Directed by James Gunn.
Starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon and Liv Tyler.
An ordinary man decides to superhero suit up and tackle crime himself.
What would happen if an ordinary guy with no superpowers was to one day decide enough is enough, don a costume and fight crime? This is the question Super poses. If it sounds familiar, well, that’ll be because Kick-Ass (2010) got there first. Regardless of this, it’s a fascinating subject, and one that is handled surprisingly well here.
Frank (Rainn Wilson) is married to recovering drug addict Sarah (Liv Tyler). The movie opens with Frank at his lowest, as Sarah leaves him for Jacques (Kevin Bacon) – owner of a strip club and drug peddler. As he sinks deeper into depression, Frank turns to religion for direction. He stumbles across a public access TV show that features The Holy Avenger (an underused Nathan Fillion), and has a vision where he is touched by God. Frank believes he has been given the direction he sought, and decides to fight crime and maybe win his wife back.
It’s here that we begin to question the sanity of Frank, and this is what makes Super uniquely interesting. Most superhero movies are aware that the hero is a little unbalanced, but their behaviour is always demonstrated as justifiable. We’re given morals to get behind, and the violence is portrayed in a relatively safe manner where we never really question its consequences. But with Super, things aren’t quite so clear. We’re placed in a morally grey area, pondering the stability of Frank whilst witnessing some pretty brutal acts of violence.
Without any superpowers, Frank dons a red costume, names himself The Crimson Bolt and arms himself with a monkey wrench. He figures if he hits criminals hard enough, they’ll go down. Along the way he acquires a sidekick, Libby (Ellen Page), aka Boltie. She’s also somewhat unhinged, clearly enjoying the violence a little too much. Both make for fascinating character studies. Now, I must confess I am a huge fan of Ellen Page, so perhaps I’m a little biased, but she looks fantastic in her superhero costume.
There’s a host of delightful secondary characters that have potential, but unfortunately aren’t given much time to shine. The fantastic Linda Cardellini appears briefly as a Pet Store Employee, Nathan Fillion seems well suited in a superhero costume but isn’t featured nearly enough, and Michael Rooker is a delightfully menacing bad guy who could do with a few more lines thrown his way. It’s a shame such a talented cast were squandered, but they do make the most with what they’re given.
At times, Super almost feels like a superhero movie directed by Michael Haneke. It allows us, the audience, to draw the line between good and bad, but is always making us question our enjoyment of the film. It’s easy enough to get behind Frank when he smashes the face of a child molester, but his actions become considerably harder to justify when he attacks a couple for butting in line. Libby, meanwhile, is just clearly nuts. Her response to the carnage unleashed is near-orgasmic joy, squealing excitedly like a six year old going to Disneyland. These are our heroes, but they’re difficult to really get behind.
Director James Gunn doesn’t hold back in unleashing gory violence, splattering crimson across the screen or revealing the consequences of a bullet to the head. The tone doesn’t quite sit right with the superhero genre, but it’s actually a welcome addition. Lately, superhero movies have been moving towards a darker, grittier, supposedly more realistic feel to them. Super takes this one step further, and should be commended for doing so. It’s an unsettling bleakly dark tale.
That’s not to say this is a harrowing story devoid of any joy. The raw violence is juxtaposed with moments of surprisingly light comedy, and throughout the movie there is a constant struggle in trying to balance the tone. It never quite succeeds at finding a happy medium, but I must admit I did quite enjoy the result. This is a movie that certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but for those who are growing tired of the superhero genre this is an original alternative. Kick-Ass may have got there first, but Super does it better.