Director: James Gunn
Starring: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler, Michael Rooker
When sad-sack loser Frank (Rainn Wilson) sees his ex-addict wife (Liv Tyler) willingly snatched by a seductive drug dealer (Kevin Bacon), he finds himself bereft and wholly unable to cope. But soon he decides to fight back under the guise of a DIY superhero called Crimson Bolt. With a hand-made suit, a wrench, and a crazed sidekick named Boltie (Ellen Page), the Crimson Bolt beats his way through the mean streets of crime in hopes of saving his wife.
When Kick-Ass first stepped off the comic page and into the filmic arena I remember thinking; this is the film that will see super-heroics represented for the Everyman. Mark Millar’s comic was pitch black comedy with violent action, but it also stank of the sort of realism, misguided moral outrage and and genuine insane desperation required to step into a suit of spandex and take crime fighting to the streets.
Kick-Ass was super-heroes for real. It had the sort of f*cked up premise, disjointed characters and gritty violence that made you believe it, coupled with a bum note ending that didn’t so much glamorise super-heroes, but pointed out the inherent dangers and potential fall-out of taking to the cape and trying it yourself. It was essentially the Trainspotting of superhero comics.
Now the Kick-Ass movie, while cinematically satisfying lost most of what made the comic so damn empathic and edgy somewhere in translation. In place of the bum note finale we got a user friendly crowd pleaser tacked on instead. With Super, James Gunn is operating off a very similar premise: ‘What if’ a real life loser decided to put on a costume and fight crime? What would ‘Really’ happen?
Gunn’s last low key Horror Comedy was Slither (an entertaining little slice of horror Americana starring the ever watchable Nathan Fillion), though he also wrote the screenplay for the Dawn of the Dead Re-boot Directed by Zach Snyder (with a background writing for Horror House Troma), so Super-heroics is a bit of a departure from his usual fare. That said, this is far from conventional heroics and more in line with the pedestrianised madness and violent outbursts that are his speciality.
Rainn Wilson is excellent as introverted loser Frank, burdened with a Christian guilt complex (brilliantly played upon by Nathan Fillion) and the inability to accept reality even when it’s staring him right in the face. Seeing him slowly de-construct and reform through his mad justifications, holy visions and comic book research into what he believes is the right course of action though costumed violence feels like watching a real deal whacko turning to vigilantism. It’s like you could see this guy on the news (and in Gunn’s world you do).
Frank’s dissent into madness is the yin to Dave ‘Kick-Ass‘ Lizewski’s yang. Mad desperation Vs optimistic insanity. Franks initial unsuccessful fracas with drug dealers represents the actuality of the situation, while his lack of fighting skills requiring the weapons upgrade has none of the hero worship attachments that Vaughn established. Dave was a dork who you rooted for. You wanted to see him win. Frank by contrast is just a mad man in costume carrying out violent crimes.
The downside to what could have been a very dark movie, and possibly better for it, is Ellen Pages psychotic Libby/Boltie. A slightly insane comic shop employee and superhero fetishist; Libby can’t draw the thin line between justice and revenge and makes an already surreal concept seem even more whacked out. Accept this at face value and Page brings an off-colour, uber excitable comedy element to what can otherwise seem like a very bleak character study with sporadic violence inserts. As the movie trundles along it falls further into Kick-Ass filmic territory while maintaining a bleakness that will shock more than satisfy.
The rest of the cast are passable, and Kevin Bacon seems at a level of acting comfort where he can phone performances like ‘sleazy drug dealer’ in nowadays. Liv Tyler is suitably melancholy and distraught though sadly doesn’t have a lot to do. Which is a shame because similarly she can give a great performance given the room.
While the big finish for Super is violent and satisfying, it is also underwrit by a sadness and proselytising that is both pragmatic and bitter-sweet. This movie doesn’t pack the happy ending that would sate the masses, rather it gives us something both sad but hopeful. A beautiful, but flawed truth that a more commercial film might have glazed over for the fun time fade out.
Super is by no means a perfect movie, never mind a perfect superhero movie. But it is an odd and often entertaining piece of indie cinema with the balls to stay honest within the confines of extreme fiction. At times depressing, violent, mad, dark and in the end quite hopeful Super is an off-beat superhero film with it’s heart in an Indie drama. It is none the less a pleasure to watch.