Last fall, HBO aired the documentary Superheroes and they’ve been airing it steadily since. The film unflinchingly follows people in cities all over America (and one in Vancouver) who don costumes and “fight crime.” It mostly focuses around Mr. Extreme, a San Diego superhero and Power Rangers fanatic who leads the Xtreme Justice League.
At the start of the documentary, you will likely respond like you would any time you see slightly disillusioned folks dressed up in garish costumes – with removed amusement. You will laugh as they explain who they are, their backgrounds, what training they have and what city they watch over.
That fades fast, and not only because Superheroes is an engrossing film – which it most definitely is – but also because you will always be reminded that these are real people.
As it progress and you get to know the subjects and their backgrounds and see them in action, a feeling of unease creeps in. When Master Legend is revealed to be something of a lecherous Bible-thumping drunk (albeit a charismatic one), you can’t help but fear for the man. When Mr. Extreme gets absolutely annihilated in the first round of a Muay Thai tournament, you realize that he doesn’t really stand a chance against any hardened criminals.
And that’s where your mood will change – the first time you realize “Holy crap this guy is going to die.”
After that, you feel and fear for these people, who by all accounts, are good people with the best of intentions. They see something as wrong and they go about attempting to right it. They obviously do care – the scene where Mr. Extreme and others hand out water and toiletries to homeless folks a block away from San Diego’s infamous Comic-Con proves that. They may have a few screws loose (after hearing many of their backgrounds, it makes sense why), but they are just trying to make a difference.
The film also raises some interesting moral questions, especially when it focuses on the New York Initiative. Pictured above, the NYI is a group of four young people who stalk the streets of Brooklyn at night in attempt to keep the people safe. Which would be fine, if they just walked around and stopped crimes. But what they do instead is put out one of the members as bait, then swoop in and… Well, nobody is quite sure, since no filmed attempt was successful.
The NYI’s methods spur some lively debate about whether what they do is entrapment, stopping someone who would have harmed someone else, or just a bunch of young rage fiends looking for a fight. It makes one wonder whether they are really doing “good” or not.
And then there are people like Life, a well-dressed young Jewish man who, aside from his The Spirit-like mask, is just a regular dude wandering around helping people who are a bit down on their luck. Unlike the others, he seems to be very level-headed about what he is doing and what he hopes to accomplish. Also, when he says he likes doing mitzvahs, it’s really endearing. You can’t help but love the guy.
So watch Superheroes. It’s a fascinating look at people who take cosplay to a whole new level and the stories behind their masks. Plus, it’s only 80 minutes long.