By James Greenwell, Contributor
“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” This quote from Albert Einstein opens the documentary “Superheroes” and reflects the motivations of the film’s subjects.
Director Michael Barnett follows several real-life superheroes from across the country, documenting their actions and recording their thoughts on why they have decided to take the law into their own hands. From Mr. Xtreme and his Xtreme Justice League (XJL) in San Diego to Zimmer and the New York Initiative, the common theme among these masked individuals is a driving sense of needing to do something to improve a flawed world. They share a feeling of ethical responsibility to make up for the shortcomings they see in the traditional legal system.
Very little crime fighting takes place throughout the film. With the most intense scene being a verbal confrontation with a drug dealer, audiences looking for caped heroics will need to stick to Hollywood blockbusters. The personal sides of these individuals are the core of the film.
Mr. Xtreme mentions growing up in an abusive home and being bullied at school. An avid comic book and Power Rangers fan, he sees a general feeling of apathy in the world around him and dons his disguise in an effort to open people’s eyes. Part of his costume is a memorial to Kitty Genovese, a 1964 murder victim whose cries for help were ignored by her neighbors, according to Mr. Xtreme.
Master Legend, the only crime fighter we see who claims to have actual superpowers (though he never demonstrates them), shares similar tales of childhood abuse. His story starts with religious salvation by his grandmother and masked revenge on a school bully.
While they may not be stopping all kinds of violent crime, “Superheroes” makes it clear that these spandex-clad do-gooders are indeed making a difference. All the heroes are shown helping feed, clothe and serve the homeless in their communities.
Zetaman and his wife, Apocalypse Meow, put together “Zetapacks” of toiletries and snacks that they distribute to the needy.
Master Legend and Team Justice—a registered non-profit organization—collect toys and donate them as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children.
Mr. Xtreme and the XJL are shown giving water and food to a group of homeless people less than a mile from the San Diego Comic-Con where thousands of comic book and sci-fi fans are celebrating the fictional inspirations for these real-life heroes. This is an especially poignant scene when juxtaposed with an earlier scene showing Mr. Xtreme moving out of his apartment to live in his van.
With a nice blend of humor and sentimentality, “Superheroes” is well worth a look.