Review: Super (2010)

Synopsis: 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. Nevertheless, he soon 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!

Super is the latest instalment in the D.I.Y. superhero sub-genre, treading familiar ground so expertly set by Matthew Vaughn’s acclaimed Kick-Ass. However, while Super undeniably exhibits similarities to Kick-Ass, it is in fact a much more shady dark-comedy – pitch black in places. The violence is raw, utterly realistic, and plentiful.

While some will be appalled and find the shift between humour and real-life complications far too quick and precarious, there’s no denying that Super benefits from a more muted, obscure execution. The script, penned by director James Gunn, strikes the right balance between heartfelt drama and hard-hitting violence, offering a more realistic view of crime and one man’s struggle against the forces the world seems so keen to throw his way. This is homemade filmmaking at its most exposed. There’s no Hollywood-ised gloss, which undeniably makes it almost entirely sincere, powerful and truthful in its storytelling and the way it presents its characters.

Gunn’s direction, therefore, mirrors the films extremely low-budget. Instead of over-the-top, glorified camera angles and editing techniques, he keeps things low-key, letting the hard-hitting narrative and extremely harsh characters do the talking. At times, however, the overuse of hand-held camera shots and the ridiculously excessive reliance on abrupt stylisation become too much, resulting in the film being too coarse and buoyant for its own good.

Luckily for Gunn, Super is blessed with a stellar cast, all of whom are up to the task of making one of the most vigorous dark comedies of the year. Wilson delivers an adept performance, and it’s nice to see him taking on a more challenging role, but it’s clear that he’s most comfortable in the comedic scenes. However, Frank’s character arc hasn’t been fleshed out enough for Wilson to truly understand his emotional plight, and he often struggles to convey his alter-ego’s turbulent emotions

For better or for worse, Page steals the film from under Wilson’s well positioned feet. She is quite frankly on top of her game as Libby. The antithesis to Frank, she plays the character with such emotional depth that she completely transforms into “Libby”. The same can’t be said for Tyler, Bacon and Nathan Fillion who, despite being adequate enough in their respective roles, aren’t given the screen time to stand out against the two leads.

Super presents itself as a seductive, often hilarious, subversion of the growingly familiar pop culture glorification of the D.I.Y. superhero. It may come across as too detached to appeal to a wide audience, but it’s certainly a film that deserves to be discovered for its clever, unrelenting and intuitive demeanour.

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