There have been a number of films made in recent years that are use the concept of average people becoming costumed vigilantes. From last year’s ambitious Watchmen adaptation, to the Canadian indie flick Defendor, and more recently the big screen version of Mark Millar’s ultraviolent Kick-Ass, normal people putting on tights and bashing criminals in the face has become something of a trend in Hollywood. Enter James Gunn. The director — who brought us such classics as Tromeo & Juliet and Slither — firmly establishes that this new sub-genre has plenty of life left in it with his new film SUPER. The film is a hilarious and twisted story about a man with the best of intentions, who is at the least delusional and at the worst totally insane.
That man is Frank (Rainn Wilson), a guy who many people would consider a bit of a loser; bullied his entire life and never able to catch a break. Always an outcast, Frank works a dead end job as a cook in a local diner and ekes out an existence. That is, until he meets Sarah (Liv Tyler), a recovering alcoholic trying to make a new start herself. The two fall for each other and eventually get married — but a happy ending is not in the cards for Frank. Sarah soon falls back into her old ways and leaves Frank for a seedy drug kingpin named Jock (Kevin Bacon). Fed up with his lot in life, Frank becomes The Crimson Bolt — Batman on a budget, but without the moral compass — fighting crime in an effort to win back Sarah.
Rainn Wilson is nothing short of amazing in SUPER. He plays the shy loser Frank just as well as his costumed alter-ego The Crimson Bolt, an unhinged lunatic with a wrench and a very skewed sense of justice. Equally impressive is Ellen Page as The Crimson Bolt’s sidekick Bolty. Page gives it her all and turns in one hilariously sadistic performance. Nathan Fillion, who starred in Gunn’s Slither, has a small but important cameo as The Holy Avenger, a fictional Christian superhero who inspires Frank to becomes a masked vigilante.
Shot on a very tight budget, SUPER feels a little rough around the edges. There is a lot of hand held on-location shooting that, despite the film’s absurd tone, adds a bit of realism to the whole exercise. While it is impressive that the film came together so well under less than ideal shooting conditions, it could still use some work. Strange transitions, some convoluted action sequences and instances of comic book onomatopoeia that feel really out of place — which is odd since SUPER is ostensibly a comic book film.
For now I have to give SUPER the benefit of the doubt, since this was the first public screening; I know that the creators will tighten up the film between now and its eventual release. I would be remiss to not mention the excellent animated credit sequence that kicks off the film, which helps to set the playful-yet-ultraviolent tone of the movie.
SUPER is a very funny film, but in a twisted, I-don’t-know-if-I-should-be-laughing-at-this kind of way. I found myself rooting for Frank, even when he was basically murdering people for relatively petty crimes — including pot dealing, purse-snatching and butting in line. The film’s finale is so utterly violent and morally ambiguous that you may be left scratching your head, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying what is one of the funniest and most screwed up superhero movies that you’re likely to see.