Lucha libre wrestlers versus Mexican social injustice

No really it’s a documentary

Metropolis had Superman. Gotham had Batman. Now Mexico City has the Super Amigos.

Director Arturo Perez Torres’s Super Amigos follows four real-life lucha libre wrestlers — complete with outrageous superhero-themed costumes — as they do battle with the villainous forces of social injustice in Mexico’s capital. Gentrification pollution animal cruelty and homophobia join the ranks of Lex Luthor and the Joker as they’re taken on by the four heroes of the film: Super Barrio Super Animal Ecologista Universal and Super Gay. Needless to say putting a camera in front of these guys is a wonderfully original concept for a documentary even if it isn’t strictly vérité. Unfortunately while Super Amigos is a funny poignant cleverly constructed film it’s this strength of concept that eventually undercuts its social message.

From the outset Perez Torres tells his audience that they are watching superheroes. There are comic book panel stills interspersed with the footage to help string the narrative along and only the heroes’ most noble deeds are shown. Beyond a few quick sentences explaining that the heroes’ identities must be kept secret to protect them the style-over-substance approach to political activism is never thoughtfully analyzed. In the case of screen-hogging Super Animal who adopts the juvenile shock-value rhetorical tactics of groups like Greenpeace and PETA the film downright glorifies his petty antics. That isn’t to say his cause isn’t relevant — it’s just irritating to see him get so much screen time when the other heroes are so much more intelligent and subtle in their approach.

This editing room flub points most vigorously at the film’s critical flaw: it’s hard to take superheroes seriously no matter how important their cause is. The last half of the film relies on the audience connecting with the luchadores to drive the point home but — with the exception of Super Gay — it was far too successful in making them two-dimensional earlier on.

Putting this criticism aside Super Amigos does shed some light on four very serious social problems that plague Mexico. Its humour and cleverness serve their purpose in making the “heavy” issues a little more accessible for the average audience but given their significance it all feels a bit too light.