No film has tackled superheroes as bluntly and as practically, as James Gunn’s Super. It’s nowhere near as entertaining as Kick-Ass, but I admire Gunn for creating a film that is in some respects, a middle finger to the audience. There’s no point to it, but perhaps that’s the point…
This dark comedy follows Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson), an unhinged fry cook, whose wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), leaves him for small-time gangster and nightclub owner, Jacques (Kevin Bacon). Frank becomes lonely and depressed, and after a lifetime of misfortune, he finally snaps.
Designing his own costume, he decides to become a superhero under the name of The Crimson Bolt. With the help of his sidekick Libby, who calls herself Boltie (Ellen Page), he makes it not only his mission to fight crime but to avenge the man who stole his wife.
Super is definitely one of the weirdest films you will ever watch, involving superheroes. Well, DIY superheroes would be the more appropriate term. Filmed with a handheld camera, Super is gritty and very violent, but oddly interesting. It’s so erratic and tonally all over the place, that I just couldn’t stop watching.
Super has moments that bring to mind art house cinema. Frank visualises fantastical images, which serve to amplify his mental and emotional instability. For a film that calls itself a comedy, it isn’t actually that funny. I thought the humour was a bit cringe-worthy and not quite my taste. But it’s the film’s weirdness that makes it engaging. As the film progresses, it’s really entertaining watching Frank learn how to be a superhero. He uses a pipe wrench as his signature weapon and even comes up with his own catchphrase: “Shut up, Crime!”
When looking at Rain Wilson’s performance, he’s clearly much more comfortable in the comedic elements. The film actually has a few emotional moments involving Frank, which enables us to sympathise with him. But it’s still pretty difficult to relate to a guy who goes around attacking people with a pipe wrench.
Just when you think the film can’t get any weirder, Libby enters Frank’s crime-fighting foray. Initially, Libby comes across as ordinary, but as soon as she assumes the identity of Boltie, it becomes clear that she is a complete and utter psychopath. She is even more disturbing than Frank, as she gains genuine pleasure from harming people.
In contrast, Frank manages to maintain a twisted sense of morality, whereas Libby willfully attacks people with lethal intentions. Page is terrific as Libby and completely inhabits the part. Although her character is insane, she is the best thing about Super, as she projects madness so convincingly. Also, she arguably delivers one of the most terrifying laughs in recent memory.
Despite the randomness of this film, there does appear to be some sort of philosophy as the centre. I couldn’t tell you if there is any real meaning, but Gunn seems more concerned than creating a film with coherent storytelling. I’m all for ambiguous and obscure films, but there needs to be some internal rationality. This is where Super falls short. But I loved the characters, which I thought was really inventive. So, this film has a lot of negatives and positives.
I’ve criticised this film a lot, so is it worth watching? If you’re open-minded and love obscure films, then it’s worth checking out. It’s a unique little twist on the superhero genre, but only a satisfactory effort. You’ll forget about this film pretty quickly, but it’s a decent comedy nonetheless.
Directed and written by: James Gunn
Stars: Rainn Wilson, Elle Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon.
Distributor: IFC Films (US), G2 Pictures (UK)
Run Time: 96 minutes.
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