Superheroes delves into the world of a modern-day phenomenon; regular members of the public who dress up in their spare time to fight crime and care for their community. Mike Barnett’s film follows these unique individuals as they carry out their alternative lifestyle, somehow managing to never mock his subjects, just observing their eccentricities.
The “superheroes” are a mixed bunch; some come across as harmless local nuts, spreading joy rather than fighting crime. Others arm themselves, learn fighting techniques and patrol the streets looking for wrongs to right and criminals to fight. The rest are content to just reach out to the homeless community and bring them vital supplies and food. All of the superheroes are trying to improve the city they live in and cite the general population’s apathy (and their love of comic books) as their reason for suiting up and hitting the streets.
On the whole Superheroes felt like a gentle, balanced documentary with a few routes left unexplored; one superhero’s statement that he sometimes “went too far” when fighting crime was particularly troubling but was not looked into further. It was only during the Q&A with director Mike Barnett that I discovered what was missing.
Barnett talked passionately about the superheroes and the relationships he had with them and it would have been nice to see him on camera interacting with the suited vigilantes. With a broad cast of characters in separate cities, Barnett could have acted as the thread tying their stories together. More than this though it seemed he knew more about the story of real life heroes, including the founding of the Guardian Angels in the late seventies, that somehow didn’t make it into the film. In making Superheroes, Barnett has hindered his film by limiting himself to just looking at the current incarnations and not delving into the history of such behaviour.
Superheroes is an enjoyable look into the motivations and actions of real life superheroes but could go so much deeper.