Movie Review by L.L. Soares
On first glance, SUPER, the new movie by director James Gunn, might seem like a low-rent version of the other recent superhero-with-no-powers film, KICK-ASS (2010), but that would be selling it short. Not only did Gunn write the screenplay for this project years ago (it took him until now to finally get it made), but it takes the whole “average guy who becomes a superhero” concept to an even more depressing level. That might turn some people off, but personally, I enjoyed the hell out of it.
Frank Darbo (the great Rainn Wilson, who most people will know as Dwight Schrute from the NBC comedy series, THE OFFICE), is a down-on-his-luck short order cook, who really has nothing going on in his life until he meets Sarah (Liv Tyler), a waitress at the diner where he works. Somehow, his quirkiness appeals to her and they get married, but it doesn’t last long. One day, Sarah just leaves and takes all her clothes with her, to move in with the drug dealer, Jacques (Kevin Bacon). It turns out Sarah was a former addict and has gone back to her old ways, and Jacques is more than happy to supply the drugs. Poor Frank.
A broken man, Frank has no idea what to do with his life. Was he put here for any purpose at all, besides flipping burgers? And then it comes to him in a vision (oh yeah, Frank also has religious visions sometimes), that he should devote himself to fighting crime, after he sees a Christian superhero program on TV called “The Holy Avenger.” In the show, the Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion), fights the villainous devil, Demonswill (played by James Gunn himself!) for the souls of a bunch of high school kids. Frank takes this show (and a sequence where his brain appears to be touched by the finger of God), as a sign of what direction his life should be going.
He makes a costume which was shown to him in his vision, and takes on the moniker “The Crimson Bolt” (his costume is long red underwear and a mask). And he goes to a local comic book store to do research on how he should tackle his new profession. There, he meets Libby (Ellen Page, who most people know from 2007′s JUNO), who works there. Libby is more than happy to point him in the right direction when he asks about superheroes who don’t have powers, and he loads up on comic books.
Armed with a monkey wrench, The Crimson Bolt stalks the streets looking to stomp out criminals, with a hearty shout of “Shut Up, Crime!” He becomes something of a local celebrity, attacking drug dealers and various low-level criminals. But when he attacks someone at a movie theater for cutting in line, it appears that he might be taking his zealousness a bit too far.
Frank struggles with his sanity, wanting to give up his secret identity as Crimson Bolt and going back to a normal life, but he’s already gone beyond the point of turning back. He decides that his main mission will be to confront Jacques and his goons and get Sarah back.
However, he doesn’t really plan on what to do when someone shoots guns at him.
After getting shot, Frank goes to Libby’s apartment for help, (he doesn’t know who else to turn to) and she desperately tries to convince him to take her on as his sidekick. She even has a costume all made and a list of names for her heroine (she decides on “Boltie”).
Frank, meanwhile, appears to sink even deeper into madness and is determined to attack Jacques at his fenced off estate. Boltie damands to go along. And so they head off to free Sarah.
SUPER is a very dark comedy, with some very funny scenes, as well as some gory ones. Somehow, the movie does a good job of balancing the comedy and the violence. Part of this is the great script and direction by James Gunn. He wrote the screenplays for TROMEO AND JULIET (1996), the movie version of SCOOBY DOO (2002) and the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004), however, it’s his last movie as writer and director, SLITHER (2006), that you should really check out. SLITHER also had a mix of comedy and horror that worked quite well.
The cast is another big plus here. Rainn Wilson is pretty much perfect as sad sack Frank. You actually believe that this misfit would don a superhero costume and believe he could make a difference in the world. Liv Tyler is believable as Sarah – you can see her innocence shining beneath the bottoming-out drug addict. Kevin Bacon as the villainous Jacques and Michael Rooker as his main thug, Abe, also turn in great performances, and Bacon especially seems to be having a lot of fun with the role.
My favorite character, aside from Frank, would easily be Ellen Page as Boltie. She just has a kind of goofy joy in her scenes. She has a very quirky sense of humor, but also a manic glee when they’re fighting criminals. In one scene she literally jumps up and down and laughs uncontrollably at the fact that she is actually a costumed superhero. Her enthusiasm is hilarious, and contagious.
There’s also a strange sexual tension between Frank and Libby. She is obviously attracted to him, but he is very repressed and religious and asserts that he is still a married man, despite the fact that Sarah left him without a second thought. The scenes where this tension manifests are awkward and uncomfortable – but for that reason seem completely believable.
There are some pretty grim moments in the film, but I thought they worked quite well. And overall, the movie really won me over. I really had no idea what to expect from SUPER, and I was pleasantly surprised.
SUPER had a brief run in theaters (mostly arthouse joints), but is currently available on OnDemand on Comcast (and may be available on your cable system as well). If so, it’s definitely worth checking out!
If I had to rate this one, I’d probably give it three and a half knives.
© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares