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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 15, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 15
Gunn's Super a psychotic comic book gem
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Gunn's Super a psychotic comic book gem

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Super
Opening April 15


For a film that feels like it is coming at the tail end of a fade that had run its course, James Gunn's (Slither) violent superhero satire Super is shockingly wonderful. More daring than Kick-Ass, this smart and sassy comedy of errors, heroics, and religion is a raucous ride full of surprises. It's the nail in a subgenre's coffin, delivering the final word on real-world comic book theatrics and setting a bar no one is going to be able to reach any time soon.

Frank D'Arbo (Rainn Wilson) is a nice guy. The local diner fry cook married the beautiful Sarah Helgeland (Liv Tyler) because the one-time addict needed help from someone decent, and even though he wasn't sure she was in love with him, that didn't matter because he knew he was doing the right thing. Frank is a religious man who believes in God and feels that those who are kind will earn heaven's blessing. Frank believes he can pass these traits on to his wife, and is sure she'll be able to turn her life around thanks to him.

So he's understandably shattered when Sarah suddenly leaves him for the egg-loving Jacques (Kevin Bacon), a local drug dealer who has always wanted her for his own. Determined to get her back and believing he's been delivered divine inspiration from the heavenly father in the form of television Christian superhero The Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion), Frank decides to take matters into his own hands and become a real-life comic book avenger that people can believe in.

It gets crazier from there. Frank manufactures a red spandex costume, dubs himself the Crimson Bolt, and carries a pipe wrench as a weapon, conking evil-doers like pedophiles and line-butters over the head leaving them a bloody mess for the police to deal with.

Then there's the local comic book store employee named Libby played by an extremely enthusiastic Ellen Page. She gloms onto Frank and forces him to accept him as his pint-sized sidekick Boltie, and the two join forces to deliver a painful sort of justice that's as horrifying as it is humorous.

Gunn's script keeps upping the psychological ante as it goes along. We root for Frank even though his antics as the Crimson Bolt become more and more extreme (especially after Boltie joins the team), keeping things in an insane moralistic grey area that's thought-provoking and invigorating. This is the most take-no-prisoners indie satire I've recently seen, and that alone makes Super as much a must-see event as anything in 2011.

Not that I'm completely over the moon. The early portions feel rushed and slightly muddled, almost as if Gunn wasn't entirely sure of the best way to introduce his characters. Also, some of it just feels weird for the sake of being weird, like an entire sequence showcasing Frank's original religious epiphany. And while it isn't the filmmaker's fault, the sections showcasing the Crimson Bolt's first forays into crime-fighting can't help but come across as overly familiar, as Kick-Ass stole that bit of thunder a full year ago.

But this movie is gutsier and truer to both its origins and its characters than Kick-Ass, and it ends up being much more entertaining and memorable. Frank and Libby are seriously messed up people, both learning and growing from one another and not necessarily in ways that are good for either of them. There is a potency to their travails that gives the movie a validity and weightiness films like this typically eschew.

Wilson is perfect, and I love how he doesn't try to make Frank all warm and fuzzy, instead keeping him as ambiguous as possible. I almost couldn't help but grow to care for him, and no matter how absurd his actions became, I still wanted to see him find happiness while somehow saving Sarah from herself.

It is Page, however, who is the real scene-stealer. Her hyperactive and completely off-the-wall performance is something else entirely, and the actress transforms herself in such a way that she almost blew my mind. She's a petite stick of dynamite, her Libby/Boltie a sexually charged, violence-obsessed loon who becomes so enamored with becoming a superhero she can't help but go to a psychotic extreme. It's a delirious bit of whimsically dangerous sleight-of-hand on her part, Page proving she's more then a pixie-cute one-trick-pony and is perfectly capable of making herself over in unforeseen and electrifying ways.

There's so much more that could be said about Super, not the least of which is that now after this and Slither, Gunn has officially announced his presence as a genre-bending filmmaker worth keeping an eye on. But in reality, the less you know about the tricks this film has up its sleeves the better, as the surprises of the final act are so startling and shocking that to even hint at spoiling them would be a major mistake. All you need to know is that this movie is great, and to miss your chance at seeing it in a theater would be nothing less than a crime.

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