Jonathan finds it impossible to disguise his love for James Gunn's Super...|
by Jonathan Hogberg, published on August 13, 2011 - 18:55
When sad-sack loser Frank (Rainn Wilson, The Office), a short-order cook, sees his ex-addict wife (Liv Tyler, The Lord of the Rings) willingly snatched away by a seductive drug dealer (Kevin Bacon), he finds himself bereft and unable to cope. But he decides to fight back under the guise of a do-it-yourself superhero called Crimson Bolt. With a red hand-made suit, a wrench, a crazed sidekick named Boltie (Ellen page, Juno) and absolutely nothing in the way of superpowers, Crimson bolt beats his way through the mean streets of crime in hopes of saving his wife. (From the IFC Films synopsis)
James Gunn is one of those directors that I selfishly wish would direct more movies. The unique brand of dark humour that drives his films isnt for everybody, but if you find yourself on his frequency his films prove to be a real treat. He got his start in the business working for Troma Studios, and helped write, produce, and even choreograph the sex scenes for Tromeo and Juliet. In 2006 he made Slither; an awesomely disgusting and hilarious homage to B-movie horror that critics praised, but most audiences sadly overlooked during its theatrical run. Now Super, from a script he wrote in 2002 (note: before the Kick-Ass comic was written), has come into fruition and the results are even more likely to divide audiences. This is not your average superhero movie by any stretch of the imagination. The lead character, Frank, has more in common with Travis Bickle than Peter Parker, and his antics as the Crimson Bolt often have realistically violent results. This is the story of a disturbed individual who gleefully beats people with a pipe wrench; sometimes over petty crimes. But chances are youll find yourself rooting for him anyways.
Gunn owes much of the films success to his talented cast members. Rainn Wilson (who I admit has always just been Dwight from The Office in my mind) is terrific here. Some of his scenes are very raw and emotional, and he pulls them off marvellously. He makes Frank easy to sympathize with, when we could easily just write this character off as a complete psycho. Ellen Page plays against her usual type as his sidekick Boltie. She shows a very wild and hilarious side of her acting talents that youve never seen before. If you think Frank is nuts, just wait until she becomes a bigger part of the movie. The two of them have an odd sort of anti-chemistry that is very amusing and boils over into hysterical territory more than once. Supporting roles include Liv Tyler as Sarah, who is good here but doesnt leave a very lasting impression, and Kevin Bacon as the eccentric and hilarious Jacques who steals Sarah away from Frank. I enjoyed him more here than I did as the villain in X-Men: First Class. Nathan Fillion makes some brief but hilarious appearances as the Holy Avenger; a TV-show and comic book character who teaches students how to fight evil. Andre Royo, who many will recognize as Bubbles from HBOs The Wire, plays Franks co-worker and gets a few good laughs, and comedian Steve Agee has a brief but funny appearance. Michael Rooker (also a big part of Slither) doesnt have a lot to do in this film, but his presence and the fact that hes always eating candy from a generic box of Good N Plenty still brought a smile to my face.
One of the more popular criticisms of Super is the major shifts in tone and what purpose they serve. I thought the shifts in tone were very much intentional, and Gunns commentary confirmed my suspicions. Its very clear that the movie is designed to subvert your expectations and preconceptions of what a superhero movie is. Gunn referred to the film as anti-genre in an interview, which is great term for it. The absurdly fun animated title sequence is set to Calling All Destroyers by Tsar, and features a giant fire-breathing Michael Rooker complete with an ensemble dance number. Then the immediate following scenes are bleak, depressing, and about as far as you can get from a cartoon. While Id expect some people to find these shifts jarring and perhaps pointless, I thought they worked well and added a wildly unpredictable quality to the film that made it more entertaining and fun to follow. Match the shifting tone with Gunns dark sense of humour and it is almost impossible to tell where this movie will head next (tentacles!). The movie did a fine job of establishing its erratic tone early on with opening scenes that mix sadness and humour to great effect as Frank shares the two greatest moments in his life. These conflicting emotions often go hand-in-hand in Super, and its a testament to Gunns abilities as a writer and Wilsons talented acting that I can laugh hard and feel sympathy for a character simultaneously.
Filmed on the Red One digital camera, this is a strong 1080p (h264/AVC) transfer from IFC films. The film has some varying styles. Certain flashback moments are less saturated and have a boost in contrast, and they look incredibly sharp. The more naturally lighted scenes have accurate skin tones and a great amount of detail. Colours pop, with the Crimson Bolts outfit and Bolties costume practically leaping off the screen. The opening titles also look sharp and rich in colour. The only small complaint I have about this transfer is some distracting digital noise in shaded areas of the picture. Ive noticed this same problem in other movies filmed on the Red digital cameras, particularly the older models, and it seems to be something that comes with the source and not a fault on IFCs part. There is also some evident blocking in colour gradients when viewing stills of the movie, but they dont stand out at all when the video is in motion. Overall, this is a very satisfying transfer that is faithful to the theatrical presentation I saw.
The Blu-ray packaging only lists English 5.1 with a Dolby Digital logo, but thankfully the disc possesses a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Given its low budget, Super doesnt have the most technically advanced sound engineering, so this wont be a terrific movie for showing off your fancy sound system, but this audio track gets the job done. The extra sound channels are used fittingly for ambient noise and to spread the loud explosions in the film. Said explosions, along with punchy gunshots, will put your subwoofer to good use. Voices are perfectly clear and easy to interpret. The enjoyable music, which includes great songs from Cheap Trick and Monster, is very loud and dynamic as it should be. It adds a lot of fun energy to the film.
Aside from a TV Spot and a theatrical trailer, there is a commentary with James Gunn and Riann Wilson. It is one of the best commentary tracks Ive heard in a long time. Its the real highlight of the special features section for me. Both Gunn and Wilson are hilarious and their passion for the movie shows. There is a lot of great behind-the-scenes information and its packed full of fun anecdotes about the cast members and the thought process that went into certain scenes. It made me love the movie even more, which I didnt think was possible.
There is a single short deleted scene (01:08, HD), which is encoded in 1080p but has poor video quality. Its a look at the relationship between Frank and Sarah that leads to them bickering briefly in the car. It doesnt make either character more endearing and it isnt particularly funny either. Its also difficult to place on the films timeline, so its not too hard to see why it didnt make it into the final film.
Behind the Scenes (18:37, HD) is an enjoyable look at some of the filming of the movie. Most of it is dedicated to the origin of the film, and how the cast members and filmmakers became involved in the project. There is some fun test footage and cast preparation, including an amusing scene of Rainn Wilson and Michael Rooker messing around at a shooting range, and a clip of James Gunn playing the role of Sarah in a love making scene. Fans will eat it up and wish it was longer.
Making of the Main Titles (04:51, HD) is a look at Puny Studios (known for their work on Yo Gabba Gabba!) and their involvement with the animated title sequence. If you enjoy the opening titles, this is informative and fun. Its all interview footage with members of Puny Studios, which is fine, but it wouldve been nice to see some input from James Gunn himself in this segment.
How to Fight Crime at SXSW (03:59, HD) is a very strange but humorous segment that was shot during the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. Ellen Page and Rainn Wilson are in character here. Rainn Wilson goes around in public as the Crimson Bolt messing with members of the public, which is interweaved with footage of Boltie being restrained by a security worker. If you love the characters, chances are youll find some enjoyment in this.
The following special features come from an exclusive Best Buy edition of Super that comes with an extra DVD
Emerald City Comicon Panel Discussion (01:00:23, SD) is footage from Super panel where Rainn Wilson and James Gunn interact with an audience and answer questions. If youre fans of the duo and cant get enough behind-the-scenes details about the movie, its a very worthwhile watch.
The Making of How to Fight Crime (02:07, SD) is a brief behind-the-scenes look of a behind-the-scenes feature from the Blu-ray. Its mostly just raw slapped together footage of Rainn Wilson goofing around and preparing for his public crime fighting spree as the Crimson Bolt.
Inside the World of Super (04:10, SD) is a brief behind-the-scenes feature with more interview footage from Rainn Wilson, James Gunn, and Liv Tyler. They talk about their love for the movie and the vicious shooting schedule they were on. There isnt really material here that wasnt already covered in the Blu-ray special feature.
SXSW Premier (25:18, SD) is a look at the screening from the film festival in Austin. I wasnt able to get into this premier thanks to the huge line of badge holders that have more money than me. The footage here is pretty raw and unproduced. The first twelve minutes or so are James Gunn and Rainn Wilson talking at a table, and the rest is interview footage from outside the Paramount Theater where the premier took place. There isnt a lot of valuable or informative material here, but it was nice to see some interview footage with Ellen Page. A lot of the audio here is poorly recorded and drowned out by chattering in the background.
Extended Scenes (03:41, SD): There are two of them. The first is a slightly longer version of one of Franks encounters with Jacque. Watch it, just to see Kevin Bacon say the C-word. The next extended scene takes place in the comic shop and features more of comedian Steve Agees rude comments towards Frank, as well as some alternative dialogue between him and his future sidekick.
Theres also a little Poster Gallery feature which I wouldve loved to have in high resolution on the Blu-ray disc, but its still pretty neat as it is. I hadnt seen many of them, and a few are really cool.
If its not clear from the review, I love James Gunns brilliantly deranged and oddly touching Super. I missed it twice during the SXSW Film Festival, and when I finally caught it during a local theatre run I was delighted to find it was well worth the wait. And it only grows on me more with each viewing. The dark humour and shifting tones will undoubtedly alienate some viewers, but I loved getting lost in its chaotic world and have no doubt that Super will have a loving cult following for many years to come. IFC has given it a solid Blu-ray release with great audio and video quality, and a decent smattering of extra features (more if you get the Best Buy edition) highlighted by an immensely enjoyable commentary track.
Feature: 9 / 10
Video: 8 / 10
Audio: 8 / 10
Extras: 7 / 10
Overall: 9 / 10