DVD Review: Superheroes (2011)

on Wednesday, April 18, 2012
'Superheroes' (UK DVD Release: 16 April '12) // Words: Saam Das

The likes of 'Super', 'Kick-Ass' and 'Defendor' have all recently pondered on the thought of "what would happen if superheroes were real". 'Superheroes' is a documentary that takes the zeitgeist one step further, examining everyday Americans who have chosen to become "real life superheroes". These unique individuals don their own costumes and monikers in the fight against criminals and the biggest evil they perceive - indifference.

Many, if not all, the characters' motivations for becoming a superhero extend from a personal anguish - be it Mr Xtreme's childhood suffering or Z's failed suicide attempt. Similarly, many also reflect on the case of Kitty Genovese as inspiration for their own causes. Genovese was a New York woman killed in front of an apartment complex, with a supposed 38 witnesses who failed to act. (Although this has been questioned since in academic research - pdf.) They perceive society, and most notably the police, as apathetic - a quality which they aim to fight against almost as much as criminal behaviour.

Barring the absurdist Master Legend, none of these superheroes genuinely believes they are in possession of any superpowers. Not that such a fact excludes any of them from being at least somewhat delusional or mentally unhinged. Take Mr Xtreme, for example, with his love of 'Power Rangers' and...erm...eye gouging. This is revealed early on in the piece, highlighting the confusing juxtaposition between fancy dress and potential harm, which is touched upon by the San Diego police representative in the film.

Undoubtedly, each viewer will have their own preconceptions of these self-proclaimed superheroes. The strength of 'Superheroes' is that it demonstrates all sorts of qualities, both negative and positive, allowing you to make your own judgements. What's more important however is the dedication and determination of the documented folk who will not waver from their missions. They care little for what others think of their actions, and care more to better themselves and their communities.

Animated transitions are utilised superbly, very much resembling comic book panels, an entirely appropriate device. However, director Michael Barnett adopts something of a scattergun approach - flip-flopping between his real-life superheroes before tacking on a voyage to Comic-Con which feels like an undue epilogue to an unfinished saga. Even comic book legend Stan Lee's appearance seems slightly forced. Perhaps the trio of editors (Douglas Blush, Derek Boonstra, and Jeff Chen) is to blame. Certainly, it seems unusual to have three people responsible for the edit.

It would be easy to ridicule and pity these real-life superheroes, behaviour that is occasionally caught in the documentary. Yet their heroics in challenging themselves to be better and their quest to look after the helpless puts the average citizen to shame. 'Superheroes' has its flaws but aptly portrays the eccentricities on offer as well as the good intentions. Vancouver's 62 year old superhero, Thanatos, states: "we're all trying to make difference". In his own way, Michael Barnett has done just that.

★★★ (3/5)

'Superheroes' is out now on Signature Entertainment and available to purchase at amazon.co.uk.

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