There’s a disturbingly grim sense of humour pervading throughout writer-director James Gunn’s “Super.” This stems from the blood and guts which splatter and splash over countless scenes of nutso violence, played both for laughs and for adequate shock value. At times hilarious, at times downright off-putting, this sick method of dark comedy will no doubt split audiences in two — almost as much as the main character splits civilians’ heads in two.
It’s a superhero-slash-vigilante film (yes, another one of those), but not the kind you’ve seen before, at least not in terms of tone. For starters, I’m sure you won’t be familiar with a superhero flick that shows a man’s scalp being peeled off by slimy tentacles before having his exposed brain touched by the index finger of our lord God. This gives only but a hint of the 90 minutes of obscurity that is this film.
Our protagonist is short-order cook Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson, “The Office”). He is a man with two perfect moments in his life: 1) When he wed his beautiful wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler, “The Incredible Hulk”), and 2) When he once informed a police officer of a purse-snatcher’s whereabouts. He has always held onto these precious moments, as the rest of his life has ranged from disappointing to melancholy.
Our antagonist is drug dealer Jacques (Kevin Bacon, “Frost/Nixon”). He’s slick and seductive, well-dressed and carries the demeanour of a nice guy when he is anything but. Sarah ends up leaving a distraught Frank for the suave Jacques, a decision which takes a turn for the worst; Jacques, being the douche that he is, gets her hooked on drugs and refuses to let Frank see her.
Slipping into depression, Frank receives a visit from the Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion, “Serenity”), a fictional superhero from a TV show on the All-Jesus Network. Frank is told that he has been chosen by God for a very special purpose, one which is not fully stated. Coming out of what may have been a hallucination, Frank bravely makes it his duty to make a crime-fighting superhero out of his mumbling self.
He makes a suit, designs a symbol, pins posters to lampposts warning of his presence, and takes on the name “The Crimson Bolt.” Armed with a wrench and steely-eyed determination, Frank aims to take on all the criminals in the city and get back his stolen bride — what he doesn’t anticipate is the onslaught of outrageous violence that he sets in motion.
“Super” is the second feature film from American movie-maker James Gunn, his big-screen debut being ultra-nasty monster horror-comedy “Slither” of 2006. His clear love of black comedy is continued in this super-violent superhero dramedy, mostly deriving from Frank’s deliriously bloody escapades into semi-noble crime-busting.
Stalking the streets during both the day and night, The Crimson Bolt becomes a menace in the media, cracking open skulls with his trusty wrench and watching the blood pour from unsuspecting crooks’ various body parts. It’s from this that Frank’s morals can be deemed questionable, as he tears open a man’s forehead for cutting in line outside a movie theatre.
As we should with any protagonist, we feel sympathy for Frank and empathise with the situation in which he has found himself. He’s a naturally odd character, Wilson playing him in a mostly deadpan fashion, the kind that strangely still remains appealing when he’s violently overreacting to petty crimes. What makes this character so relatable is that he genuinely believes what he’s doing is the right thing, which is understandable given that God told him to do it.
Joining him on his justice-enforcing tasks is 22-year-old Libby (Ellen Page, “Inception”), a foul-mouthed comic-book store employee who becomes Frank’s kid sidekick, Boltie; the Robin to his Batman, essentially. Page is perfect in the role of a young woman who turns out to be even more demented than Frank once slipping into her skin-tight yellow and green outfit. Think her eponymous role in “Juno” mixed in with Christian Bale in “American Psycho,” and you’ve got Boltie.
What may shock some viewers more than the blood-spurting and groin-stabbing is the film’s beating heart and sudden dramatic turns. Unlike yesteryear’s “Kick-Ass,” this superhero comedy is less cartoony than it is quite deep and sporadically thought-provoking. “Super” is ultimately a tragedy of sorts, the comedy almost always followed by some sadness and slight psychological exploration, mainly relating to Frank. There are plenty of gut-busting laughs, but this is much more of a drama than what many will expect.
“Super” is a messy mash-up of many different tones, from silly to serious, light to dark, and is a success more often than not. At times it is genuinely side-splitting, at others it is effectively emotional and heartbreaking. The relentless violence is cheeky and fun, and the black comedy feels fresh, albeit slightly off-putting in some scenes. It’s not super, but “Super” is a decent tale of an underdog barking at crime to make it, as Frank puts it, shut up.
Seven Outta Ten