Of all the documentaries screening at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival, only one asks questions which have long troubled comic-book fans the world over. What if you could don a suit, wear your briefs over your pants, hop on a bike and head out into the cold to fight crime in your local community? If Batman can do it, why can't that guy living next door?
The film asking these questions is Superhero Me, in which Brit music producer-turned-filmmaker Steve Sale attempts to find the answers by throwing himself into his theory. Styling himself as 'SOS' he dons a mask and attempts to ail society's ills in his sleepy hometown of Sutton in England.
Along the way we meet Sale's friends, and some low-league comic-book experts, who wax lyrical about what it means to be superhero, and Sale discovers an entire community of people on the Internet who dress up and fight crime in their own communities.
Kick-Ass most recently tackled this same subject matter, albeit in fiction, and it may go without saying that there's more in the way of action sequences and dastardly criminals in Kick-Ass than there is in its documentary equivalent. By all accounts Sutton is a rather peaceful place, and while Sale sets out to do right by his community, it's more of the litter-collecting variety.
An incredibly jittery sequence following 'SOS' as he may or may not be chasing a criminal (we can't really see well enough to be sure) is all the action to expect. Sale's thoughts following this encounter - that it felt great but that he could have been stabbed - really summarise the entire argument here. Anyone can put themselves in harm's way for ostensibly selfless reasons, but if you're going to be killed it's probably best that you don't leave a corpse covered in gaudy yellow Lycra.
Sale obviously enjoys the attention he gets when he steps out in the suit, but it's never less than inherently ridiculous and we're reminded of this by the constant grin of amused embarrassment on his face. He meets society's truer superheroes – a team of volunteers who, sans-super suits, help ferry drunk partygoers home in the early hours - and when he tries to help – clad as 'SOS' – he's besieged by mocking drunkards who find him hilarious.
But when Sale meets those who dress up and fight crime, in communities all over the world and in greater number than you might imagine, the film shows promise. Sale travels to Florida to meet a man called 'Master Legend' who's part vigilante, part missionary. Stopping petty crime and helping the homeless, 'Master Legend' seems to be making a real difference and uses his frequent media appearances in costume to draw attention to serious issues.
But as he tells us increasingly more disturbing things about his past, we come to question the mindset of a grown man who'd do a job like this and Sale isn't documentarian enough to dig any deeper. And that's the endemic issue with Superhero Me. We're never given more than a superficial glance at subjects that could easily have stuffed several feature documentaries. As it is, Sale is forced to dip in and out of the goings-on of his personal life to fill time.
While it's interesting in fits and spurts, Superhero Me never really flies. Probably best to leave the crime fighting to the spider-bitten/lab accident/alien from another world types.