2 August 2011

Movie Review: Super


B

Super
2010, 96mins, 18
Director: James Gunn
Writer: James Gunn
Cast includes: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Michael Rooker
UK Release Date: 8th July 2011 (Limited)

Unfortunately for “Super” it comes right in the wake of last year’s “Kick-Ass”, a superior picture that covered very similar ground. Director James Gunn had reportedly been sitting on this script for the guts of a decade, so it must have come as a shock to find himself beaten to the punch in the amateur superhero race. However that’s not to say “Super” isn’t worthy of a watch, the big hook being a superb performance from the usually underwhelming Rainn Wilson. Leaving aside his blistering work in TV’s “The Office”, I’ve found Wilson to be an oddly sedate actor, but such preconceptions are jettisoned firmly with “Super”. The film is tonally discombobulated, but Wilson’s ace contribution and Gunn’s ferocious direction keep it amusing until the end.

After his substance abusing wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) leaves him for sleazy drug-dealer Jock (Kevin Bacon), Frank (Rainn Wilson) is left alone and confused. Spurred on by supposed signs from God, Frank vows to win his spouse back, designing a superhero alter-ego named “The Crimson Bolt” to help him. Whilst planning Sarah’s retrieval, Frank practices his crime fighting skills on the streets, using his trusty wrench to deal out justice. Targeting drug pushers, pedophiles, rapists and errrrr…queue jumpers, Frank begins to suspect his vigilante talents are the reason he was brought into existence. Eventually he teams up with Libby (Ellen Page), an unstable young woman who wants nothing more than to be his sidekick. Together they target Jock, eventually plotting a full-scale assault on the criminal’s expansive residence.

“Super” has been marketed very much as a black comedy, but that’s only half true. The film also has a very melancholy and serious side, Gunn aiming for laughs less regularly than I was expecting. It’s hard to fully understand what fuels Frank’s delusional behaviour, “Super” hinting at extreme mental instability and frequently exploiting the character’s fixation with religion. Of course there are moments where the film lunges purely for giggles (many of these sequences either featuring gore or intensely sexualized shenanigans), but “Super” is definitely much less lighthearted than I was preempting. The movie offers a cocktail of extreme violence, deep emotional sadness and the occasional belly laugh. It’s a unique but not particularly digestible combo, although things are wrapped up meaningfully with a bittersweet finale.

Rainn Wilson is fantastic in “Super”, delivering a turn that suffers from none of the imbalances of the product at large. Embracing both the premise’s underlying goofiness but also the surprising complexities of Frank, Wilson is able to deliver an engaging and thoroughly believable piece of work. He is the motor that carries “Super” beyond mediocrity. Ellen Page broadens her range a bit here, and is clearly having fun playing a blatantly deranged individual, but she builds none of the sympathy audiences will feel for Frank. It’s not one of the actresses’ best performances. An elegant Liv Tyler is shoved to the back of the frame, but in his few scenes Kevin Bacon almost nabs “Super” for himself. The big screen veteran chews up the snappy dialogue nicely, taking Wilson pound for pound in their showdown.

So what does “Super” really have to say? Its commentary on religion feels undercooked, but its investigation of fractured souls in a cruel world is compelling. Gunn directs the film with an uncompromising energy and attention to vicious detail, expertly shadowing the picture’s tiny budget. If you only see one “loser becomes a hero” flick in your lifetime make it “Kick-Ass”. However “Super” marks a decent second choice.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

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