Part of the appeal of superhero comics, for a lot of readers, is that it satisfies a desire to live the superhero life through the pages of a comic book. But what happens when that’s not enough, when a reader wants to be a superhero for real? There are two places to go for answers starting this week: HBO’s new documentary film about real life superheroes entitled, “SUPERHEROES.” And the highly acclaimed movie, “SUPER,” has become available on DVD and Blu-ray. Both the documentary and the movie present people on the edge and they make a perfect set to watch one after the other.
HBO’s “Superheroes” presents the lives of a variety of people who have chosen to take things into their own hands. They range from the quiet and hesitant to the clownish to the earnest do-gooder. At first, the question that remains hanging in the air is, Will these guys ever actually do anything? The answer takes a little time. But, one thing is for sure, you get hooked in and want these guys to succeed. Reality bites, even real superheroes, or especially real superheroes. One masked avenger sets himself up when he goes into detail on what his typical day might be like, “I would have some breakfast, I would say good morning to my girlfriend.” Here, the interviewer stops to ask him if he really does have a girlfriend. The real superhero sighs, “Well, no, I was just speaking metaphorically.”
As we get to know all these characters, we see that they’re not so different from anyone else and have a genuine need to help others. Mr. Extreme, a 33-year-old security guard, can’t get the full support from his own parents for his superhero activity. His mom thinks he never looks out for himself. It’s tough for even the most organized superhero collective, The New York Initiative. They walk a fine line of entrapping others with their Bait-Patrols. And they don’t seem to ever make a catch. But it’s all a waiting game. When the group least expects it, they are on the spot to prevent a drunk driver from causing greater harm. And, just when Mr. Extreme is having his doubts, he discovers that his actions have helped to solve a high profile crime—well, not directly but still, it’s something.
“Super,” written and directed by James Gunn, is a great slap in the face to any real superhero movement and just about anything else. In the same spirit of anarchy as “Kick-Ass,” this movie goes for the jugular without hesitation. It is a rabbit punch to the gut that any nerd would gladly take coming from the run away star of the movie, Ellen Page. Her sidekick, Boltie, to Rainn Wilson’s, Crimson Bolt, is truly inspired. Between the two of them, crime still has a chance but it might stop to consider the consequences. While fairly inept, Crimson Bolt is fearless about attacking someone with his trusty wrench. It’s during a frustrating wait in line to see a movie that we see the character of Frank first defy the “with great powers comes great responsibility” rule. Someone cuts in line and Frank becomes livid. It goes completely against is code of ethics. After yelling at the guy and seeing that’s going nowhere, Frank runs to his car to turn into Crimson Bolt. He promptly goes back and, with his wrench, beats the hell out of the guy who cut in line. It’s at that point that we’ve crossed into “Clockwork Orange” territory.
It’s only after Frank has gotten his focus and is less liable to harm innocent bystanders, that he reluctantly teams up with the girl from the comics shop, played by Ellen Page. Libby is impressed beyond words to find out that the superhero who has run amok and become a local celebrity is none other than Frank, the guy who works at the local diner. The two had already become friends as Frank had enlisted Libby’s help in researching superheroes. Once Libby discovers that Frank’s wife, Sarah, played by Liv Tyler, may have been abducted by a local gangster, Jacques, played to perfection by Kevin Bacon, there’s nothing that will stop her from being by Frank, or rather, Crimson Bolt’s side. Before Frank realizes what has happened, Boltie is dragging him along to help her seek revenge on a guy who has stolen from her. They end up ransacking the boy’s home and nearly killing him only to find out that maybe Libby wasn’t sure he was the boy she was after. Crimson Bolt tries to control his sidekick and pleads with her to follow his lead. A typical patrol turns out to be the last thing Boltie needs. She yells out, “This is boring!” It’s only some form of hyper-reality that will satisfy Boltie which is just fine for this very surreal superhero movie.