Frank has only ever had two good moments in his life: His wedding day, and helping a cop chase down a criminal. When his wife, Libby, leaves him for a local drug dealer, he turns to God to help him get her back and decide what to do next. Whether it was through divine intervention or his own fantasy, he comes to the conclusion that he must become a real-life superhero to fight crime and ultimately save his wife, who he believes has been kidnapped by the drug dealer. Thus, the Crimson Bolt is born, and with his trusty sidekick Boltie, his crime-fighting wrench and his catchphrase “Shut up, crime”, he begins getting attention in the local neighbourhood... but for all the wrong reasons.
James Gunn is a clever son of a gun (pun intended). In 2006, he wrote and directed Slither, a sharp, well-observed, self-reflexive horror comedy about killer slug-creatures, inspired by various 1970’s B-movie horrors. It went down well with this critic and various others too, and now Gunn has returned with Super. It would be easy to say that this is just another superhero film in amongst many, MANY others, in particular Kick-Ass, to which this shares more than a certain kinship. It would be easy to say all of that, but upon watching it, you’ll find that it’s way more than that. Super’s a funny, bleak, dark, horrifying, self-reflexive take on the superhero genre that’s got ‘cult’ written all over it.
Super, on the surface, does admittedly seem like a rip-off of Kick-Ass: Normal man decides to make his own costume and become a superhero, fighting every day crime, gaining a fellow hero to fight alongside and eventually leading up to a battle with the local mob. Watch this though, and you’ll see within two minutes (I guarantee: Two minutes is all it’ll take) this is nothing like Kick-Ass. Super is dark. Pitch black, even. This goes way beyond dark humour, this is proper gallows humour. It’s bleak, and unrelentingly so. At times, the humour becomes ludicrous, when the Crimson Bolt goes on a justice spree with his weapon of choice, a wrench, but even then, it quickly becomes disturbing and somewhat shocking as you realise ‘Hey, this film is fucked up’. It’s not exactly a laugh fest, but then at times it is. You’ll understand when you see it, it’s hard to tell if you’re laughing at the jokes on offer, at how ludicrous the pretence is, at how messed up the depiction of violence in a film which truly springs it onto you, or if you’re just laughing out of major discomfort. Either way, it will make you laugh, but probably not for the right reasons.
Rainn Wilson plays the depressed/delusional/disturbed Frank/Crimson Bolt well enough, as the role requires him to be somewhat deranged and thoroughly downbeat. That was a lot of ‘D’ words. Ellen Page turns up to play Juno. Yeah, her character Libby/Boltie is an exact replica of Juno. On the plus side, Ellen Page knows how to play Juno and play her well, so it all works out. Liv Tyler turns up as Frank’s drug addicted wife, and doesn’t really do much as she spends most of the time high or getting high. Then there’s Kevin Bacon as drug dealer Jacques. What the hell?! What is with this renaissance of interest in Kevin Bacon? First X-Men, where frankly he was a bit rubbish, and now this, where he’s better and definitely a more convincing bad guy, but he’s still not the level of evil you need to pull it through, here he’s just an eccentric drug dealer when something else was needed from his performance.
Other than Bacon, the film’s pretty tight, there’s a couple of cool cameos (including Rob Zombie playing God, I mean come on!) and Super ends up looking and feeling like something in between a full blown Hollywood flick and a little independent film. It’s all shot in the shaky documentary camera style to suggest this is all real, which it really isn’t, and there are even some half decent effects and CGI being used here, in particular during the scene in which God appears before Frank in his vision. There’s also a surprisingly high amount of graphic violence; lots of blood, gunshots, corpses, bombs, vehicular violence, wrench shots and stabbings. Look out, as well, for some weirdly-placed Scott Pilgrim/Batman style animated words popping up in the same style as the fantastic opening credits.
Overall, this film is deceptively depressing. On the surface, it’s a nice, friendly, family friendly concept. Dig a little deeper, it’s a dark, bleak, bloody tale of revenge and despair that’s definitely for adults only. James Gunn is making a name for himself with these self-reflexive stories which aren’t afraid to poke a little fun at the genre the film falls under, but with Super, Gunn’s gone and made something which tears up the rule book and just goes all in, balls out and is unrelenting until the small glimmer of optimism right at the very, very end. The crying shame of Super is that people will go to see this, not get what they expected, and walk away hating it. Even worse, people probably won’t even see this at all. I urge you, if you see this at your cinema, and you’re thinking about watching something else, watch this instead. Go in with an open mind, and just set back and try to enjoy it, as uncomfortably dark as it gets. It's an 18 for a reason.