“Shut Up, crime!”
“Super” is the latest film from James Gunn, who previously wrote and directed the terribly under-rated and under-appreciated horror/comedy “Slither”. This new film is a superhero film and could also be perceived as a comedy, except the style of the comedy is pitch black. “Super” is likely going to be compared to last year’s “Kick Ass” because both films share the same basic idea, however they definitely go in different places with it.
“Super” is about a regular guy named Frank (played by Rainn Wilson) who decides to take a stand on crime and becomes the powerless superhero named “The Crimson Bolt”. The catalyst for this decision was when his beautiful wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) leaves him for a sleazy drug-dealer named Jock. Sadly Sarah was a drug addict earlier in her life and it was Frank who helped her back on her feet and to keep clean, which is how the two fell in love. However after witnessing Sarah in the arms of Jock following a night of partying, it is obvious to Frank that she has gone back to her old ways and has once again become dependent on drugs, and he decides that he will do anything to save her and get her back. As it happens, he finds inspiration in the strangest place. During a night at home in a state of depression, Frank stumbles across a religious program who has a superhero character in the lead called “The Holy Avenger”. During this show it is mentioned that “some of His people are chosen” and it is here that Frank is struck with an epiphany. He is going to become a superhero and protect the world from crime (and in the process get his wife back). With another quote from “The Holy Avenger” still ringing in his ears, “all it takes to be a superhero is the choice to fight evil”, he goes ahead and creates a (terrible) costume and searches to find his trademark weapon (a wrench) and sets about to stop crime in its tracks.
Amusingly, the first couple of nights he sits behind a dumpster “waiting” for crime to happen, however when nothing eventuates, he changes tactics and decides to look for crime and heads down to a notorious street that is often filled with prostitutes, dealers and petty thieves. From here he sets upon the criminals with his deadly wrench, bashing their heads in with it. He also departs from the scene with a little helpful tip for the criminals such as “don’t sell drugs” or “don’t molest kids”. Although it isn’t long before we start to realize just how disturbed Frank may actually be after he bashes a couple who push in line while waiting for a movie. With a vigilante on the loose and the high levels of violence associated with “The Crimson Bolt’s” attacks, the media picks up on the story very quickly, and it is not long before a cute young girl named Libby, who is employed at the local comic shop, works out his secret identity and convinces him to let her be his kid-sidekick, “Boltie”. Libby doesn’t have a cause that she is fighting for, rather she believes in the fantasy of being a superhero which is fun and exciting, however it soon becomes apparent that she enjoys all of the violence being perpetrated on these criminals, and she really comes across as slightly insane. It is also very obvious that all of this action is a turn-on for Libby in a sexual sense, which leads to probably the most disturbing scene in the film which is a scene of rape where this time a male is the victim. After fighting petty crime long enough and feeling comfortable as “The Crimson Bolt” (as well as working alongside with “Boltie”), Frank decides that it is finally time to get his wife back (and as a result of this, take on organized crime).
The tone of this film is quite strange because it is definitely a dark film, but at times it is laugh-out-loud hilarious, but once the laughter subsides, you actually question yourself for finding it funny (because it usually involves something so wrong). I suppose the best way to describe the film is “disturbing”. The levels of violence within the film are high with blood flowing thick and fast because, let’s face it, a wrench can cause some serious damage to a person’s head, but it reaches its peak at the end when firearms are introduced, as we see many people shot, blown to pieces and someone even gets half of their face shot off (which is very graphic).
This is an extremely well acted film, and I cannot think of anyone who puts in a bad performance here. Ellen Page is adorable as Libby, so bubbly and full of life, but when she puts the mask on and becomes “Boltie”, a whole different persona appears and she borders on being maniacal, which is actually quite scary. Kevin Bacon as Jock looks like he is having the time of his life here, he brings so much energy to the role and he is brilliant throughout. It is a scene chewing role but he is constantly hilarious. Liv Tyler has little to do as Sarah but she is the heart of the film and she impresses when she is on screen, and it is great to see Michael Rooker (who played the “villain” role in Gunn’s previous film “Slither”) really shine in his role of Abe, who is one of Jock’s henchmen. He basically steals every scene he is in. There are small roles played by Nathan Fillion (who also starred in “Slither”) as “The Holy Avenger” and it was fantastic to see Gregg Henry grace the big screen again, although his police detective character is not really important and has little to do with the plot. The difficult role of Frank, a man who has been bullied and humiliated at every turn of his life until he is at breaking point, is played by Rainn Wilson and he seriously impresses. It is a role full of difficult emotions and he pulls it off. I assume this would have been a particularly hard role to play especially due to the fact that he would have to exist in such a dark place mentally for the duration of filming. Rainn Wilson is famous for his comedic skills (in shows like the U.S version of “The Office”) and he is extremely funny in “Super” but what makes it all work, is the fact that he plays it all straight, which he must do to get the optimum effect the film needs to succeed to its fullest. Although we find ourselves laughing at how ridiculous the situations Frank and “The Crimson Bolt” find themselves in, they are no laughing matters to the characters themselves, rather they are very serious and life threatening moments and there is no winking at the audience at all.
The film was obviously shot on a very low budget and unfortunately in some scenes this shows, but overall James Gunn does an admiral job directing us away from the film deficiencies. Some scenes feel like they could have benefitted from having more coverage, but as I said, on a limited budget this isn’t always possible. I suppose to be truthful I would say that Gunn succeeds more with his writing than his direction, but even the script has some slight flaws. Most of my problems come with the end of the film which, strangely, I find both, a little disappointing and brilliant. The “action” finale loses a little of the realism the rest of the film has (which was a similar thing that happened at the end of “Kick Ass” too, although it was worse on that film) and once it is over, Frank never faces any consequences for the acts of crime and violence that he himself has committed while on his quest to save his wife. He appears to just get away with it all (which also strays from reality), which I thought was a missed opportunity by not dealing with the repercussions. What I did find brilliant about the end was the resolution with the wife, which was quite unexpected and incredibly poignant and gave the film a lot more heart. The highlight of the film is when Frank explains the “some of His people are chosen” quote again, this time in a different context, which turns out to be truly beautiful and selfless and (sort of) justifies what he has done to get to this point.
Overall I really enjoyed this dark and disturbing film. It goes to places that are so wrong, but if you are not easily offended, this is worth checking out, plus it is also extremely funny in parts. Another reason to recommend it is because it is something different at the cinemas and not just another remake or sequel, which is always worth getting excited about. I also must make mention of the brilliant animated title sequence, which is so much fun and energetic and ends with all the (animated) characters performing a choreographed dance. It’s very inventive.
3 ½ Stars.
“It’s all gushy!”