It’s been a while since I watched a superhero related documentary, but this one has always been popping up when I looked around for them here and there. It was originally aired on HBO after a premier at the Slamdance Film Festival. It’s a very rudimentary look at the Real Life Superhero Movement (RLSH) as it existed in 2010 as it has in depth interviews with several members of the RLSH as well as a few members of police that they encountered during their time together. It generally lets the superheroes speak for themselves, though it does give an overall impression of looking down upon the movement as a whole where most of the heroes focused on are kooks or have other issues and there’s only a small portion near the end that really sheds a positive light on the whole concept.
The main focus of the documentary rests on about three different heroes and their groups, plus frequent cut-aways to either a police dispatcher or psychologist to help temper the views of the superheroes. The first hero we’re introduced to refers to himself as Mr. Extreme and is the head of the Extreme Justice League with a logo that looks very similar to the NFL logo. He wears a helmet, pads, and has a pair of goggles with slightly cartoonish angry eyes on them with a very duct tape and scissors feel to it. He seems to be the epitome of the delusional, socially stunted stereotype of the real life superhero movement. Most of the time he’s presented as a sad loser, we see him in his very messy small apartment until he eventually moves out to live in his van. He even enters a martial arts tournament where he hopes to advance from a white belt to a blue belt, and for those who don’t know, white belt is the beginning level. During the beginning of the film he also is working on recruiting for his Extreme Justice League which begins as a league with just a single member. He does get some validation by the end of the film as we slowly see him begin to gain other members before he finally has a group of about five members and gains recognition for helping catch a “serial groper” through spreading flyers around the area to raise awareness.
The member with the second most screen time would be Master Legend based out of Florida. He’s a hero that I had previously seen in another documentary about the Real Life Superhero Movement, Superhero Me and he’s presented in mostly the same way. He’s the hero that seems the most delusional as he talks about his super powers, hits on women, and drinks beer, though “never to drunkenness”. He tells several tall tales about his past, from the start of his superhero career at age eight where he dressed up in costume, beat up the school bully, and no one was ever the wiser. He also talks about his father being in the KKK where he was forced to fight his best friend every night in Fight Club-esque brawls. This doesn’t exactly match up with any of the stories he tells in the other documentary where he claimed to have started his superhero career at age sixteen.
There’s also a slight air of celebrity as there are a few moments where random people come by the super heroes while filming to take pictures together. Though during the short time with them, it’s hard to tell if the people were actually fans of the super heroes, or if they just thought it was funny and were doing it for a laugh. There’s rarely any sense of danger even though many of the heroes talk about the risks of getting shot or stabbed. The worst thing we see during this film is one of the other heroes who basically goes around trying to film drug dealers in order to call the cops or get them to leave approaches one such drug dealer who verbally threatens the hero before eventually just walking off after the hero calls the police. There’s also the members of the New York Initiative who set up a couple bait patrols where one of them dresses up as “bait” while the others patrol on skateboards nearby in case they get mugged or attacked. And while that doesn’t happen either time, they do end up helping an elderly man who gets his foot run over by a car. Zimmer, the openly gay hero who also is one of the few who don’t wear a mask is nearly done with his training to become a licensed EMT. During their second try they end up filming a drunk driver hit a parked car, they call the police but are essentially ignored and end up convincing the guy to let them take his keys and mail them back to him the next day.
While most of the film is focused on the negatives of these Real Life Superheroes, like the cheap costumes, their odd assortment of non-lethal weapons that don’t always work, and people yelling at them to get off of their property, the last segment of the film does actually show how they are able to do some good in their communities. Most of the RLSH members spend much of their time and money helping the homeless. One couple makes up a number of toiletry kits that include basic needs like a roll of toilet paper, deoderant, and likely a bit of food that they distribute to the needy. The group in San Diego also go around just a mile away from the big SDCC where there are plenty of homeless lining the streets to hand out bottles of water. And as kooky as he seems, one claim of Master Legend that seems entirely plausible is the fact that their group have gotten non-profit status as a charitable organization. This part of the documentary helps show the other side of things and while much of it has a feeling of looking down on these people as being silly and even a little sad, it at least throws them a bone to show the positive side of their endeavors, and even if that’s ultimately the only good these people do, it’s worth it to the people that they help. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.