Denise Masino loved Wonder Woman as a kid, and perhaps not coincidentally, she was riveted by magazines that featured photo layouts of pumped-up female bodybuilders. She was so taken with the images of their heroic poses and ripped muscles that at 17 she began a career as a bodybuilder. She entered events such as the Miss Olympia competition and eventually featured in some of the female bodybuilder magazines she used to read as a teenager.
Now she stars in the documentary, The Adventures of Miss Fit, in which steps away from the world of bodybuilding and takes a road trip around the country to meet an assortment of self-styled superheroes. They wear costumes, fight crime, and perform community services. They’ve taken on names like Master Legend, Antiman, and Blue Blaze. The film explores their loosely knit community of like-minded folks who get together and create costumes, weapons and body armor and aim to do good deeds.
Masino decided that she would be a participant in the film rather than a mere observer, so she adopted the name “Miss Fit,” like “misfit,” and put together a spandex costume fashioned from workout clothes.
“…like-minded folks who get together and create costumes, weapons and body armor and aim to do good deeds.”
The prospect of meeting a bunch of highly motivated, if not eccentric, individuals on personal quests would seem like a promising idea for a movie. Masino muses before beginning her travels, “I have to wonder whether it’s a good idea to be running around with pepper spray and tasers.” And she’s uncertain whether the people she’s about to meet are vigilantes or simply cosplayers.
Master Legend, one of the superheroes we meet, says his superhero uniform, which includes a sort of silver breastplate and a black helmet, gets people’s attention and lets them know “they don’t want to mess with me.” He’s gotten into a number of scrapes in which he’s been shot, stabbed and had some teeth knocked out.
We also meet a woman who calls herself Rock ‘n’ Roll. She’s a musician who patrols her community and used to be the head of security for a San Francisco nightclub. Another hero, Midnight Jack, says he’s doing good deeds for the community to make up for all of the bad things he did when he was younger, including stealing, taking drugs and committing assaults.
Not all of them are trying to beat up wrongdoers and stamp out crime in their communities, however. One of the tasks some of the heroes undertake is picking up and disposing of used needles left by drug addicts in the streets of San Francisco’s Mission District.
Danger Man, who wears construction worker clothes, including an orange helmet and vest, doesn’t pretend to be a crime fighter. His sole purpose is to gain sponsorship and make money, we’re told — a goal that some might call delusional.
“…a feel-good movie that seems a bit like a promotional film…”
One bit of drama that occurs in the middle of the film is the appearance of “supervillains,” who oppose the “absurdity” of the superhero phenomenon. A supervillain in a pirate hat, known as Octavius Fong, along with some cohorts appears on camera outing Masino as a porn performer — her day job. He contends that this somehow negates the work she and the other superheroes perform for charity, such as packaging and distributing food for the homeless–an obviously ridiculous assertion.
We visit a Coney Island neighborhood in New York, where Masino grew up. In her day, it was a dangerous place with lots of gangs. Today, her aunt is coping with cancer and brain tumors, and Masino and the superheroes put together a charitable 5K race to benefit St. Jude’s Hospital. The preparation for the race and the race itself take up most the film’s second half.
Anyone hoping for an analytical look at rugged individualists who are part of an underground culture will likely be disappointed. Unfortunately, we get a rather too-quick portrait of the superheroes and are left wanting more detail. We do hear talk of battles with substance abuse and abuse from parents and poverty, but the superheroes seem like bit players in the real story, which is the charity race.
Unfortunately, this endeavor never goes very far below the surface. Ultimately, it’s a feel-good movie that seems a bit like a promotional film rather than a serious portrait of some unique individuals. It’s a noble endeavor that doesn’t add up to the stuff that great docs are made of.
The Adventures of Miss Fit (2017) Directed by Gregg R. Simpson. Starring Roxanne Cai, Master Legend, and Denise Masino.
4 out of 10