What’s that in the sky? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s another super hero film. The latest addition to the already over-populated genre is Super, wrote and directed by James Gunn, the mind behind 2006’s Slither. In Super, Frank (Rainn Wilson) is a thirty something loser who is one of life’s victims. The one thing he has in his otherwise unremarkable existence is his beautiful wife, played by Liv Tyler. Unfortunately he doesn’t keep hold onto that long as she leaves him for local playboy Jacques (Kevin Bacon) and let’s be fair he takes it badly. Then in a strange sequence of events he is led by god and TV superhero the holy avenger (Nathan Fillion) towards his true purpose in life to help those in need, to become the crimson bolt.
With his new-found purpose in life, Frank becomes a super hero who beats his cities villains about the head while shouting the three simple words ‘shut up, crime’. As far as good catchphrases go, that’s pretty high up the list. His method of crime fighting involves hitting people with a wrench. Even compared to the already violent kick ass this is a bit much at times especially come the films bloody end with its dismembered limbs and graphic headshots aplenty.
It’s disturbing in other ways too, oh, hell is it. Super has one scene that will stay with me forever. My interpretation of the phrase ‘touched by god’ will never be the same again. You could say that a common theme for Super is that it is awkward viewing at times. There is another scene in the lead up to the obligatory end game face-off. This is a sex scene, one that is forced on the Frank by his kid side kick. His side kick is Libbie/Boltie (Ellen Page), one of the many textbook ‘girl next door’ actresses and targets of my infatuation, yet it still doesn’t change that if the roles were reversed this scene would be construed as tantamount to rape and source of massive controversy.
Underneath the comic book tropes and the perversion this is a simple story of a man saving his wife from what he perceives as evil. It’s one of the most commonly treaded tales in the history of cinema. Unimaginative it may be there is plenty new and unique to make this film worthy of your attention and that mainly comes from its unique take on the concept championed by Kick Ass and The Green Hornet, Batman too. Super takes the notion that anyone can become a superhero, but here there is a much gritty sense of what is real. It may lack subtlety at times but these are real people in real places who are living their day-to-day lives and the film deliberates upon how violence and power corrupts such people.
The defining feature that separates Super from the other everyman superhero films is religion. The motivation behind Frank donning the costume comes from God. It may give the film its own unique identity beyond the gratuitous freakiness. Personally I’m not too sure it serves as a motivation for someone who has no interest in comic book culture to become a superhero and fight crime. It feels like the film is trying to carve out its own niche at the cost of reason and logic.
The cast is good, great even. That’s not to say they are all used well. Rainn Castle puts in a performance of great depth, especially a scene where he questions why he became the person he is. His opposite who he is striving to save is Liv Tyler who yet again displays her complete lack of talent. She might look good, but whispering in hushed tones is not a substitute for emotional depth. Her captor is a wasted piece of casting in Kevin Bacon, he showed in X-Men First Class that he possesses the talents to be a great villain and he continues that here. It’s sad then that he used so sparingly, preventing him from being the big bad boss that any action film needs. The last player is Ellen Page who rehashes her performance from Juno, whether you see this as a bad thing depends on how much you liked her in Juno. I personally enjoyed her performance in that film; she does a good hyper-active tomboy after all. She’s perfect for this role.
Super may take some assessing when it saying whether I enjoyed it or not. Still it’s a film that successfully satires the superhero mythos additionally it’s everything you expect from a film of this genre whose hero skulks around smashing people in the face with household tools. The film may be wrong both visually and morally but it works as a genre film, although I can’t help but feel there’s something missing. The only conclusion I can come to is this – it might not be an immediately great film however it’s certainly a memorable one that will scar your memory for some time to come.