Almost exactly one year ago Kick-Ass, directed by upcoming X-Men: First Class filmmaker Matthew Vaughn, opened to little business and reasonable critical success. Adapted from the popular Mark Millar graphic novel, the film follows a young New York teen as he tries to become a superhero in the real world.
Now enter James Gunn’s Super — with an à¼ber-similar premise of a “real person” decided to become the first real-life superhero. This time we have Rainn Wilson’s Frank, a sad-sack middle-aged loser who has just lost his ex-druggie wife (Liv Tyler) to drug dealer Jacques (a triumphant return from Kevin Bacon). After a bit of divine presence, Frank decides that he can no longer live in a world where bad people can get away with doing bad things and becomes the Crimson Bolt.
While Kick-Ass begins to create a world of real actions and real consequences, it dramatically fails to uphold them throughout the entire film — instead becoming as sensationalized as the films and genre that it is trying to lampoon. Super, on the other hand, maintains its ultra-realistic style, which I was very pleased to see. Sometimes, though, they say “be careful of what you wish for,” because you may just get something like Super.
Ultimately, I believe the film is exactly what James Gunn envisioned, and that can only be seen as a success, but the balance between dark humor and absolute terror is a fine line that the film stumbles along. There are moments in the movie where I was gasping from laughter, and I loved the audacity the film uses to body slam its audience. I can only wish that it would have been more fun — the sections of the film that wanted to have fun were extremely entertaining. There are certainly people who will enjoy themselves more than I did, but a film like Super begs the question: “Is it really that much fun to see a woman get hit in the head with a pipe wrench?” And if you answered “yes” to that question, you may be the audience for a movie like this, but you probably aren’t what James Gunn truly wants.
While Rainn Wilson is very good in this more dramatic turn, Ellen Page is truly the star of the film. She plays very much against her type — she’s not the know-it-all, smarmy teen, but an earnestly eager nerd trying to fit in. She is also quite messed up, but amidst her psychological problems, her spunky cuteness still shines through. Nathan Fillian is also pitch-perfect in a small supporting role, although he isn’t given too much to do.
Albeit an often difficult film to watch, I applaud Super for sticking to its guns, creating strangely real characters and trying to show us the real consequences to a world with a flesh-and-blood superhero. I’m a little surprised that the film doesn’t quite hold up as a parody of superhero films, but it certainly feels created from a place of love toward the comic world. I think it is also smarter than many will give it credit for — it realistically looks at all real-life aspects of a superhero, including what I believe would be accurate portrayals of media attention and cultural impact. Although all of its dramatic elements don’t work and it may be quite too much for a mainstream audience, it’s nice to see a wildly funny small budget film that delivers exactly what it promises and doesn’t pander to the masses.