Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

By the time of this documentary's release, it's probable you are already aware that there are real life costumed crimefighters out there. There have already been other films on the subject and several of them have appeared in the news. They may have turned up 75 years after their fictional counterparts in Alan Moore's Watchmen but its is clear they share many of the same motives. They're drawn to the costumes, to the moral simplicity of a world with unquestioned good guys and bad guys, to the idea of helping people. One of them quotes almost word for word the origin story Moore invented for his character Rorschach, inspired by the real life murder of Kitty Genovese.

This documentary's great strength is in the variety of characters it presents to us. There's Mr Xtreme, a comic book collector who models himself on the Power Rangers and is (at the start of the film) the sole member of the Xtreme Justice League. There's Conundrum, a highly trained martial artist and parkour expert with nifty moves and a practical quick-zip suit. Apocalypse Meow reveals how she took up crimefighting after failing to persuade her husband, Zetaman, to give it up. 62 year old Thanatos says he wants to be a sort of anti-death and keep on being a superhero till he dies. And Master Legend declares simply "I love jumping in front of cars!". Called by God, he also spends a lot of his time flirting with women half his age, not to mention refreshing himself with a "perfectly reasonable" light beer or three.

This variety means that, whatever one's feelings when one starts watching, one ends up having to accept that these superheroes are simply human beings. They're by no means all crazy. Most of them have perfectly ordinary home lives and some of their family members chip in here as well. They have ordinary day jobs. What unites them is civic-mindnedness and an urge to make the world a better place.

This isn't always simple. Police officers fret that they're going to get themselves or others seriously hurt, or else inadvertently stumble into legal minefields. Even within the community itself there are differing views on the nature of right and wrong. Some of them are determined to wipe out the scourge of drugs at all costs; others carefully help a drugged-up man find a safe place to sleep. Methods vary too, with some looking for fights, some raising awareness of neighbourhood problems and others handing out food and clothing to the homeless. Aren't there ways to do good that don't involve dressing up? Some say that symbolism is important; others say that it's basically just good fun.

Probably the most engaging documentary on this subject to date, Superheroes really succeeds in putting across what it feels like to be a member of a community like this. There's plenty of humour, some of it at the heroes' expense, yet the film never resorts to mocking them. Their own voices come across clearly. And whether their actions are good or bad, wise or unwise, they are certainly colourful. This is a film with a lot of energy and a lot of heart.

Reviewed on: 03 Feb 2012
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Ordinary folk by day, caped crusaders by night; a look into the lives of real life superheroes.
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Director: Michael Barnett

Writer: Michael Barnett, Theodore James

Starring: Master Legend, Mr Xtreme, Zetaman, TSF, Apocalypse Meow, Conundrum, Thanatos, The Dark Avenger

Year: 2011

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US

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