Superheroes Directed by Michael Barnett
Originally posted: http://exclaim.ca/Reviews/HotDocs/superheroes-directed_by_michael_barnett
By Will Sloan
Mr. Xtreme lives in a small apartment, with his costume and weaponry buried under stacks of papers and magazines, where he watches Power Rangers on a 12-inch TV during his off-hours. He calls it his “Xtreme Cave,” and he doesn’t seem to be joking. He’s a working slug by day, but by night he roams/”protects” the streets of San Diego, CA, where the police regard him with a mix of bemusement and gentle concern.
He’s a little too overweight to be terribly intimidating in his costume, but lest you think he doesn’t take his responsibilities seriously, remember that he’s the president of the Xtreme Justice League, a community for like-minded crime fighters. He’s also the only member, but he does sometimes work with another San Diego superhero, “The Vigilante Spider.” Not to be confused with a certain other arachnid-themed superhero.
How does Michael Barnett, the director of Superheroes, expect us to regard this man? Mr. Xtreme is one of many real-life superheroes profiled in this very odd documentary, and he comes across as the saddest in a very sad group. Barnett seems to agree: why else would he show Mr. Xtreme losing a grappling tournament and interviews with his comically unsympathetic parents?
Barnett regards most of the other superheroes with similar ironic detachment: when the Vigilante Spider describes a hypothetical situation in which he kisses his girlfriend goodbye in the morning to go to work, Barnett pointedly asks if the Vigilante has a girlfriend (the answer may not surprise you); and Barnett’s camera stares blankly at “Master Legend” as he clumsily attempts to pick up a girl at a bar. The idea of a documentary about real-life superheroes is pretty irresistible, but what are we supposed to take away from this one except that sad, lonely people are sad and lonely?
Some of the superheroes are more like charity workers, distributing food and necessities to the homeless while wearing their costumes. Others, like a group that incite and then arrest attackers by having one of the members dress as flamboyantly gay, regard themselves in the Batman/Superman tradition (a police staffer interviewed points out that this group’s method borders dangerously close to entrapment).
When Barnett attempts to shift gears in the second half to a more sentimental tone, rhapsodizing the heroes as naïve but good-hearted folks who want to make the world a better place, it feels even more hollow and condescending than before. Superheroes is a one sad movie, and not often in a good way.
(Theodore James Productions)