‘Super’ Review: Calling All Destroyers

Posted in The Screening Room by - May 14, 2015

Super is the antithesis of everything that Marvel, DC, or any big studio is doing right now with the comic book genre. It posits that the only thing stopping someone from actually being a superhero is the will to be one. Getting off one’s ass as it were. It’s interesting that James Gunn, the director, went from this film to buying into Marvel’s Cinematic Universe with Guardians of the Galaxy. I loved Guardians but it is a stark departure from the mentally unhinged Rainn Wilson clubbing baddies over the head with a monkey wrench and Ellen Page gleefully murdering wrongdoers. It’s a one of a kind take on what it means to be a superhero and a human being in general.

Super follows the exploits of Frank Darbo, played by Wilson, who loses his recovering addict wife, Liv Tyler, to her smug drug dealer, Kevin Bacon. After losing his wife, Frank falls into depression, and along the way begins to hallucinate that he has been commanded by God to do his work. He thinks that by killing evildoers and rescuing his wife, he will be doing the Lord’s work. To research what it would take to become a superhero, Frank goes to his local comic book store to buy comics, and befriends Libby, played by Page. Frank takes up the mantle of Crimson Bolt, and uses a monkey wrench to exact his special form of societal justice upon those who would do harm to others. Along the way, Libby joins him as Boltie, his kid sidekick, and they beat up evildoers, and sometimes those who commit social faux pas. The film builds to a head with an all out assault on the drug dealer’s compound which is as over the top as it comes. 

The real magic of the film is in Wilson and Page’s performances as the Crimson Bolt and Boltie. They have great on-screen chemistry, with Wilson playing the reserved, quiet Frank and Page as the bloodthirsty Libby. They are believable as a crime-fighting duo, even if some of the people they attack are undeserving of their judgment, such as a man who cuts in front of Frank at the movies. The two dish out brutal, graphic justice by maiming, dismembering, shooting, and even blowing up baddies with homemade pipe bombs. The film has a similar feel to Kick-Ass but it doesn’t feel as mindless or without moral consequence, along with having much stronger performances from the main cast. 

There are some standout supporting performances, specifically from Kevin Bacon and Nathan Fillion. Bacon is phenomenal as the smug drug dealer Jacques, and really hams it up every time he is on screen. It’s always nice to see Bacon as the villain in a film as it seems that he is made to play menacing roles. He is remorseless in everything that he does throughout the film, and takes pride in being a scumbag dealer. Nathan Fillion plays the Holy Avenger, an evangelical superhero who uses the magic of Jesus to stop the Devil, and it is as close as Fillion playing a superhero as I imagine we will ever get. He is the goody two shoes who walks the righteous path and has a rocking mane of brown hair to go along with his yellow outfit emblazoned with a large white cross. It’s such a spot on send-up of the bible-thumping community that the character almost deserves a spin-off film where he goes around proselytizing and spreading the good word.

The thing that will stick with me most about Super is the overall message of the film: all it takes to be a hero is to get off your ass and do something about it. Frank is a helpless schlub early in the film who cries like a child when his wife leaves, but then realizes he’s the only one who can do anything to get her back. His personal crusade to save his wife fuels his anger and rage, creating his alter-ego, the Crimson Bolt, and starts him on his justice-dealing ways. It also shows explicitly that those who practice vigilante justice are more unhinged in some ways than those they punish. Frank is clearly the most troubled character in the film yet he is the hero by narration and focus, and he drags others down with him. While the end justifies the means, his actions are unconscionable on the whole.

Super is everything current superhero movies aren’t. It’s violent, honest, brutal, and depressing with just a hint of happiness at the end. No one comes out unscathed from the end of the film, and the typically righteous hero ends up being more misguided than the villains. It’s a great film with the typical Gunn-style awesome music, spot-on effects, and outstanding performances. While I don’t think we will be getting another film like this from Gunn for a long time due to his involvement with Marvel, Super stands alone as an honest look at what it means to be a hero. 

Final Say: Watch It

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Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He’s a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You’ll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.

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