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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Review: X-Men: First Class (2011)

Synopsis: When the CIA discovers the existence of Mutants, telepath Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is charged with recruiting a team to oppose the evil mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and the mysterious Hellfire Club. But not all of Xavier’s team share his vision of peace with humanity as the powerful Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) becomes convinced of mankind’s intolerance of Mutants.

X-Men: First Class is 20th Century Fox’s chance to start over with the X-Men franchise, to iron out the creases and resolve the sour taste that the critically panned X-Men: The Last Stand left in viewers’ mouths. Thankfully, by bringing on board Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn and a crack team of screenwriters – including Vaughn’s Kick-Ass counterpart Jane Goldman – X-Men: First Class has truly reinvigorated the franchise. It has adapted, evolved and and, most importantly, re-imagined itself, rather than living in the shadows of Bryan Singer’s original X-Men franchise.

The script is tight and fast-paced, with very few dull moments throughout and, instead of focusing too heavily on big budget action set-pieces, Goldman and co. instead opt to create a more intimate character piece, knitting each one into the thoroughly realised 1960’s world. The ensemble characters’ passages are handled with such care, and intercut with such genuinely terrific yet retrained action sequences, that they don’t feel bogged down or too developed for their own good.

Instead, the film and its characters are set up in a timely and neat manner, before the focus quickly shifts to the tempestuous relationship between Charles and Erik, and urgent stoppage of Sebastian Shaw. Of course, this means that some of the supporting characters aren’t as explored as others – Emma Frost (January Jones) and Moria McTaggert (Rose Bryne) are two that instantly come to mind – but these are minor quandaries, and something that audiences have come to expect from comic book adaptations through the years.

Vaughn’s direction compliments the script wonderfully, and he impressively adapts to the kinetic adventure tone after the hardcore and R-rated blood-fest that is Kick-Ass. Through his enthusiastic eye, X-Men: First Class exudes charm, wit, excitement and moments of indubitable terror. What’s most impressive is the wonderful way in which he infuses all these different elements, enhancing the overall enjoyment of the film rather than simply letting it becoming too complicated for viewers to understand. Similarly, despite being set amidst the Cuban Missile Crisis, it manages to avoid tangling itself in a web of political inquisitions, remaining light, level-headed and to the point for its entire running time.

In terms of acting, McAvoy, Fassbender,  Bacon and Jennifer Lawrence, in particular, immerse themselves in their respective roles, while Bryne and Nicholas Hoult do their best with their limited screen time. McAvoy and Fassbender are the undeniable nucleus of X-Men: First Class, with both exquisitely conveying the push-pull relationship between Charles’s quest for world peace and Erik’s attraction to evil. It is, essentially, a friendship between two men who know they need each other, but who are pulled apart by the different aims they possess.

Lawrence, in her first mainstream Hollywood role, holds her own as Raven/Mystique, bringing a remarkable level of susceptibleness and sobriety to her shape-shifting alter-ego, while Bacon is able to truly shine as the films central villain. Bryne and Hoult, despite being used so sparingly, both inhabit their roles with equal flavor, and we can only hope they are used more centrally in future X-Men instalments so they can prove their worth.

Some of the supporting cast, however, including, but not limited to Jones, Jason Flemyng and Lucas Till simply don’t have the necessary instruments to hold their own against such a heavyweight principal cast and are essentially brushed to to the side – though, in some ways, this is to the film’s merit.

Unfortunately, some precarious special effects – perhaps due to the time restricted post-production schedule – and an uneven middle act prevents X-Men: First Class from hitting the giddy highs some were anticipating. Even so, it’s a remarkably cohesive and assured origin story that deserves to be treasured and adored for its valiance and entertaining dexterity. All that’s left to say is, bring on X-Men: Second Class.

Poster: Super

Director – James Gunn

Starring – Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler and Kevin Bacon