Directed By: James Gunn
Starring: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Nathan Fillion
I’m all for bizarre and outlandish comedy. When Napoleon Dynamite hit back in 2004, I fell in love. The difference between that film and James Gunn’s Super? Whereas Napoleon Dynamite was innocent silliness, Super is insulting madness. Perhaps the films would be comparable had Napoleon’s Liger jumped off the page and mauled Pedro to death.
Super stars Rainn Wilson as Frank, a lame loser who happened to get lucky in the romance department and marry Liv Tyler’s character, Sarah. Sure enough, Frank’s luck runs dry and Sarah’s drug addiction creeps back into the picture along with a sleazy dealer name Jacques (Kevin Bacon). When Sarah leaves him for Jacques, Frank breaks down. He wants to get her back, but has no chance with Jacques and his goons in his way. Frank comes to the conclusion that the only way he can fight back is as someone else, as a super hero and so the Crimson Bolt is born.
When the Crimson Bolt isn’t plotting against Jacques, he’s fighting a variety of crimes ranging from child molestation to “line butting.” His weapon of choice is a massive wrench and rarely thinks twice before using it regardless of the severity of the offense. Eventually a local comic book store employee, Libby (Ellen Page), connects the dots and pegs Frank as the Crimson Bolt. Rather than reveal his secret identity, she begs to join him in his fight against crime as his sidekick, Boltie. Frank reluctantly accepts the offer and together, they forge ahead with Frank’s primary mission, to get his wife back.
Super starts off promising. The idea of Rainn Wilson marrying a woman as gorgeous as Liv Tyler is glaringly improbable, but Frank is a curious character that you’re eager to learn more about. It’s too bad that right after a brief introduction, the film launches into an extremely lengthy animated opening credit sequence. This actually would have been a brilliant way to open the film had it lasted perhaps a minute, but not only is it ridiculously long, it’s stretched out to include a very odd dance routine performed by cartoon versions of the characters.
After the first five minutes of Super, you get a general sense of what you’re in for – nonsense. It’s one thing to have a strange character, but it’s another to make him and his situation so over-the-top that he becomes impossible to connect with. A loser who wants to get his girl back from a cooler guy? Sensible. A loser who enjoys an overacted cry, has his mind altered by alien tentacles, is inspired by a guy called The Holy Avenger and is raped by someone half his size? Downright absurd.
Even worse, Super is cynical and mean spirited. Think that just because you can sit through all seven Saw films you can handle anything? Think again. The Crimson Bolt isn’t a noble superhero who fights crime; he’s a damn wacko that will put his wrench to the head of a man who merely cuts in line. And he doesn’t even stop there. The Crimson Bolt takes it upon himself to teach the guy’s wife a painful lesson, too. There is absolutely no reason to be rooting for the Crimson Bolt or Frank for that matter. While a little part of us may wish a real life vigilante will spring up somewhere Batman or even Kick-Ass style, seeing what happens when the Crimson Bolt takes to the streets turns that fantasy into an absolute nightmare.
Boltie softens the Crimson Bolt quite a bit, but that’s only because she’s even more of a loose canon. When we first meet Libby, she’s a simple comic book store employee innocently trying to help Frank find what he’s looking for. Turns out she’s pretty damn skilled at giving off a good first impression because the moment Frank lets Libby into his life, she turns out to be a total lunatic. Like just about everything in Super, her wildly over-the-top behavior consumes the character, overwhelming you with shock and disgust leaving no room for an emotional connection.
By the time the Crimson Bolt and Boltie head into their big mission, if you haven’t left the theater out of pure disgust, you couldn’t give a damn if these character are shot and killed before they can even step foot on Jacques’ compound. Yes, that sounds brutal, but when you recall the atrocities the duo has been committing up until this point, they undoubtedly deserve it. But, of course, we wouldn’t have a grand finale should they be killed in an instant and instead, you’re left with a third act that is more of a restless countdown to the credits than anything.
No, there’s nothing wrong with absurdity in comedy, but there is a problem when the absurd is contemptibly ill-toned and that is certainly the case with Super. It’s uncomfortable and upsetting to watch. Forget the guy who cut in line; that wrench should be aimed at folks responsible for suckering people into spending money on this film.
By Perri Nemiroff