‘Super’ Sticks A Wrench Into Its Twisted, Darkly Comic Tale

Super = 3 ½ out of 5
Frank:  Shut up crime!
So I don’t tend to write about my own process and circumstances when writing very often, but I am going to point out something about James Gunn’s film Super, which relates to me.  I was at a loss for a few days after seeing this film, before finally sitting down to write this review.  It could be related to how busy I have been, but really it has to do with what I thought about this film.  On one hand, it has a darkly comedic take on the story of an ordinary man who becomes a vigilante in an effort to fight crime, which is fairly entertaining, if a bit familiar for a premise these days.  On the other side of things, the film presents a wavering tone that balances these more comedic moments with some very uncomfortable and disturbing violence.  Given that I saw this film during a time in which I saw many films that needed to balance some hardcore violence with other elements, it’s been a challenge to separate each story and provide a proper critique.  With that out of the way, I can now say that I did enjoy Super, as it is well made and tells an offbeat story that has both comedic and dramatic elements, within a world where crime doesn’t just pay, it suffers the wrath of a well placed wrench.

The film stars Rainn Wilson as Frank, a mild mannered fry cook at the local diner.  He is a fairly introverted individual, proud of only two real moments in his life, which includes his marriage to Sarah (Liv Tyler).  One day Frank is visited by a gangly-looking Kevin Bacon as Jacques.  Following an awkward shared breakfast, Jacques leaves, asking Frank to tell Sarah he stopped by.  Five days later, Sarah has been taken; becoming a druggie under the wing of Jacques, who is in fact a smooth-talking dealer.  Distraught, to say the least, Frank eventually has a divine moment, which leads to him creating a superhero persona known as “The Crimson Bolt”.

Frank designs the Crimson Bolt’s uniform to be comprised of a sewn together red costume, a red mask, shoulder and knee pads, and a utility belt.  After an initial night out, attempting to fight crime, Frank realizes he needs one more thing to complete his outfit, a weapon – in this case, a heavy pipe wrench.  Once equipped with his wrench, Frank begins to punish all those committing crimes by bashing them (incredibly hard) with his portable steel object.

Things develop further, as Frank is joined by a local comic book store employee, Libby (Ellen Page), who Frank sought for research regarding his creation.  Libby becomes enamored with the concept and creates a sidekick character of her own, known as “Boltie”.  Soon, the Crimson Bolt and Boltie begin to take on crime all over, only Boltie is much more sociopathic than the situation calls for.  Regardless, Jacques and his crew, which includes Michael Rooker as Jacques’ main heavy, will need to start preparing for the worst, as they might be facing a sentence that will make them crimson with blood.

Writer/director James Gunn was previously responsible for the wonderful and gross horror/comedy Slither, which starred Nathon Fillion (who has a small role in this film).  Gunn was also the screenwriter behind the Dawn of the Dead remake, which was a lot more fun than anyone anticipated.  Super seems to have been made, regardless of these past credits, as a much more like a personal film, that happens to have been influenced by crime fighters.  The film has been made as an independent feature, with the cast and crew working on scale salaries and production being handled on a tight schedule.  It has also been released as an unrated feature, as the film features an excessive amount of graphic violence, which has not been trimmed to meet MPAA standards.

As a result, the feature has all of the respect I can give it, in regards to the look and craft of the film.  There are a number of varied sequences, which exhibit the use of saturation in flashbacks, bright and even animated color sequences when delving into the initial violence (as well as a fun opening title sequence), and straightly shot scenes as well to better reflect the reality these characters exist in.  Even with a fraction of the budget that Gunn had for Slither, he was still able to put all of his abilities to good use in order to craft a pretty solid and quirky looking feature.
Libby:  I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to kill him.  I mean, you have to teach me these things!
Frank:  How am I supposed to tell crime to shut up, if I have to shut up!
The performances are also a highlight.  I will get to Rainn Wilson more in a moment, but suffice it to say that I recently pointed out how solid of a dramatic actor he may wind up being, once The Office is over and he begins to embrace more film roles.  Ellen Page is a lot of fun in this film.  Her youthful exuberance mixed with the incredibly dark actions that she takes work to create a character vastly different from her previous roles.  Kevin Bacon does not get enough to do, yet he has some of the most hilarious scenes in the film.  I am not sure what happened, but Bacon has emerged as a comedic talent with impeccable timing, which I look forward to seeing more of.  Liv Tyler also falls into the background, but does what she can with her role.

In response to the overall tone of the film and the way the story plays out, this is where I found some faults in how the film wanted to be received.  As much as I would love to admire the film more for the work it does at creating a unique bond between the characters and providing some heart in a story that is mainly a dark comedy, I could not quite get past the way “justice” is delivered.  Rainn Wilson’s character, when you get down to it, is insane.  The fact that he can go around town destroying people with a wrench to the face and think that he is doing good is loony.  I think his character is a bit all over the place, especially as the film embraces his superhero persona more and more.  This combined with what we should perceive as entertaining superhero action behind its layer of gritty violence diminishes the film in some ways.  It is an incredibly tricky balancing act, which I think tilts more to the side of too real without the support of proper satirical elements or something to say, which enhances the impact.  By the time the film reaches the third act, all bets seem to be off, and the film delves into a near nihilistic mood that is supposed to be being balanced by a lot of offbeat humor, but just comes off as unflinching in how the violence has effected the characters.

I must also point out how trendy this plot actually is.  Within the past couple of years we have seen many other films involving regular folks attempting to become superheroes, including Special, Defendor, Kick Ass, and even the Batman films.  All of these films have a focus on similar themes, which I felt diminished the impact of this film in some ways.  While the story is original, overall, I could still not help but be clued into the tropes of another indie version of a superhero story.  That being said, this subgenre is not one that I believe to have worn itself thin, I just wish the film created a more lasting feeling with me that did not revolve around how uncomfortable the violence becomes when dealing with the harsh realities of people using actual weapons and attempting to play off situations with what could seem like very dry humor.

Super is pretty unconventional to say the least.  Deep down in its gritty, so-painful-its-less-funny core, there is a certain level of sweetness that is appreciated.  Wilson and Page make for a horrifying dynamic duo and Bacon manages to bring comedic class to a complete sleaze.  My tone throughout this review may have the feel of a film I am not quite recommending, but I am – to a particular audience.  Fans of bringing a level of reality to a world of superheroes, mixed with a very offbeat and dark sense of humor will find something to enjoy here.  The quality of filmmaking is quite good as well, which is always a plus when it comes to low budget and independent films being as creative as possible.  I only wish I didn’t feel as dirty as I did afterward, due to how bad I felt for anyone who had to feel the wrath of the Crimson Bolt’s wrench and the mighty fury of Boltie.
Frank: You don't butt in line!  You don't steal! You don't molest little children!  You don't deal drugs!  The rules haven't changed!


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