Wednesday, August 17, 2011

In short: Super (2010)

Diner cook Frank (Rainn Wilson) loses his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), a recovering drug addict, to the minor local drug lord Jacques (Kevin Bacon). Frank's clumsy attempts at getting her back lead nowhere, until his house's ceiling opens, God's tentacles open up Frank's brain pan, and God's finger touches his brain. Frank has a vision of Christian fundamentalist superhero the Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion), and is inspired by him - and his local comic shop - to become a superhero himself.

Calling himself the Crimson Bolt, Frank first tries to wait for crime, then - after an informative visit to his local library - seeks it out himself, and hits real or imagined evildoers - or just people who don't think standing in the back of a line applies to them - with his trusty wrench, following the logical catchphrase "Shut up, crime!"

But even in his new improved Crimson Bolt persona, Frank is no match for Jacques and his men, who are after all actual gangsters using actual guns. When he gets shot in the leg, Frank seeks shelter with comic shop employee Libby (Ellen Page), who had already identified him as the mysterious madmen/hero with the wrench. Soon enough, Libby turns into Frank's overenthusiastically violent "kid" sidekick Bolty. I'm sure crime will shut up now.

By all rights, I shouldn't like James Gunn's Super at all, seeing as the film belongs to the type of comedy selling itself through transgressive violence and randomness. But I found - quite to my surprise - Super to be pretty darn great.

The reason for that is not just the fact that the film's use of randomness and violence is often actually funny, but that there's an actual heart beating below the film's often cynical surface. Where your typical superhero satire of this type would be satisfied (and way too satisfied with itself for it) with pointing at its hero and sneering, Gunn's film does its outmost to also humanize him. While Frank is the butt of many a joke (as well as a violent psychopath), he's just as often treated with actual compassion and sympathy, especially in the flashbacks to his short relationship with Sarah. Impressively, most of the groundwork for said sympathetic characterization happens in the most random seeming scenes of the film. Often, Gunn manages to make his scenes at once awkward, funny, and touching.

At the same time, Super can be as tasteless and crude as anything coming from US transgressive comedies of the last few decades (or the Troma bubble Gunn started out in), with jokes about bodily fluids aplenty.

It's as if Gunn had read Mark Millar's Kick-Ass, and decided to turn it into something that's more than just an entertaining excuse for masturbatory cynicism.


No comments: