When I see this picture I see Dwight Schrute cosplaying.

Do people know about James Gunn? Do they know about Super? I mean, I’m sure a lot of people have seen the trailers but it seems like this movie has taken forever to come out. And James Gunn isn’t really a known quantity outside of Troma fans and the sixteen or so people who saw (and loved, because you have to) Slither. Anyway, Gunn has poured a lot of himself into what is a pretty small movie. Small, but somehow ambitious. And crazy. And brilliant, maybe.

Super falls into the same category as Kick-Ass or Defendor but it lacks the lighter tone of either of those. That might sound funny because neither of those “real world superhero” films is particularly light. They are, in fact, pretty fucking dark. Super makes them look like those cartoon movies DC keeps shitting out. I hear they’re good. But they definitely aren’t dark. Still, Super is roughly the same idea: one or two characters decide, for whatever reason, to become superheroes and fight crime. Of course, the animated opening credits (which are fucking awesome) seem to be preparing you for a largely feel-good, quirky-like-Juno tone. This is on purpose. This is to disarm you.

Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson) is inspired to go superhero through pretty weird channels. The movie toys with the idea that Frank is either schizophrenic or some kind of chosen one. He describes seeing visions, but the information is delivered in a sort of perfunctory “oh yeah, by the way” manner (which is how a lot of info of this kind is delivered, like “oh yeah, this character is a drug addict”) which adds to the surreal tone of the movie. I don’t want to say it feels like a surrealist film, because it doesn’t. It’s too visceral and emotionally raw for that. It’s just that the story is so involved with who Frank is and why he does what he does that you can’t help but absorb that the warped sense of reality the character has. However, one of the themes of the movie is that his perspective may not be as warped as it seems.

Through a series of flashbacks, this unlikely relationship is explored.

First there’s that Frank feels like Sarah (Liv Tyler) has been kidnapped, taken away back into her life of drug abuse by sinister forces. He seems a bit naive at this point, like he can’t see that yeah this woman is backsliding but that hey, she is obviously also looking for a way out. But Frank isn’t wrong. Sarah is basically a nice person but in her heroin-addled state she just doesn’t seem to get that she’s hurting him. Okay, so that makes Frank’s overall quest to free her a bit less extreme and certainly more satisfying given the film’s bizarrely uplifting ending.

Sarah falls under the influence of Jacques (referred to as Jock) throughout the movie. Jock is played by Kevin Bacon in his second superhero villain role. He is an interesting character, very charming and even nice and pretty small-time as a criminal (it seems) with a host of oddball thugs. Not quite Pineapple Express oddball, it’s a bit more grounded than that, but still… when one of them is a Travis Bickle clone and the other is Michael Rooker, even restrained Michael Rooker, the word is: odball.

One of the first times we see Jock, he’s insinuated himself into Frank’s breakfast. It’s a vaguely sinister scene, in a domestic sort of way, but Bacon is all win.

Once Frank decides to become the Crimson Bolt, he spends most of his time following around the thugs. When he’s not doing that, he’s beating people senseless with a pipe wrench over various crimes. One of those crimes is butting in line, which has Frank brutally assaulting a man and his girlfriend. You might have seen that clip spread around a bit. It’s crazy and shocking and hilarious. It’s also a statement about perceived wrong and what is really going on for Frank. He must go after wrongdoers in order to be an actual superhero, so he does take on drug dealers and purse snatchers and child molestors. But his most violent and focused reactions are to people who have wronged him. Even the dude who butts in line only gets the pipewrench after telling unmasked Frank to “fuck himself”.

Libby, a foul-mouthed and utterly sociopathic comic book store clerk is the opposite. She delights in the sheer fantasy, the sexual underpinnings, and the excuse for extreme violence. She doesn’t need to justify her actions, she lets Frank do that and trusts him completely in spite of his fucked up moral arithmetic. This is because she is incapable of making those choices, she doesn’t have that compass. Not even a broken, tentacle-raped one. Frank’s delusions are very different from Libby’s and together they are all the deconstructive “real superheroes would be psychopaths” tropes rolled into two.

I don’t know that I’ve ever found Ellen Page sexy before this movie. She’s obviously attractive but somehow she oozes sex appeal in Super. And no, it isn’t the costume! Well… maybe it is.

Libby is played by Ellen Page, which is ridiculous and perfect. Ellen Page is awesome here, going to some pretty fucked up places that are only eclipsed by the range and depth shown by Rainn Wilson. If nothing else, Gunn always has that he got some pretty terrific performances out of his leads. Of course, for the fim’s target audience, there’s a lot more on offer.

It’s a tricky movie to navigate. I mean, it’s funny but it’s the kind of tasteless and misanthropic humor that comes from colossally fucked up human beings and that implies we’re fucked up by extension for enjoying it. It’s violent, very violent, and it’s very entertaining violence which relies just as much on the shock value (not unlike Kick-Ass) as it does on the set-up to getting to it. Several times we see Crimson Bolt smacking dudes with the pipe wrench and it’s sort of funny, like oh yeah this is a movie it’s not like he’s killing people. Then we see him take down the line-butter and that first spurt of blood is just unreal. The guy is trying to hold his forehead together while Frank runs off in his trademark goofy escape. The movie is full of shit like that and this is without getting into the “visions” Frank periodically has. And it’s not like Frank doesn’t suffer the consequences of his violence. He is beaten, shot, etc and the movie doesn’t flinch from the reality of that any more than Kick-Ass or Defendor do. Of course, it also leaves Crimson Bolt without the medical technology or paramilitary training advantages that Kick-Ass and his cohorts receive.

These two are great together. In turns sweet, hilarious, awkward, and destructive on all levels. Then there’s that fucking sex scene.

These elements, however, aren’t overplayed. They punctuate in a movie that does not overstay its welcome or fuck around with its running time. In fact, the strange pace is pretty amazing in that Libby isn’t even introduced until Act 2 and the final battle occurs and is resolved in the last 20 minutes. That the movie has time for a seriously far-reaching and, as I said before, bizarrely uplifting denouement is kind of an achievement. Of course, the whole thing might be sunk by the generally heightened feel of that final battle between Frank and Libby and Jock’s goons.

Before I can totally put this movie into perspective, I need to see it again. It also feels like a movie that should be seen with a few friends. I’d be very curious to see how other people deal with the crazy violence, surreal characterization, goofy symbolism, and the fucking ending. An ending which, and I almost don’t want to say this because how can anyone take it seriously after all I’ve just said about this movie, almost moved me to tears. Now I might be overselling this but if you’ve seen the movie, and you should have if you’re reading this fucking review, you’ll know what I mean. Unless of course the purity and childlike resplendence of those final images did nothing for your stony, igneous heart.

Look! Combats!

Advertisements