Mr. Extreme, one of the heroes featured in the film "Superheroes"
Slamdance Film Festival
Dir: Michael Barnett
"Superheroes" adds to Slamdance’s expanding archive of some of the best non-fiction films we’ve seen at festivals. The cogent work follows the travails and (mis)adventures of real-life superheroes (RLSH) in major cities throughout the US—including the SLC. Characters as silly sounding as Master Legend and Mr. Extreme fight for justice alongside the more seriously dubbed likes of Omen, Conundrum, and a nice Jewish boy named Chaim (life in Hebrew). Their names are straight out of the comics (or the Torah, in the case of Chaim) and so are their mostly silly costumes—replete with armor, shiny lights, capes and the occasional utility belt. At points throughout the film audience members look on with incredulity at the confidence the subjects show in their personification of comic book memes. SLUG would have thought it more than implausible ourselves if not for the honest to god characters fielding inquiries during a post-screening Q&A. They are very real people and their shenanigans dangerously provocative, the film points out. Cautionary interviews with Stan Lee, a psychologist, and police officer highlight this uncomfortable truth as they all express concern for people adopting the word “Super” with bodies merely human. The film is well organized and has both uplifting and frightening arcs as heroes take to the streets. A NY superhero confronts a drug dealer in Washington Square Park, and the audience collectively inhales. He happens to be one of the only professionally trained fighters in the film—and an MMA instructor—yet anxiety is palpable as he tells a dealer a foot taller and hundreds-of-pounds heavier to stop slinging in his park. The truth about their vigilantism and very real numbers, thousands strong in cities across America, doesn’t stick until captured so accurately on film. Director Michael Barnett doesn’t hesitate to show Master Legend’s drinking issues, the failed strategies NY heroes enact to catch muggers/rapists using actors as bait, or the troubles of Mr. Extreme as he moves from "The Extreme Cave" (his house) into a van due to financial strain. These superheroes seem comical in places, but overall the story swells with love for the good-natured nerds who actually practice what they preach via community outreach with the homeless and genuine desire to better their species during nightly patrols. Their main enemy as described in the film? The world’s increasing Apathy. It wears a face—we see it everyday out in the streets, our offices and homes—and these genuine Superheroes are some of the only ones left fighting the good fight against that most pervasive of real Villains.