The recent spate of films about amateur, super-hero wannabes is becoming a popular new genre that makes fun of the super-hero movies but also has serious messages about corruption, power and the responsibilities of the average citizen, and can be quite moving. It’s usually about well-meaning, ordinary people who lead a very boring, mundane existence and are forced by circumstances to act in extraordinary ways.
There is usually some threshold of frustration that will be crossed when the idealist with an over developed sense of justice decides that this is the last straw and something must be done to fix it. But who will it be? No one else seems to be willing or up to the task. Having spent many years reading comic books and watching super hero movies, they have developed a fantasy vision of who their ideal persona or alter ego will be. They also crave recognition and fame but are usually too shy or anti-social. The only recognition they get, is as nerdy, creepy outsiders; people to stay away from. They want their alter-ego to justify who they are in real life.
Hero at Large (1980): The first movie of this kind I saw, and still have fond memories of, was back in 1980 when Hero at Large with John Ritter was released to very good reviews. This movie was about an out of work, frustrated actor who had done a gig for a commercial wearing a super hero costume. Forgetting to take off the costume one night he walks into a convenience store to pick up some groceries when someone tries to rob the owner. Witnessing this from the back of the store, the actor, realizing he is still wearing the costume, decides to help out and use it to foil the robber. The story makes it to the papers and the actor likes the attention his costumed hero is getting, so he decides to keep the costume and tries his luck doing some more good deeds around town.
This self-styled vigilante had all the prerequisite personality traits needed to be a good super-hero but sort of fell into it by accident. It’s a wonderful, heart felt, feel good movie and John Ritter is great as the actor/super-hero. It’s difficult to find this move on any video format so if you do find it hold on to it.
Galaxy Quest (1999): I will include Galaxy Quest in this list because, if you think about it, it’s sort of the reverse situation of the ordinary person becoming a super-hero but with the same concept. In this case a group of has-been TV actors, leading very dull lives, start out as heroes of a TV show and end up being anything but when confronted by the real villains. They don’t have any powers but are considered heroes by their fans and when they are made to actually live out their television personas for real, the results are hilarious. When these actors, who have their differences and rivalries off screen, find themselves in the actual life and death situations that they have been portraying on television, their reactions are not as brave and heroic as they had been in their TV show. They are shown to be very human and ordinary and must go to their fans for help.
Kick-Ass (2010): This movie kicked ass as a mix of teen-angst comedy and action super-hero movie in equal parts. Filmed in Toronto it’s like watching a Quentin Tarantino Kill Bill movie and a Spider-man movie rolled into one but better than both. This movie is funny but has some serious action scenes and is way better than you would expect from this kind of low budget film. An ordinary guy in a homemade costume gets himself in way over his head when he confronts a gang of real criminals with guns. Luckily he is rescued by a group of more experienced avengers in costumes. Together they manage to deal some serious blows to the criminal underworld.
Super (2010): This violent, low budget movie is quite disturbing and uncomfortable to watch and is a bit of a gore fest, especially the last third of the film, which reminded me a lot of Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver (1976). A mentally unstable, middle aged nerd man, with an over developed sense of justice, tries to get his recovering drug addicted wife back after she leaves him for a hip night club owner by making himself into a self-styled, violent super-hero character, the Crimson Bolt. Like in Taxi Driver he wants to lash out at the unfair corrupt world he lives in and in the process he actually does save his wife from a nasty drug dealer but you get the feeling that, like at the end of Taxi Driver, this man is just an immature, whining misfit, who is battling himself as much as he is criminals. Still it’s a powerful and poignant story but not for the squeamish.
If you enjoy these types of movies about well-meaning characters with overactive imaginations also check out these more recent super-hero wannabe installments.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
Griff the Invisible (2011)