James Gunns Super is an occasionally funny, but generally depressing film that is too inconsistent in tone to offer a sharp critique of the superhero genre.|
by Rob Frappier, published on April 13, 2011 - 10:49 AM PDT
Numerous recent films have explored the reality of being a superhero -- Kick-Ass, Defendor, and even Watchmen -- but none of them have taken the conceit to its logical and brutal extreme like James Gunns Super.
Recalling Gunns roots as a low-budget filmmaker for Troma Entertainment, Super is violent, darkly comic, and totally surreal at times. Unfortunately, it is also ultimately unsatisfying, despite the presence of interesting themes bubbling just under the surface.
Super stars Rainn Wilson from The Office as Frank DArby, a lifelong loser whose only luck in life was meeting his beautiful wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. Franks existence is shattered when Sarah slips back into substance abuse, thanks to the machinations of small-time gangster Jacques (played with an almost palpable level of sleaze by Kevin Bacon).
Franks fragile psyche, weakened by a lifetime of emotional and physical humiliation, finally snaps and he convinces himself that Sarah has actually been kidnapped, rather than accepting the reality that she has left him. Spurred on by visions of a cheesy Christian superhero, The Holy Avenger (played by fan-favorite Nathan Fillion), Frank crafts his own costumed identity: The Crimson Bolt.
Seeking advice from comic shop employee Libby (Ellen Page in a truly manic role), The Crimson Bolt learns the ins and outs of the superhero trade and even comes up with his own signature weapon: a pipe wrench, which he puts to vicious use throughout the film. It is in this early part of the film where Super excels. Its funny when Frank stands in front of his bedroom mirror and yells Shut up crime!, and its funny when The Crimson Bolt shouts ridiculous after-school special lines like Dont sell drugs! or Dont molest kids!.
As the film progresses, however, and Frank becomes more unhinged from reality, the movie simply became too depressing for me to enjoy. Its hard to identify with a man who posts strange prophecies on his walls and beats people over the head with a wrench. When Libby joins Franks crusade as The Crimson Bolts plucky and psychotic sidekick, Boltie, the film takes an even stranger turn.
Libby, who seems outwardly normal, is even crazier than Frank. At least Frank maintains some semblance of morality (albeit his own twisted version). Libby is simply a sociopath. In a way its an inspired role, akin to a more grounded and disturbing version of Hit-Girl. However, Pages performance is so unsettling, that I found it hard to watch. Some would argue that thats the purpose here, and I agree, but it doesnt change my reaction to the character.
Wilson gives a good performance at times, and I admire him for taking on a tricky role, but its clear that hes most comfortable in the comedic scenes. Franks emotional journey is the heart of the plot; however, I dont think his character arc is fully fleshed out. In my opinion, Frank is the same loser at the end of the movie that he was at the beginning of the movie, despite an unusual epilogue that tries to justify Franks actions.
I already discussed Pages performance, which I think will be a big factor in whether you like or dislike this movie, but I will give her credit for coming up with one of the most insane laughs in recent movie history. Its clearly a low-budget production, and Gunn gets kudos for assembling a mostly A-list cast. Still, while the other actors are fine in their supporting roles, nobody stands out.
Im perfectly willing to concede that I missed the point of Super. Those more familiar with James Gunn may argue that this movie offers countless insights into the directors own psyche, and theyd probably be right. However, if Super is simply an arthouse film, then its one that ignores story in favor of a nihilistic philosophy that is too far removed from my personal beliefs to be engaging.
Super is in limited release around the country. You can also rent the film via video on demand. While I did not enjoy the film as much as I would have liked, I would encourage those of you who are interested in the movie to seek out a theater playing it or download it (legally). The only way indie filmmakers like James Gunn get to make these kinds of projects is if you support them.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5