If you have listened to my guest spot on the Super edition of The Dark of the Matinee’s TIFF podcast, Wicked Little Town, then you already know I am quite fond of James Gunn’s latest film. If you have not had a chance to check out the podcast yet then I highly recommend you give it a spin. The Mad Hatter was lucky enough to score a nice interview with James Gunn after our screening of his dark superhero inspired comedy.
Frank D’Arbo’s (Rainn Wilson) life has consisted of two perfect moments. The first was when he happened to help a cop nab a robber by pointing out which direction the crook ran. While the other moment of note was the day he married Sarah (Liv Tyler). Frank’s perfect world is destroyed when he comes home one day and discovers that is wife has left him to be with a local drug dealer, Jacques (Kevin Bacon). Depressed and seeking guidance Frank gets a sign from the above, in the form of folk Christian superhero The Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion). Thus he is inspired to not only right the wrongs of the world but also save Sarah in the process. Disguised as The Crimson Bolt, Frank delivers his own unique brand of vigilante justice to everyone from drug dealers to theatre line cutters. Frank even gets a sidekick, Boltie (Ellen Page), in the process. While successful at the start, Frank soon realizes that the criminal mind in real-life is far more dangerous, and unpredictable, than it is in comic books.
Super often feels like the dark funnier cousin to the film Kick-Ass. Both films look at the challenges ordinary folks endure when trying to become real-life superheroes. While there will surely be debate over which of the two films works better, Super gets my vote. Kick-Ass tries hard not to be your standard superhero tale, but that is exactly what it becomes in the end. Unlike Kick-Ass, there are no jetpacks, outlandish machine guns etc. Super maintains a certain level of realism throughout the film. Sure there are some over-the-top moments, especially the scene where God touches Frank’s brain and inspires wisdom, yet when it comes to the action the film rarely strays from its goal. Super is all about detailing how the average Joe would handle superhero responsibilities in a world where bullets are real and wounds cannot magically heal by turning to the next panel.
For the first part of the film Frank’s main weapon is a simple wrench. When Frank finally upgrades to a gun, Gunn still keeps it all fairly realistic. Even The Crimson Bolt costume looks exactly the way you would expect it to look if it was made by someone with average tailoring skills. The majority of the costume is one sloppy patch job after another.
The fact that The Crimson Bolts outfit looks so put together last minute only enhances the extremely dark humour the film offers. Super wonderfully plays up many of the superhero conventions, including having a secret identity, finding a place to change in public, etc. for big laughs. Yet is should also be noted that Super offers an interesting commentary on the nature of superheroes. Gunn is making a statement that superheroes are nothing more than off-kilter individuals who take pride in beating up others.
This idea is perfectly captured in the character of Boltie. Boltie gets such a thrill out of inflicting punishment on people that she does not even care if the person actually deserves it. Ellen Page is hilarious as Boltie, she steals every scene that she is in while still bring weight to Frank’s plight. Page, Wilson and Bacon are the reason why I think Super will catch on with most viewers. Despite the brutal violence, the lead actors bring much levity to this dark comedy. Bacon is so good in his role, that I wished he was given even more screen time. The fact that the film gets extremely dark in the last half may not sit well with some, yet it is needed when looking at the film as a whole. If you are willing to stay with the film until the end you will be greatly rewarded, Super is a surprisingly smart and extremely funny dark comedy that will have you looking at the superhero genre in a whole new way.