Super (2010) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, sexual content and drug use
Running Time: 96 min.
Cast: Rainn Wilson, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Ellen Page, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker, Andre Royo, Nathan Fillion
Small role: Linda Cardellini, James Gunn, Rob Zombie (voice), William Katt
Director: James Gunn
Screenplay: James Gunn
Review published July 28, 2015
Frank Darbo (Wilson, My Super Ex Girlfriend) is just a meek short order cook who perpetually ends up getting the stinky end of the stick in life, especially when his wife Sarah (Tyler, Reign Over Me) leaves him for the excitement of a local strip-club owner and drug-dealing gangster named Jacques (Bacon, Frost/Nixon). Thinking there is still a path to win her back, Frank decides to take down the criminals who run rampant in the city, especially Jacques, becoming a costumed vigilante named "The Crimson Bolt", armed with little more than a pipe wrench to bludgeon perps with.
Super is written and directed with a concerted sense of style by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Slither), who definitely shows he has what it takes as a director and conceiver of interesting ideas to show he could turn in a solid movie if he can keep the tone of the black comedy together. Unfortunately, that tone is a bit too much on the uneven side in this entry, as the balance between slapstick antics and very gory violence sometimes skews too far into the latter to find entertaining during some prolonged sequences. I like the satire on the danger of self-righteousness, though it might have been just a bit funnier if Gunn managed to reel in his tendencies to deaden our sympathies with buzz-kill moments full of graphic viscera and confusing character motivations.
Often, it feels like one of those artistic by-products of a mind that's mentally imbalanced, perhaps intentionally, as the sane mind of Frank and company becomes warped through the grotesque nature of the unfairness of life to benefit the takers at the expense of those who are caring. As with others who have gone the route of disturbing violence, Frank blends his depression with messianic visions, thinking that God wants him to engage in his quest to rid the street of vermin for a higher purpose that will bestow upon him the blessings of a return of Sarah back into his life.
Gunn casts his film well, with Wilson making for an effectively shlubby sad-sack, last-minute fill-in Bacon the charismatic allure of criminal sleaze in a role originally intended for Jean-Claude Van Damme, Tyler the junkie with the heart of gold, and Page (Smart People), as Libby, steals many scenes with her feet-first dive into the world of superheroes she's only dreamed about in the comic books she sells as a clerk in her store (I've never found Page to be sexy until seeing her don a superhero costume).
While Super is certainly creative in a very twisted way, and has an interesting spin on the worn out superhero genre, but it's so wildly off kilter and occasionally surreal that I don't know who to recommend the film to, save for people who are entertained by graphic depictions of violence in their comedy. Kick-Ass managed to walk the line between its comedy and ultra-violence in a more satisfactory manner, though I do respect Gunn for sticking with his vision of characters who go mad in a world that's even madder, all the way to the bitter end.
I wrestled with how I feel about Super all the way through, and still continue to do so as I write this piece, as I was never bored, but also never quite satisfied either, especially in the ending that seems incongruous with the rest. But hey, I didn't like Taxi Driver the first time I saw it either.
©2015 Vince Leo