DIRECTED BY: James Gunn
FEATURING: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler, Nathan Fillion
PLOT: A schlub of a fry cook (Wilson) takes drastic action after his wife (Tyler) leaves him for
her drug dealer (Bacon), deciding to become a superhero called “The Crimson Bolt” to win her back. Teaming up with a lively comic store clerk (Page), he experiences the pain and very real violence that isn’t detailed in the comic books he reads.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s yet another “regular guy becomes a superhero” story, equally mixing dark humor and gritty drama while throwing in some comic book action segments. It stands out for its more realistic portrayal of the premise and unexpectedly unsettling moments, but never exceeds “offbeat” on the Weird-o-meter.
COMMENTS: At its core, Super offers nothing new. After a life-changing event, a “normal” loser realizes how easily he can dress up in a funny costume and run around at night surprising “bad guys” with a blunt weapon. Wearing a mask and taking out his frustration with his own bad luck in life makes him feel powerful and gives him a new perspective, etc, but he also learns that being a fake superhero has real-life consequences. It’s only the bleakly comic tone set against hyper-realistic violence that makes the film stand out from an over-slicked, stylized effort like Kick-Ass.
Attempting to balance kooky jokes and drug-fueled shootouts, writer/director James Gunn capriciously changes moods from scene to scene. One moment Rainn Wilson is delivering delightfully deadpan narration, and the next he’s unleashing a crazed fury indicative of a truly unsettled mind. One moment Ellen Page is excitedly extolling the fun of superhero-dom, and the next she’s purposefully crushing someone’s legs with a car. Kevin Bacon cracks wise over a strange breakfast of scrambled eggs, and later encourages his seriously drugged-up girlfriend to give herself over to a horny drug lord. There is a constant tugging at the audience’s emotions and affections, and honestly, my nerves. I was more often uncomfortable or just turned off by the proceedings, especially when the unnecessary religious angle was added followed by a stupid attempt to give Page and Wilson a romance.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find Super very funny at times, primarily a result of the talented cast. Wilson has his share of cute, quirky moments, while Nathan Fillion’s all-too-short appearance as a Christian TV superhero is gleefully hammy. Bacon impressed me with an unexpectedly entertaining performance. It’s really Page who stands out though, infusing comic nerd Libby (aka “Boltie”) with as much bubbly enthusiasm as she does unhinged sadism. Boltie’s more outspoken and petty than the Crimson Bolt, and just as easily incited to violence, serving as whatever the opposite of a “conscience” would be.
Super never finds its footing, resulting in an uneven attempt at a realistic superhero movie, though I’m sure Gunn was aiming for a unique and more in-depth exploration of the concept. It’s primarily a comedy, but the heavy doses of drugs, violence, and relationship drama make for a confusing watch. Some of the action sequences are exciting, but more often than not they feel out of place. It’s watchable for the cast (especially the ever-likable Page), but doesn’t excel in any other area, except perhaps for a very cool animated opening credits sequence.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“In the end, this diffuse and off-balance film—one that weirdly combines cardboard characters and emotional urgency, high conceptualism and visceral rawness—does come together, albeit in a strange, and strangely fitting, way.”—Nathan Heller, Slate.com (contemporaneous)