Comic books are full of heroes who wear tights, capes and masks. They may or may not have super powers. They fight crimes and make the world a better place. Maybe they have to fight their own demons as well, but by and large these superheroes do good.
What if it weren’t just in comic books? Superheroes shows us some Real Life Superheroes (note the capitalization: there is a whole movement of these people in our midst), people who don their costumes in various cities and go out on patrol to try to make the world better. There are people like Mr. Xtreme in San Diego; Thanatos in Vancouver; Master Legend, the beer swilling de facto leader of a whole group of superheroes in Orlando; the New York Initiative, a group that goes out late at night seeking to lure in muggers in the South Bronx; and more.
The film begins with a quote by Albert Einstein: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” That is a common theme when we hear these people tell about why they do what they do. Kitty Genovese serves as something of a patron saint for these superheroes. Genovese was stabbed to death in 1964 while many bystanders heard her screams and did nothing. The men and women who go out as superheroes often mention that case as a reason for what they do. They feel called to do what they can to make the world better and safer.
As we watch, we may wonder about what kind of psychological reasons lie behind the need to dress up and act in this manner. The film doesn’t delve deeply into the psychology, but it also doesn’t ignore it. Some of those we encounter relate issues of being abused or bullied while young. Is their response a healthy or unhealthy response to that? We really don’t have sufficient information to say. But it is still interesting to watch them as they act out what to them is a very important outlet for the pains and fears that have come to them through the years.
Director Michael Barnett could have approached this by ridiculing these people. Certainly they are quirky. Some have some very strange self-image issues. But he plays it straight. We see real people (eccentric, but very real) who just want to be good. It isn’t all about crime fighting. Some of these superheroes make the world a better place by taking care of those in need – feeding the homeless or talking with lonely street people. Perhaps we enter the film thinking we will be entertained by odd people, but when we leave we should come away considering if we have done anything to make the world a better place.