by Alison Bailes, published on March 30, 2011|
I am burnt out on superhero movies. I am not at all excited about Captain America, The Green Lantern or X-Men: First Class. Even television has drowned us in product with No Ordinary Family, The Cape, Heroes and the upcoming Wonder Woman. I tend to think that the genre has become saturated and stale. Consequently I am also starting to tire of spoofs of superhero movies.
After last years Kick-Ass which I found to be a moderately interesting coming of age tale wrapped up in a disgusting riff on comic book violence, we now have Super from writer/director James Gunn (Slither). It covers much of the same ground, except its protagonist is a full grown man, played by Rainn Wilson, instead of a high-school kid. When a reed-thin, nerdy teenage boy dresses up in a rubber suit and tries to fight crime it is funny and a little sad. When a large, full-grown man does it, it is just sad.
And Super is a sad film. There are moments of pure emotion and its darkly comedic scenes work well. In fact, Wilson shows remarkable range playing a loser with a pitiful life. Hes the perfect actor to walk that fine line between tragedy and comedy, and there are some very funny scenes here involving a proselytizing TV evangelist played by Nathan Fillion dressed up as The Holy Avenger. But Gunn is more interested in commenting on violence in our society and the nature of revenge and the ineptitude of our police force. And he attempts to do this by mixing genres and playing with tone. The result is uneven, and for me, excessively bloody.
Wilson plays short order cook Frank whose wife (Liv Tyler!!) has just relapsed into addiction and left him for a seedy drug kingpin played by Kevin Bacon. Because he just cant take it anymore, he devises an alter-ego, the Crimson Bolt, who drives around town in his decrepit crate, and bops people on the head with a large metal wrench. At first this is kind of comical. Who wouldnt like to take it to the guy who cuts in line at the movies? But the extent of the beating is so gratuitously violent and gory that we are shaken up. And its not a dream sequence or imagination. It really happens. And Frank gets away with it. This is the first of many implausibilities that I just couldnt accept. (what about all the witnesses?)
Frank soon teams up with Libby, a young comic book fan who is over-eager to assume the sidekick mantle. She goads Frank along and indulges in some ultra-violence of her own as the laughably titled Boltie. Together they make a comical team. Frank with his gut pushing out of his makeshift outfit and Libby posturing and preening. I suppose her character is supposed to be a sly comment on the sexualized nature of female costumed characters, but with Ellen Page playing her, she is more like a pre-adolescent little sister begging to tag along with the big kids. Perhaps Im thinking about this too much, but an unexpected sex scene was definitely uncomfortable and almost inappropriate.
Often when violence on television or in the movies is discussed it is divided into real violence and comic book violence. Many a director has excused his excesses by reminding us all of the Road Runner and Tom and Jerry cartoons we all watched as kids. So in that vein, Gunn tries to downplay the seriousness of the violence in Super by placing animated Splats and Kerpows around the action. Whilst mildly amusing, it does not make the violence appear cartoonish. There is too much ferocity, too much anger and too much blood. The showdown at the end of the film has a startlingly high body count yet we are supposed to cheer for Frank. For he is on the side of Right. Is it OK to blow someones brains out if they are evil? Many films, good and bad have explored this issue: Death Wish, The Brave One and so on.
Super doesnt add anything to this hot-button topic. It is too good to be a mere spoof, (although Kevin Bacon plays it as one). But it is not good enough to be a thought-provoking satire. A satire must be critical of something holding it up to ridicule or scorn. Im just not sure what Super professes to ridicule, except perhaps, slightly pudgy guys dressed in rubber.