Written and directed by James Gunn, “Super” hooks you in from the start. Beginning with the film’s opening credits – a colorful, bloody and crudely drawn cartoon that features the characters in a lively dance sequence – you know you’re about to witness something special.
Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson) is a short-order chef who’s only had two perfect moments in his life: marrying his recovering alcoholic wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), and helping a police officer catch a criminal. Unfortunately, the rest of Frank’s life has been one humiliating, emasculating and pathetic event after another. So when Sarah leaves Frank for a sleazy strip club owner and drug kingpin named Jacques (Kevin Bacon), Frank’s only two pleasures (his wife and stopping crime) are suddenly motivations for becoming a superhero.
After failing to win his wife back, Frank experiences a vision where he is literally touched by the finger of God. Inspired by evangelical TV superhero “The Holy Avenger” (Nathan Fillion) and convinced a higher power wants him to fight evil, Frank becomes “The Crimson Bolt.” He begins scouring the streets for crime, equipped only with a trusty monkey wrench that he uses to smash criminals in the face. His unconventional tactics quickly make the local news, and Frank teams up with comic book store clerk Libby (Ellen Page) as his kid sidekick “Boltie.”
The violence in “Super” is gruesome and gory, and even includes 1960’s Batman inspired KAP-POWs and BLAMs. Frank’s make-shift dynamite and Libby’s Wolverine claws are just some of the creative weapons you’ll enjoy as the two kill their way up to Jacques and his goons. But if you’re not one for excessive violence, then the simple, sarcastic and witty humor will keep you entertained.
Although the Crimson Bolt thwarts drug dealers and child molesters, his good intentions quickly become iffy (even cutting in line at a movie can warrant a bloody beating). As Frank straddles the line between hero and sociopath, and Libby performs some morally questionable acts, viewers may begin to wonder why they’re cheering for the heroes. However, it is Gunn’s exploration of the line between good and evil that is the most compelling aspect of “Super.” Even the film’s villain, Jacques, is quick to point out that Frank is no better than him.
As for the performances, Ellen Page steals the show as Frank’s overzealous sidekick. Page, who often plays characters too wise and mature for her age, is convincing as a maniacal and over-stimulated 20-something-year-old with possible ADD. The pleasure she experiences from fighting crime (even if there isn’t any) and throwing out comic book references (one word: “Boltmobile”) is only surpassed by those sitting in the audience. Wilson also pulls off some powerful emotional scenes that will make you forget his insensitive and unemotional alter-ego on “The Office.”
While not exactly a new or original concept, “Super” is a refreshing addition to the superhero genre. Both “Defendor” and “Kick-Ass” explored the consequences of ordinary people donning masks, but “Super” twists these films’ realistic treatment, adding a hero who isn’t easy to root for, and a sidekick who treats life and death as if in a video game.
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