Bait Patrol. Some use their costumes as a way to facilitate charitable works, bringing food and a friendly smile to the homeless. To which I’m sure Stan the Man would say, “Excelsior!”
The documentary is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The interlaced transfer is average, but perfectly adequate for the material at hand, which is not exactly visually stunning.
The Dolby Digital Stereo mix provides clear dialogue which is all that really matters. No subtitles are provided.
The only extras are eight Deleted Scenes (31 min. total) and a Theatrical Trailer.
Barnett plays it nice, but doesn’t really get to the heart of what made this concerned citizens choose a different path than, say, social workers or community organizers. There’s an inherent narcissism in the decision to assume a costumed persona and declare oneself the guardian of justice, and the film doesn’t shed any light on that aspect of the lifestyle. As a 45 minute cable special, this would have been pretty interesting. As a feature-length film it’s lacking.