Screen Rant's Rob Frappier reviews Super
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 Gunn's Super.
Recalling Gunn's 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 D'Arby, a lifelong loser whose only luck in life was meeting his beautiful wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. Frank's 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).
Frank's 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. It's funny when Frank stands in front of his bedroom mirror and yells "Shut up crime!", and it's funny when The Crimson Bolt shouts ridiculous after-school special lines like "Don't sell drugs!" or "Don't molest kids!".
As the film progresses, however, and Frank becomes more unhinged from reality, the movie simply became too depressing for me to enjoy. It's 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 Frank's crusade as The Crimson Bolt's 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 it's an inspired role, akin to a more grounded and disturbing version of Hit-Girl. However, Page's performance is so unsettling, that I found it hard to watch. Some would argue that that's the purpose here, and I agree, but it doesn't change my reaction to the character.
Wilson gives a good performance at times, and I admire him for taking on a tricky role, but it's clear that he's most comfortable in the comedic scenes. Frank's emotional journey is the heart of the plot; however, I don't 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 Frank's actions.
I already discussed Page's 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. It's 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.
I'm 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 director's own psyche, and they'd probably be right. However, if Super is simply an arthouse film, then it's 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.
Check out the trailer for Super