Sean K. Cureton

Review of the Week: Super (2010)

In Movies on VOD: Reviews and Recommendations on June 17, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Theatrical Poster

Super (2010)
Directed by James Gunn
Netflix Rating: Didn’t Like It

Super is the second feature film written and directed by James Gunn, who has made a name for himself in Hollywood as a writer of schlocky genre entertainment features such as the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, both of the live action adaptations of Scooby Doo, and most notably the 2006 comedic horror film Slither, which he also directed. Super is undoubtedly in the same vein as Gunn’s larger body of work, playing on the conventions of the superhero blockbuster while subverting the existing genre to both comedic and darkly satiric effect. Super stars Rainn Wilson, of TV’s The Office and founder of SoulPancake, as the average schmuck Frank Darbo who decides to become a superhero after his drug addict wife (Liv Tyler) is taken in by local drug dealer Jacques (Kevin Bacon). Eventually, Frank becomes the Crimson Bolt, and teams up with local comic book store denizen Libby (Ellen Page), who acts as the Bolt’s sidekick Boltie. The premise is interesting enough, but the film rather abruptly devolves into a self-deluded, ultra-violent fantasy that is hard to watch even when it is undeniably interesting and original in its vision and critical appraisal of a contemporary society raised on comic book superheroes.

Super works when its narrows in on the performances offered by its stellar cast, which features performances from Gunn regulars such as Nathan Fillion, making a hilarious turn as Christian superhero The Holy Avenger, and Michael Rooker, whose subtle humanity in the face of Jacques’ cruelty and malicious apathy provides a center for all of the mayhem that ensues. Additionally, Kevin Bacon is an excellent villain, whose nihilistic glee is perfectly suited to combat Frank’s selfish morality and unchecked sense of justice. Likewise, Ellen Page offers a stunning performance as Libby, who offers a glimpse into what comic books might be instilling in the psyche’s of an American youth who have grown up reading such superhero fare as Marvel’s The Punisher or even DC’s Batman. What Gunn envisions in Super is world inspired by the vigilantism of comic book lore, unchecked by reality or a sense of a wider understanding of the world’s problems; undoubtedly, the world Gunn has envisioned is meant to mirror our own, and it often does.

Nevertheless, Super suffers from a script which is at times too self-indulgent in excessive violence, which comes off as vulgar and offensive at times, rather than satirically critical of the violence depicted in the contemporary superhero films which Super owes much of its influence to. When the Crimson Bolt bashes a young couple’s faces in with his trusty wrench after the boyfriend “butts” in line, it’s hard to come away still wanting to finish viewing the film. What’s more, Super more often than not feels vastly inferior, even amateur, when compared to the fine tuned satire that abounds in Gunn’s creature feature Slither. Much of the plot feels half-baked at times, and when the climactic final battle ensues at the end of the film, the viewer watches with a cold sense of detachment that might have to do with the very super inundation of movie violence that the film is literally and intellectually satirizing, but probably has more to do with the fact that the characters have not been developed quiet enough for such an ending to warrant so much violence.

Super can be a lot of fun if you go into it with the right state of mind, ready for over the top satire and ridiculous levels of violence. In theory, the film should be quiet good, as Gunn has more than proved himself to be a director of really original cinematic satire that works through and against the conventions of genre entertainment to great success. Unfortunately, Super falls short in terms of a satisfying story and sufficient character development, which is why it is so largely unsatisfying as a whole. Regardless, Super is definitely one of the better films to come out over the past few years, and is worth a viewing if you have the time and can stomach grotesque movie violence.

Super is available on Netflix Instant View, and is my Movies on Netflix: Review of the Week.

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