Watch “Super” with a group of people so you can have an argument immediately after it ends. The discussion won’t be driven by philosophy or open ended film making, but the attempt to define what is funny? General audiences most likely won’t find innocent people bludgeoned with a pipe wrench or male victim rape that humorous. Well, is it all wacky and over the top to dilute its disturbing scenarios? Nope, as ridiculous as the premise may be, “Super” is a fairly grounded film.
“Super” is James Gunn’s passion project about a recently broken up with short order cook who decides
to take out his frustration by becoming the Crimson Bolt. Rainn Wilson plays Frank, a fairly uninteresting human being with little to do outside of trying to make his wife happy. His wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler), then falls off the wagon and runs off with Jacques (Kevin Bacon) for some drug filled escapades. This sends Frank into a cyclone of depression. What’s in a cyclone of depression? Well, there’s crying, stalking, television, moping, sitting around, God, and eventually hallucinations. Frank gets to a point where he envisions tentacles sawing his skull open so God can literally touch his brain. This vision is what ultimately draws him to the conclusion to fight crime and get his wife back.
He works out, builds a costume, and goes to his local comic book store for advice. Libby (Ellen Page) is an employee at the shop and she is more than happy to help Frank out. After a failed attempt to stop a drug dealer, Frank decides he needs a weapon. Seeing how effective a pipe wrench is on a cantaloupe, the Crimson Bolt is ready to punish the wicked and defend the innocent. After a short string of successes Frank recruits Libby as his sidekick. Here’s where the movie may lose some people.
Frank is not exactly mentally stable. In fact, no one in this film is. Whacking a guy over the head trying to molest an 11 year old is one thing, but pummeling a douche-bag and his girlfriend for butting in line at a movie theater is another. Frank has little to no discretion when it comes to hurting people. Someone trying to sell weed to college kids will be dealt with in the same fashion as a murderer. He does have a no killing policy, but he may bend the rules in mitigating circumstances. Libby’s policy on killing is to do it as frequently as possible. Finding out that Libby is a psychopath gives the audience no other choice but to leave Frank as their moral anchor, and under the circumstance isn’t a bad deal.
Frank generally has a good heart, and he is trying to do what he feels is right. It just turns out that being a super hero is not a glamorous career choice. This film shows you that masked vigilantism would be brutal, unforgiving, and unconstrained. “Kick-Ass” made the idea seem fun while this movie may be the “Requiem for a Dream” for super hero films.
Every actor gives their all in this film. Rainn Wilson plumbs the emotional depths to bring a morally ambiguous character some kind of twisted sympathy while Ellen Page seems to have no problem becoming a blood thirsty psycho-killer. Kevin Bacon is dripping with sleaze as the film’s antagonist and Liv Tyler plays the drug charmed trophy princess with a subtle hint of compassion.
For its modest budget and short shooting time, “Super” doesn’t play out like a low budget feature. It may have the best CGI tentacles to date. The action sequences are fairly intense and their makeup effects are as good as anything else out there. The cinematography is flat most of the time, and that may be to abase the super hero idea. If you watched Bruce Wayne change into his Batman costume in the back of car, it would look silly. But when the silliness of the Crimson Bolt vanishes, and the stakes are raised the photography is sleek and dramatic.
This film is dark. Frank will take you places you did not think this film would go. Some people will not see any humor in this film, and for good reason. It’s not a setup, bait, and then punch-line format. Watching Frank attempting a grandiose idea in a real world environment is where the humor lies. Even if you don’t think this film is funny, but you can stomach the violence, please continue watching. It has something to say and it comes from the heart. The majority of every movie ever made can’t claim that. Have a goodnight and enjoy the impending argument.