The plot isn't too unfamiliar, in fact its hella predictable really. Frank is a plain and simple, unfit, kinda ugly blue collar guy who works in some dingy diner as the cook. Somehow he is married to a pretty sexy girl Sarah, (Liv Tyler). Unfortunately Sarah becomes a druggie early in their relationship and (somehow) gets involved with the sleazy strip club owner Jacques (Kevin Bacon). This causes Frank to spiral into depression behaving recklessly and stupidly, he challenges Jacques and his goons (he has his own strip club goons), tries to get the police to arrest Jacques for stealing his wife and...almost buys a pet rabbit. Eventually his madness leads to supernatural/spiritual visions where he thinks God tells him to become a superhero, so that's just what he does, become a crazy violent vigilante superhero of the people.
So yeah I think you get the gist of this right, the lonely, kinda chubby loser, thinks he's a superhero, makes his own silly costume and runs around the town trying to foil crime. Of course the twist being the movie is grounded in reality and of course Frank isn't a superhero at all and he doesn't live within a comicbook world. You do get all the usual quirks you'd expect in a real origins comicbook flick, the design and creation of his trademark costume, his superhero name, the help he receives from his future sidekick (another lonely blue collar worker who just happens to be a cute as buttons female), his weapon acquirement and his early missions.
Naturally being based in reality you can guess what happens, yes its an easy guess but it is rewarding none the less. Frank confronts typical street drug pushers and such only to find its not as easy as he thinks. Yeah you could say the baddies he confronts are racial stereotypes but the movie is only being honest here, I'm sure they did their research. Anyway it is funny how he dives into action only to have the shit kicked out of himself, it then dawns on him to get a weapon. The following night he does it all over again with the same guy, but now he has a wrench which he uses to beat the guy half to death. Yes it sounds awful but it is actually quite amusing because of the fact its so horrific, and the way he thinks he's doing a good thing. Yeah sure he's stopping a perp selling drugs on the street, but he pretty much kills the guy with a big metal wrench!
As things progress and he half kills more bad guys, he gains a reputation as a nasty vigilante...naturally. This is highlighted in one sequence where he, yet again, half kills a man and woman for cutting in line to a nightclub. The quick cut of him walking off to his car to change into his outfit, which is clearly suppose to take at least 10 minutes and shows him struggling in the backseat with his white Y-fronts on, is brilliant. There are other such superhero mockery moments like Frank waiting around all night behind a dumpster for a crime to occur. A very sweet little scene which shows him talking to himself, keeping a little superhero audio diary, kinda reminds me of the comicbook 'The Tick'. Its moments like these that make the film work on so many levels as it mocks the typical superhero format we all know.
Is the film dark? why yes it is, not quite at first, but it sure does get emotional towards the finale. For starters Frank is clearly in his late 30's maybe early 40's, whilst his sidekick Libby, played by Ellen Page, is around 22 I think it was. Now this isn't an issue at first, Frank doesn't really want her to become his sidekick but she talks him into it, but when she kinda rapes him one night...well that's a bit questionable don't ya think. Talk about gender role reversal! I wonder what the feminists thought about that. Other dark and weird moments involve Franks visions which turn out to be a blend of religion, spiritual and alien abduction. I guess it shows how warped and delusional Frank must be to have these visions which come across as something from 'Hellraiser' mixed with a Holy intervention, and he sees it as positive.
Most of the other dark moments obviously revolve around the violence which is pretty darn bloody at times, this isn't a tame comicbook parody. There isn't anything outrageously over the top like 'Kick-Ass' though, its all quite acceptable and believable stuff, but graphic. Yet we do still get funny superhero mockery in the form of Frank turning up to fight bad guys only armed with his wrench and fists, he brings a wrench to a gun fight, and has to run away sharpish. I think the hardest and most gut wrenching moment is the ending for Libby, I won't ruin it but its actually heart-breaking, horrendously graphic and shocking...did I give that away? Its at that moment the movie really does shift up a gear into serious territory and becomes quite the adrenaline rush, its also where Rainn really shows us his talents.
It certainly fits the bill of a dark comicbook, at times highly amusing, at times highly violent and sick, and at times very emotional. The ending is odd because Frank manages to achieve his goal but at what cost?? it doesn't really seem like a happy ending, especially after the slap to the face revelation about Sarah at the very end, huh! Its a very well acted movie and very engaging I must say, didn't think it would be but it certainly is, you feel for Frank and Libby, and you want them to succeed. Alas you kinda forget all about Sarah even though she is the main target and goal for Frank. You really want him to ride off into the sunset with Libby, the film confuses you there, toys with your emotions. Still its a solid makeshift superhero/vigilante movie with a heart of gold? Well shocking depressing nastiness aside I guess it is, but its more like a rollercoaster for your emotions and moral compass...but still fun.
"Shut up, crime!"
Super is all in all a very fun, entertaining, and frequently funny film. For some reason I never hate anything that Rainn Wilson does. There's just something about his deadpan delivery that makes me laugh. Super isn't anything special. It lacks everything realistic, but it still manages to get a pass because of just how fun the whole film is. It's violent, it's vengeful, and it's glorious. It doesn't make it to the level of Kick-Ass, but it still manages to be a pretty good little film in its own right.
Franks wife up and leaves one day. She was an ex-junkie and alcoholic, but she left him for a high level drug dealer, played perfectly by Kevin Bacon. After mourning her absence for awhile, Frank gets a message from God that he should become a crime fighter. He takes the name Crimson Bolt and decides to start his vigilante career. It starts pretty weak, but with the help of a comic book store employee, Libby, he starts to get better. Soon, Libby teams up with him as Bolty and he has his sidekick. Now all he has to do is rescue his wife and take down anyone that tries to stop him.
The movie has its problems, like Frank never getting arrested even though there's this huge investigation going on. He drives around his own car with his license plates, but somehow all the witnesses never seem to see it. Whatever, I guess. Maybe it was God protecting him and that's what James Gunn was going to stick to. Real world though, Frank is out of commission about two weeks into his crime fighting career.
Super is worth a look if you like this new and upcoming sub genre. Kick-Ass was a great movie in my eyes, so I was really interested in watching this. It helps that it has such a great cast including the already mentioned Rainn Wilson and Kevin Bacon, but it also has Ellen Page as Libby/Bolty. She seemed to be the energy this movie needed and I really enjoyed her performance. All in all this was about as good as it could be. The writing could use a tuneup, but it still was a pleasure to watch.
It's also not as good as the others overall, but is nevertheless an entertaining albeit polarizing film that really highlights the consequences of trying to fight crime without much training, and is probably the most realistic in this regard.
Frank is a sad sack loser who just coasts through his dull life as a short order cook. After his recoverign addict wife is willingly seduced by a slimy yet charming drug dealer named Jacques, he is inspired to take up the mantle of a costumed vigilante after supposedly having a divine vision inspired by a cheesy religious themed superhero show (a parody of the program Bibleman).
After a bit of comic book research, Frank dons a homemade costume, calls himself the Crimson Bolt, and, armed with a pipe wrench, sets out to fight crime and save his wife. Eventually he gets a sidekick in the form of comic book store employee Libby (under the name of Boltie), but her approach to thigns shows that she might be more unhinged than he thought, and that they're way in over their heads.
The film does deal with themes like the influence of religion on action, the aestheticization of violence, and the journey of self discovery, and while these are addresses and dealt with, the film seems to focus more on the pure visceral nature of things, and is more about the mayhem, dark, twisted humor, and shock moments (some of which are really effective, while others are just plain bizarre).
And despite this film being for a REALLY limited audience, it is enjoyable in a sick kind of way. The humor is really dark and perverse, and the film definitely earns points of being ballsy and risk taking without care. It helps that the performances are good too, and that the performers are trying instead of just phoning it in. Wilson is really good as Frank, and he makes for a believable protagonist. Liv Tyler is good as his vulnerable and insecure wife Sara, and Kevin Bacon is fine as the smarmy Jacques. Like with Kick-Ass, it's the female avenger who really steals the show here. I haven't seen Ellen Page this unsettling and psychotic since Hard Candy. The fact that this film is funny makes her work even more effective subversive and nutty. She seriously is marvelous as the perverse and nutty Libby/Boltie, and there's some really uncomfortable moments with her that just sing.
All in all, the film isn't probably as great as I'm making it out to be, mostly because I tend to be very forgiving and lenient with ratings and reviews, but I can't help it. This film does a lot right, and it's certainly not boring. Yeah, the morals are questionable, and the film primarily relies on the mayhem to carry things, but how often do you see a sexually provocative sidekick of a guy who beats people with a pipe wrench? The fact that the film is polarizing alone makes it worthy of viewing and discussing, so take that as some sort of recommendation.
Essentially, it is yet another tired vigilante film, but with a rehashed, improbable superhero gimmick that makes the film even more tired. The film dabbles in themes of what it thinks is satire, drama and vigilantism, failing at all. In trying to make the film stand out from 'Kick Ass', it futilely turns the violence up a notch, the only benefit of this being the disposure of some of its highly irritating characters being satisfyingly grislier than expected.
Rainn Winston gives a humdrum performance as Frank D'Arbo, the nerd stock character every viewer is familiar with. One of the films few merits comes in the form of Kevin Bacon, who gives a fittingly slimy, ratty performance as small time criminal Jacques. Libby, played by Ellen Page, is one of the main problems of the film; her loud, androgynous and pathetically recalcitrant persona is utterly exasperating. When she becomes the Crimson Bolt's side kick, the film nose dives and quickly loses all credibility. Remarkably, the film becomes even worse in its final act.
After the deliberately strong and misplaced violence, the little character development and the general vapidity, the film ends with inappropriate and somewhat complacent melodrama. Suddenly, trying to justify its predictably weak ending, the narrator, who appears to know exactly what the unamused viewer is thinking of this conclusion, addresses the audience - 'Maybe you thought I was gonna learn that I was deluded, that I was as evil as the rest of them. But maybe you're the one that needs to learn something.' No, the viewer doesn't have to learn anything from this completely ludicrous, unbelievable ending that has just been compounded by maudlin nausea, the filmmakers are the ones that need to learn: how to make a decent film.
Avoid this film, watch Kick Ass instead, it's not perfect, but it's in a different league to 'Super'.
In the last few months I've highlighted several films which meet all the cult film criteria but fail to personally make the grade - films like Shock Treatment, Big Trouble in Little China, and Sir Henry at Rawlinson End. The latest addition to this list is Super, a film which will leave you completely schizophrenic. You will tie yourself up in knots trying to work out whether or not you like it, whether or not it means anything, and ultimately whether or not it works. The answers I have settled on, at least thus far, are: not really, possibly, and no.
Comparisons have been drawn between Super and Kick-Ass, with the former being perceived as a rip-off of the latter when first released. Both films explore the idea of ordinary people deciding to become superheroes, and struggling to compensate for their lack of powers. Both have distinctive visual styles, which take the comic book format to different kinds of violent and sexually charged extremes. And both, as you might expect, didn't exactly flatten the box office (though Kick-Ass did take money).
It's often the case in filmmaking that two similar projects will be developed at the same time, and with Super and Kick-Ass this is no exception. Mark Millar, creator of the Kick-Ass comics, has publicly defended James Gunn from accusations of plagiarism, going so far as to screen Super at the Kapow! comic convention in London. It is likely that Kick-Ass got better distribution because of the credentials of its production team: the selling power of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, who collaborated on Stardust, outweighs that of a Troma graduate who directed Slither.
You have to applaud Super and Gunn for the sheer alacrity of its vision. It may not sound like the greatest compliment, but this film could only have been made by someone who was slightly deranged. No-one could accuse Gunn of chickening out or softening the edges, either in plot details or the extent of the violence. Where Kick-Ass was a top-end 15, depicting comic-book violence in a dark setting, Super is an 18 through and through, being much more realistic and much more brutal.
For the gorehounds among us, there is enough head-cracking violence in Super to satisfy anyone. While Kick-Ass had many moments of wince-inducing pain, this rivals Kill List as one of the most explicitly violent films in recent memory. Gunn's Troma background is evident in the use of old-fashioned make-up and prosthetics (to good effect), and the extremes to which he takes the action: if someone gets hit in the head with a monkey wrench, it's likely that their head will split in two. Gunn goes way over-the-top, but you have to applaud him for at least having the guts to go that far.
But while Super may tick all the boxes in terms of violent spectacle, it falls short of the standards set by Kick-Ass for one simple reason. Kick-Ass knew from the start what it wanted to be and stuck with it. It still managed to be a fun, blackly comic and damn exciting film, but you felt grounded in Vaughn and Millar's creative vision. Super constantly unseats you, lurching in tone from scene to scene, so you don't know whether you're watching a college humour parody with good production values, an exercise in moral hypocrisy on a par with Cecil B. De Mille, or a dark and subversive comedy about real people dealing with jealousy.
There are individual images in Super which seem completely misjudged, in isolation or in whatever context they find themselves. Early on there is a hentai sequence on TV of a young girl being sexually assaulted by a giant squid... I could make a joke about whatever floats one's boat, but frankly that just doesn't seem right. Later on our main character imagines the prospect of going to jail - and pictures being raped in the showers by a fat elderly man.
Oddest of all is the scene where Frank (Rainn Wilson) throws up in the toilet, and the vomit reforms into the face of his kidnapped wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) whom he has sworn to rescue. Scenes like this have a similar effect to the cut-away jokes in Family Guy: occasionally they are funny, or amusingly bizarre, but they have no narrative coherence and end up throwing what little plot there is completely off-balance.
When I reviewed Bad Lieutenant some months ago, I spoke in detail about the ethics of depicting rape in such a full-on manner. Abel Ferrara gets it right, if such a phrase is remotely appropriate, by characterising rape as something utterly hideous and repulsive. Assuming that Gunn agrees with this - and we have no reason to doubt him - he hasn't mastered giving this impression in his films. Of the two rape scenes in Super (discounting the shower scene), only one has the desired effect of repulsing the viewer. With Boltie's rape of the Crimson Bolt, we're uncertain whether we should be turned on, repulsed or confused, and so we end up with an unsettling mix of all three.
All of which brings us back to the central question with Super: does it really know what it is doing? It is a deeply conflicted film, with even the meaning of its title up for grabs. Sometimes it wants to be taken literally - 'super' as a realistic glorification of the life a super-hero could lead if he or she had a sufficiently warped moral compass. Sometimes it wants to be ironic - 'super' as the life of a vigilante being anything but, taking the glamorised comic version of events and showing how awful life would be if they was replicated. I'd like to think the latter was mostly true, but somehow this feels like I am giving Gunn more credit than he deserves.
The dubious morality of Super is a big problem, which cannot be entirely solved by Kick-Ass' arguments about violence and satire. The early scenes which poke fun at Christian comics are fair game, even if it is a rather soft target. But then Super does a complete volte-face, as Frank's crime-fighting becomes a serious spiritual calling. The satirical intentions are in there somewhere, but the film ends up like the Biblical epics of Cecil B. De Mille, condoning all manner of horrible things on the grounds that God will turn up at the end to deliver the moral. Whether you're offended or enticed by Gunn's views on religion, the ending is a mawkish disappointment.
The cast of Super do their best and manage to convince within the world of the film. Perhaps the greatest strength of the film is that everyone involved believes in the project, even if they are unsure exactly what they believe in. It may seem inconceivable that Rainn Wilson could have married Liv Tyler, but both are plausible characters in their own right, even if the latter has little to do. Kevin Bacon chews the scenery as Jacques, delivering a performance every bit as seedy as his work on Where The Truth Lies. And Ellen Page proves her determination not to be pigeonholed, turning in another scene-stealing performance (if often for the wrong reasons).
There are so many contradictions within Super, which even after much dissection remains a psychotic little bundle of a film. There is so much to admire or appreciate that all its flaws prey on one's mind - and yet so many obvious problems that its positives feel like oases of brilliance in a desert of misjudgement. The only sensible conclusion is that the film just doesn't work, and that the only reason which can be agreed upon is its rampantly uneven tone. The need to defend it remains, but is at least tempered by recognition of its failings.
Super is an awesome film, and one whose dark humor never truly overtakes it. If you like Kick Ass your gonna probably enjoy this one too. Wilson and Page are amazing in their roles, and the rest of the supporting cast does a great job backing them up. I just hope everyone can experience and have as much fun as I did. Warning: this film contains some very explicit violent scenes including which are very inappropriate for kids so parents please read this and avoid for your kids to watch this film. Thanks
In the outlandish dark comedy 'SUPER', James Gunn has created what is perhaps the definitive take on self-reflexive superheroes.
When sad-sack loser Frank (Rainn Wilson) sees his ex-addict wife (Liv Tyler) willingly snatched by a seductive drug dealer (Kevin Bacon), he finds himself bereft and wholly unable to cope. But soon he decides to fight back under the guise of a DIY superhero called Crimson Bolt. With a hand-made suit, a wrench, and a crazed sidekick named Boltie (Ellen Page), the Crimson Bolt beats his way through the mean streets of crime in hopes of saving his wife The rules were written a long time ago: You are not supposed to molest children, cut lines or key cars; if you do, prepare to face the wrath of the Crimson Bolt!
Director: James Gunn
Summary: When his wife (Liv Tyler) falls in league with a drug dealer, average guy Frank D'Arbo (Rainn Wilson) dons the guise of a superhero, dubs himself the Crimson Bolt and tries to keep a tagalong comic-book store clerk (Ellen Page) from becoming his sidekick. But it's hard to be a superhero when all you've got to work with is a pipe wrench.
My Thoughts: "I found 'Super' to be as dark and depressing as I thought it would be as it is a dark comedy. Unfortunately the movie is missing the comedy part. I think I may have laughed once or twice, but that was it. The film has a lot of unnecessary violence. The character's are somewhat interesting but at times also quite boring. Rainn Wislon is a funny man, just not in this movie. Although I do love Ellen Page, she seems to continue to keep playing these odd quirky character's lately which makes her seem like she has no depth which I know to be untrue seeing some of her early work as evidence of that. I'd like to see her in some more dramatic roles. The film was just OK for me."
full review soon...