Superheroes (Director: Michael Barnett): Superheroes do exist, even if they come up a little light in the “super” depart­ment (by way of an obvi­ous lack of super­powers). My first expos­ure to real life super­her­oes (referred to as “RLSH”) was a fas­cin­at­ing 2008 art­icle in Rolling Stone magazine that took a look inside the sub­cul­ture, which is estim­ated to com­prise 700 indi­vidu­als world­wide who dress up in cos­tumes and attempt to effect some man­ner of pos­it­ive change in their com­munit­ies. Director Michael Barnett turns his cam­era on the sub­ject in Superheroes, zero­ing in on dif­fer­ent pock­ets of RLSH in a num­ber of major American cit­ies.

Master Legend, with his pudgy frame packed into a tight sil­ver and black cos­tume partly made up of spray painted pro­tect­ive hockey equip­ment and base­ball catcher shin guards, heads up the Orlando, Florida chapter of the Team Justice net­work. He was prom­in­ently fea­tured in the Rolling Stone piece and gets plenty of cam­era time here as well, due to his col­our­ful per­son­al­ity, includ­ing an occa­sional holy roller speech, pro­clam­a­tions that he actu­ally pos­sesses super powers, fre­quent stops for beer breaks, and a habit of try­ing to pick up women (all while dressed in his cos­tume). It’s a real­ity TV series wait­ing to hap­pen. Mr. Extreme, from San Diego, also has a most unsu­per­hero-like physique and draws inspir­a­tion partly from the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, who he seems to have a fas­cin­a­tion with on a level that just isn’t healthy for a grown man. Zimmer, a gay RLSH from Brooklyn, refuses to wear a mask, equat­ing it with someone who is trapped in the closet. The unima­gin­at­ively named Super Hero, from Florida, takes a little too much pride in his sweet crime fight­ing ride, a flashy red Corvette Stingray. New York City’s Life takes his cos­tume cues from The Green Hornet and his moral code from a Hasidic Jewish upbring­ing that instilled strong altru­istic val­ues. These are just a few of the numer­ous RLSH we meet dur­ing the film.

Make no mis­take, these people take what they’re doing very ser­i­ously, even if there’s an unavoid­able comedic ele­ment to adults patrolling big city streets while wear­ing cos­tumes, some of which are, shall we say, of a highly ama­teur­ish nature; I believe I saw duct tape on one cos­tume and the out­fit of a RLSH named The Vigilante Spider looked like some­thing straight out of a grade school play. The com­mon thread is that all of these people are pas­sion­ate about try­ing to make a dif­fer­ence in the world, des­pite the per­sonal risks of bod­ily harm, social ridicule, and some fin­an­cial bur­den. Mr. Extreme even moves out of the dumpy ren­ted house he inhab­its and into his van, just so he can put more money into his cause, which includes offer­ing rewards out of his own pocket for tips that lead to solv­ing crimes. This begs the ques­tion: are these people of sound mind? Clinical psy­cho­lo­gist Robin Rosenberg, an expert on the psy­cho­logy of super­her­oes, provides help­ful insight into the topic from time to time through­out the film. Also inter­viewed is super­hero cre­ator-icon Stan Lee, who admires the RLSH chutzpah, but wor­ries about their safety.

Where the film fal­ters is in its lack of action and inter­est­ing scen­arios where the RLSH do, in fact, fight actual crime. We see one stand up to an intim­id­at­ing drug dealer ped­dling his wares out in the open in a park, while another New York col­lect­ive of RLSH takes a few more risks. On dif­fer­ent occa­sions we see them car­ry­ing out “bait patrol” oper­a­tions, which entail hav­ing one of their female mem­bers dress up in pro­voc­at­ive cloth­ing and walk the street, try­ing to lure poten­tial crim­in­als into com­mit­ting a sexual assault. Alternately, they dress Zimmer up in a flam­boy­ant out­fit in hopes of attract­ing a poten­tial gay basher. The rest of the group is always close by to provide quick backup. It’s an eth­ic­ally dubi­ous way of “fight­ing crime” and, as a police lieu­ten­ant informs us, bor­ders on entrap­ment. The most excite­ment we get is watch­ing the group take the keys from a drunk driver who is seen sideswip­ing other parked vehicles (they assure him they’ll mail them back the next day). They also come to the res­cue of a man who gets his foot run over by a passing car. Not exactly edge-of-your-seat adven­ture, is it?

So it turns out that the most sig­ni­fic­ant impact these people make is simply by being Good Samaritans and doing char­it­able things like hand­ing out care pack­ages to the home­less, and organ­iz­ing Christmas toy drives for under­priv­ileged kids. It may not be flashy (other than the cos­tumes they wear), but it’s still highly admir­able and more than most of us can say we do to help our fel­low man.

Superheroes will be air­ing on HBO this sum­mer and receiv­ing a the­at­rical release later this year.

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