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July 16, 2012

Movie Mondays: Super

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Written by: AHudson
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Title: Super
Director: James Gunn
Writer: James Gunn
Distributed By: IFC Films
Starring: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, and Kevin Bacon
Release Date: April 1st, 2011
MPAA: R

Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson) hits rock bottom when his wife Sarah Helgeland (Liv Tyler) suddenly leaves him for strip club owner and drug dealer Jacques (Kevin Bacon). Just when he’s about to give up hope, Darbo receives a grand vision from God and Christian superhero Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion) that he has a very special purpose. Guided by that vision, he becomes the Crimson Bolt and fights back crime with his wrench. After teeming up with comic book store clerk and sidekick Libby/Boltie (Ellen Page), the two head out on a mission to save Sarah from Jacques. Although they might have gone in far deeper than they’ve ever thought possible this time.

Some heroes avoid getting into a fight if there’s another way around it. Other heroes become the shadow of the night and the justice on the streets. And other heroes tell crime to shut up and then proceed to whack a pot dealer across the face with a wrench. Super is the latter, and it certainly doesn’t attempt to make crime fighting pretty.

For starters, this is an independent superhero film. What I mean by independent, is that its style and production is only a few hairs slicker than some of the films you might find at a higher end film festival. The camera doesn’t always stay still, the music contains a lot of indie/small bands, and a production budget of 2.5 million certainly doesn’t make it a big budget film by any means. Yet, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s nice to see a superhero film that’s not big budget or “epic” for once. Not to mention that independent humor and style does give the film a lot of charm.

One of the best credit openings ever.

And while the film didn’t have the budget for a ton of special effects or giant sets, Gunn did secure himself an impressive cast. Regardless of what you think of the darkly quirky characters, there’s no denying that everyone gave it a great go with their roles. Rainn Wilson fits the role of life-of-disappointments Frank Darbo like a glove (and keeps the character from being too much like Dwight Schrute). Ellen Page doesn’t hold back on her role as sidekick Libby/Boltie, which is like if Robin was a cute but extremely psychotic 22-year-old girl. And Liv Tyler is believable as Sarah Helgeland, who’s somewhat sweet but gets stuck in her dark world of booze and drugs.

However, the real scene-stealer here is Kevin Bacon as drug dealer Jacques. Rather than playing him as a straight up dick, Bacon gives him some humor and some subtle complexities. It should also be mentioned that it was always fun to see scenes with Nathan Fillion as The Holy Avenger (which could’ve successfully worked as a series of shorts).

Nathan Fillion as a Christian comic book superhero? SOLD!

Despite the great cast, independent charm, and dry, quirky humor, there’s something that prevents Super from being super. Perhaps the giant flaw here, is the reason why even dark superhero films such as The Dark Knight are wholesome deep down inside. Super‘s lack of heart and soul is its Achilles’ Heel.

He should be lucky this isn't an anime.

The first third of it verges on being brilliant. Sure, it’s crass, violent, and cynical. But Gunn carefully balances these elements to give it sincere humor and a premise that keeps us tuned in. Second act on though, things start to take on a more biting manner, until the last act becomes a very mean-spirited film. This certainly is a film for the grownups, unless you consider Boltie pulling a Tarantula on the Crimson Bolt, Sarah getting heroin shot up her foot, and realistic blood squirting moments fun for the whole family. However, I think that even the most mature loving comic book fans will find this to be a tad bit twisted.

Sure, there’s been darker comic books and films, such as The Crow. And there’s been ones just as crude and crass, such as Kick-Ass. But The Crow and Kick-Ass had some heart warming moments and never indulged in their darker moments. Super, however, revels in its nihilistic pessimism. At the final ten minutes of the film, Super attempts to be sweet and charming. However, by that point, things have gone too far to attempt to quickly pull a 180.

See kids, this is what happens when you start playing around with batarangs.

With that being said, there is something uniquely offbeat about Super that I usually don’t find in superhero films. I can’t say that I was super thrilled with it, but there were a lot of strong points and funny black humor that just happened to be muddled with its snarky attitude. And if you don’t mind your coffee without sugar, and you’re looking for a superhero film that’s not too slick, then perhaps you should give this one a rent. Just don’t be surprised when you start seeing blown limbs and comic book clerks telling their customers to stfu.

Andrew Hudson
ahudson@comicattack.net
@Hudsonian

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